Trizone reviews the Kona Pro Men’s Bike event, which this year featured an incredibly dense pack which ultimately saw defending champion Jan Frodeno (GER) retaining the title.
Frodeno, of course, was the gold medal winner in the men’s triathlon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He is also a two-time winner of the Ironman World Championship, having won in 2015 and 2016. And, the German triathle was the winner of the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
Having completed the race, Frodeno told the assembled press pack that that he had felt quite poorly during most of the day, adding that he had, in fact, needed to dig very deep to secure the victory.
As those who’ve been fortunate enough to partake in this most engaging of events will undoubtedly know, the terrain traversed by athletes during the bike leg from Kona to Hawi is unforgiving – almost eerie and somewhat alien. For instance, while crossing the lava fields it’s hard not to get a sense that this is a place where ultimately people perhaps have no business lingering about.
It’s only when the riders emerge from this desolate landscape – close to the Mauna Kea Golf Club – that the countryside appears to be a bit more lush and verdant. Then, just following a right-turn bend in the road at around mile 57 of the course, the environment at last starts to resemble the Hawaii stereotype of trees and small ranch houses with their tin roofs and vivid green grass all around.
Heading into the bike leg, Sebastian Kienle was 38th out of the water but made up plenty of speed with a remarkably fast transition into the bike. Then it was time for the 112 mile Ventum bike on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway with Kienle vying for the front pack as soon as he could. The excruciatingly close lead pack made for dangerous conditions, with several athletes concerned they’d endure drafting penalties. Unfortunately, Van Lierde, Raelert, McMahon and Patrick Lange (GER) were all served penalties at the first tent, which appeared to take them out of the running for a podium finish. Or did it?…
Strong biker Michael Weiss took his lead out front at Kawaihae on mile 42.7, before the climb up to Hawi. He seemed extremely strong but Boris Stein gained traction very fast. With the German overtaking him slowly, Weiss got his edge back and reclaimed the lead in impressive style. Stein stayed in second place with Sebastian Kienle in third.
Following the climb, the turn at Hawi usually tends to be the decider separating the field and at this year’s event too it lived up to its reputation. Kienle made the turn first, followed very closely by Boecherer, Weiss, O’Donnell, McKenzie, Potts, Frodeno, Hoffman, Van Berkel and Stein all just behind. The pack was incredibly dense, which helped stimulate the pace.
With Waikoloa coming into view, the crosswinds were blowing strongly from the east but McMahon and Potts – who led a this stage – were looking strong. Once at Waikoloa, Aussie Tim van Berkel took the lead, with defending champion power Jan Frodeno moving into second place.
The pack still being so dense, the leaders changed position multiple times with Frodeno ultimately leaving the bike first. Just four seconds behind him was Kienle, Luke McKenzie was 13 seconds back while Hofmann followed 19 seconds back – followed by O’Donnell and Stein. The eight-man pack had now created a three minute lead, leaving the crowd guessing as to who of these top eight men would ultimately make the podium.