If your lucky enough to have been in Kona the past week you’d be well aware that it’s very hot right now! The 2014 Ironman World Championship, held this Saturday 11th October in Kona, may well be held in the hottest conditions for quite some time. Local’s have been heard proclaiming they’ve had the hottest summer in well over a decade, some even saying the hottest ever. Combine with this possibly the most talented male and female professional fields yet to be assembled, and ladies and gentleman we are in for one cracker of a race!
If your expecting a dominant performance from one woman on Saturday, all we can say is your in for a shock. Progressively over the past few years we’ve seen a tighter battle in the women’s race, and we can largely thank Chrissie Wellington for lifting the bar, and the professional females for accepting the challenge. There is no longer the disparity between how the men and women race; both genders train hard, race hard, and are involved in a tactical race over the Iron distance.
This year the battle up front is going to step it up another level, and we should see this flow right through the field. Defending champion Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) is back and here to defend her title. Also here are former winners Leanda Cave (GBR) and Natascha Badmann (SUI). Other previous podium placers include Rachel Joyce (GBR), Caroline Steffen (SUI) and Liz Blatchford (AUS).
The swim is going to be critical in making what will be an aggressive front pack on the bike. Expect to see Jodie Swallow, Daniela Ryf, Liz Blatchford, Rachael Joyce, Leanda Cave, Amanda Stevens, Caroline Steffen and Meredith Kessler out first; and they are not going to be waiting for anyone on the bike. I’m going to throw my cards on the table and predict a small chase group to follow, most likely of Gina Crawford, Mary Beth Ellis, Michelle Vesterby, Bree Wee and Kelly Williamson. The pack to follow will most likely contain the defending Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae.
Although the swim will open up the opportunity to establish a lead on the bike, it will by no means determine the final race outcome. It will however make for an interesting tail end of the race, with the chasers forced to remain calm and stick to their own race plan. Carfrae is conditioned for this style of racing, and coach Siri Lindley will have prepared the defending champ yet again for a day of racing from behind. The big question is whether or not the young Swiss “angry bird” of Daniela Ryf can dominate on the bike as she did at the 70.3 Worlds just last month. Remember the likes of Steffen and Joyce were not present in Mont Tremblant, so the dynamics will be very different on Saturday.
So having touched on the swim and bike, we’re left with the marathon; it’s kind of important here! Expect Carfrae to deliver her trademark run, the question is simply how far behind she is off the bike. Other women to run up through the field from behind will include Caitlin Snow (USA) and Kelly Williamson (USA), with Linsey Corbin (USA) also a strong runner looking to make a dent on the marathon.
To pick the top five, let alone the podium, is a hard task this year. To be honest, a top ten finish in the 2014 women’s professional race is going to be an accomplishment to be very happy with. Not forgetting there are in essence around ten ladies here capable of the win. Despite this I’m going to call Daniela Ryf for the win, with Steffen in second and Joyce third. It’s a big call, but that’s my pick based on current form. A talented and rising athlete we are yet to mention is Heather Wurtele (CAN). Wurtele has been on the constant improve and has experience in Kona. The Canadian can swim, she can ride, and she can run fast too. Wurtele is my dark horse pick to shake up the field within the top five.
This of course is not forgetting the rest of the talented women’s field, of particular note Natascha Badmann (SUI), who at 47 years of age is still considered a major contender. Badmann finished 14th in 2013. Michelle Vesterby (DNK) finished 8th here in 2013 and will have a bit more experience under her belt in this year’s race, as will Gina Crawford (NZL) who is looking fitter than ever before and now under the guidance of Purple Patch’s Matt Dixon. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NLD) was last years 4th place finisher and can never be underestimated, despite being one of the slower swimmers in the women’s race; despite this Van Vlerken will be in good company with Liz Lyles (USA) and Corinne Abraham (GBR) very likely to swim around the same time.
The professional press conference, which only showcased a very select few from this talented women’s field, was an interesting affair and appeared to bring out the first real sign of pre race nerves from a few competitors. Here’s a little scoop from what we took from the women yesterday.
