Who Will Be in Kona
While the men’s race won’t have the same story lines we’ve seen in recent years (Macca vs. Crowie, or Raelert vs. Raelert), it will still be an exciting, wide open race. Aussie Pete Jacobs will be defending his title, though he hasn’t had an impressive season so far—he won the 70.3 Sunshine Coast this month in a shallow pro field, and placed 41st at Ironman Frankfurt after walking the last 10K. But none of that matters if his fitness is on for the big day. There to challenge him will be the 40-year-old Aussie Craig “Crowie” Alexander, who will be looking for a fourth Kona title. He had a rough race in Vegas this month after a drafting penalty took him out of contention early on, but he knows what it takes to win in Hawaii—this year could be his swan song. Another top contender is 2008 Kona runner-up Eneko Llanos of Spain. Since switching to Ironman legend Dave Scott as his coach, Llanos has been on fire this season, having won the two big championships—Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne and Ironman European Championship Frankfurt—so far this season. You also can’t count out German Andreas Raelert—after four podium finishes in four attempts on the Big Island, he seems destined to get a title. Also, two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany could use his momentum from his recent win in Vegas to propel him to another top finish. He and Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker had been leading the men’s race on the bike until Kienle got a flat tire about 60 or 65 miles into the ride. Despite the delay of a few minutes, Kienle still managed to finish fourth.
Since the Chrissie Wellington era has ended, the women’s race has remained wide open. Great Britain’s Leanda Cave will be back to defend