Daniela Ryf (SUI):
Daniela is the youngest professional female on the start line at 27 years of age, and the only female professional under 30. Dubbed “the angry bird” by her coach Brett Sutton, the former ITU talent stole the show in Mont Tremblant to be crowned Ironman 70.3 World Champion just last month. Daniela’s first impressions of the island, to which she only arrived on Tuesday, was that “it seems to be a happy place! I like it, it’s happy, and I can’t wait to race!” Ryf has a strong swim so expect to see her come out in the front pack, and is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the bike. At the press conference today, Ryf stated “I’m love racing hard! I’m looking forward to biking hard. Really hard. And see how fast I can run the marathon after.” Speaking to some of Ryf’s competitors they fear Ryf’s lack of fear; she has come into this race with no expectations and nothing to lose, and that combination is dangerous.
Caroline Steffen (SUI):
I must say it is great to see Caroline, better known as Xena, looking happy and relaxed. Xena had a tough year in 2013, losing not only her coach, but also her sponsors with the dramatic changes to TeamTBB. Xena approached Macca (Chris McCormack) asking him to coach her, and has been preparing for Kona in Thailand and at home on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. The Swiss Miss is looking fitter than ever before, and claims “I’m in a very happy place at the moment. I’ve improved too. I’m swimming faster. I’m running faster.” Xena proved this with her victory last month at Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast, running a 1:18 half marathon to take the win. Steffen’s dream is to win Kona, and come Saturday the warrior princess is going to be doing everything in her power to achieve this dream.
Rachael Joyce (GBR):
Rachel appeared relaxed and ready for her assault on this year’s world championship, despite being well aware of the level of
talent and depth in the women’s field for 2014. Joyce predicts the swim will be very different to last year, with bigger swells and less favourable currents breaking the women up and a small front pack to lead out onto the bike. Despite this Joyce knows the pace will be on out on the Queen K, and is prepared to bike hard to create a large enough gap to runners like Carfrae who’s deadly marathon times simply cannot be matched by the uber bikers in the field. Joyce stated “I’ll need to bike faster, and I’ll need to run faster too. It’s really not rocket science!” Joyce has proven one of the most consistent women in recent years, and is ever improving in her Kona positioning. Having finished second to Carfrae in 2013, there is only one more positional improvement left to make, and that is to finish on top of the podium.
Liz Blatchford (AUS):
Blatchford’s first attempt at Kona went without any real noticeable hitch, finishing third on her first attempt. Having trained here in Kona the past month Blatchford knows the course and conditions as well as any of her competitors, and has a strong swim almost guaranteeing to see her leave the water amongst the front pack. As with most of the competitors in Kona, whether pro or age group, the run will be the decider, and how well Blatchford can run on Saturday will ultimately determine her end result. “What’s it going to take to beat Rinny? I don’t know. That’s the biggest question. I feel stronger on the bike and hopefully that will convert to a solid marathon.”
Mirinda Carfrae (AUS):
Carfrae presented her usual media persona, never really giving too much away. When questioned on the strength of the
women’s field “I expect nothing less. This is the world championships. This is the most coveted race in triathlon I believe, outside of the olympics. I expect to be racing against the best in the world and I’m prepared for it”. Carfrae chose a different approach this year, selecting to race Challenge Roth, a bucket list race of the Australian’s. In need of a mental break, Carfrae claims she wanted to mix it up, and thus threw Challenge Roth in mid year. The Aussie pocket rocket stated: “I learned in 2010 that you really can’t stick to the same formula after a win. That kind of goes out the window a bit with extra obligations and a bit more travel. When I won last year I sat down and realised I needed a mental break – not break, but I needed to change what I’d been doing in the past. I set about preparing for Roth mid-year. I was pleasantly surprised by the result there, to say the least. Since then it’s been full speed ahead for Kona. Kona is always in the back of your mind; it has to be if you want to be successful here on the island. Business as usual the second half of the year.”
Meredith Kessler (USA):
Following a DNF in 2012 Kessler returned in 2013 to record a 7th place finish, with a front pack swim and 4:55:13 ride to
start the marathon in a nice position. The American’s 3:16:35 run wasn’t enough to maintain a top five position, but all we have seen is improvement in her run over previous years. With a solid preparation in 2013, Kessler and coach Matt Dixon have adopted a similar approach leading into this years world championship, with an increased focus on heat adaptation, and plenty of course exposure riding out on the Queen K, running in the energy lab, and swimming in the clear blue ocean waters of Kona. “There is no substitute for experience on a course like Kona so we want to come into the race with as few questions as possible so a lot of the the race comes from muscle memory.” Coach Matt Dixon has been focusing on improving Kessler’s marathon, an obvious weakness if the American wants to finish on the podium, with the key, they believe, in having the energy in T2 to sustain a quality pace throughout the 26.2 miles. Kessler claimed she was “honoured to be representing the American women at the press conference” although felt there were others just as worthy, if not worthier, of being up there. These athletes would include Mary Beth Ellis, Caitlin Snow, and Linsey Corbin, all of whom have recorded top ten finishes at Kona.
A few other women of note not present at the press conference:
Mary Beth Ellis (USA):
MBE was forced to withdraw from the race last year following an accident in training which left her with a broken collarbone. Deciding to race and see how it went, MBE declared the swim was painful, but the pain on the bike unbearable. Ellis would have to be our pick of the American’s, who to date have been unsuccessful in beating the Aussie and Brit ladies to the top step on the podium in Kona. Ellis must be one of the toughest competitors on the circuit, dubbed by former coach Brett Sutton “the honey badger”, she loves to hurt and proved that she can swim and ride with the best in 2012. Siri Lindley took Ellis back under her wing this year, following a four year break from working together, so it will be interesting to see what form Ellis brings on Saturday. If she can swim front pack the girls will struggle to drop her on the bike, the question is does she have the run speed to clock a sub 3 hour marathon?
Leanda Cave (GBR):
Cave experienced a tough year in 2013 following her World Championship Title in 2012, and is another athlete under a new coach, Clif English, for her 2014 Kona campaign. Cave raced only one Ironman in 2014, winning Ironman Sweden, and validating her position on the start line this Saturday. Cave won at Ironman 70.3 Cozumel, finished 2nd at the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden, and 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Boulder. Reading other race predictions you could easily forget Cave as a contender this weekend, and Cave publicly tweeted today “Some people say I’m acting like I don’t give two hoots about the IMKona picks… I’m not acting! #LetTheRaceDecide”. Cave knows how to bring good form to the races that count, and that is what matters most in Kona.
Professional women’s start list
101 Mirinda Carfrae FPRO FEMALE AUS
102 Rachel Joyce FPRO FEMALE GBR
103 Meredith Kessler FPRO FEMALE USA
104 Liz Blatchford FPRO FEMALE AUS
105 Caroline Steffen FPRO FEMALE CHE
106 Gina Crawford FPRO FEMALE NZL
107 Yvonne Van Vlerken FPRO FEMALE NLD
108 Linsey Corbin FPRO FEMALE USA
109 Caitlin Snow FPRO FEMALE USA
110 Liz Lyles FPRO FEMALE USA
111 Leanda Cave FPRO FEMALE GBR
112 Daniela Ryf FPRO FEMALE SWZ
113 Amber Ferreira FPRO FEMALE USA
114 Melissa Hauschildt FPRO FEMALE AUS (Editor note: Withdrawn)
115 Sara Gross FPRO FEMALE CAN
116 Catriona Morrison FPRO FEMALE GBR
117 Mary Beth Ellis FPRO FEMALE USA
118 Melanie Burke FPRO FEMALE NZL
119 Asa Lundstrom FPRO FEMALE SWE
120 Beth Shutt FPRO FEMALE USA
121 Michelle Vesterby FPRO FEMALE DNK
122 Kristin Moeller FPRO FEMALE DEU
123 Lucy Gossage FPRO FEMALE GBR
124 Amanda Stevens FPRO FEMALE USA
125 Jodie Swallow FPRO FEMALE GBR
126 Sofie Goos FPRO FEMALE BEL
127 Natascha Badmann FPRO FEMALE CHE
128 Julia Gajer FPRO FEMALE DEU
129 Lisa Roberts FPRO FEMALE USA
130 Corinne Abraham FPRO FEMALE GBR
131 Simone Braendli FPRO FEMALE CHE
132 Jackie Arendt FPRO FEMALE USA
133 Kim Schwabenbauer FPRO FEMALE USA
134 Bree Wee FPRO FEMALE USA
135 Jessie Donavan FPRO FEMALE USA
136 Heather Wurtele FPRO FEMALE CAN
137 Kelly Williamson FPRO FEMALE USA
138 Katja Konschak FPRO FEMALE DEU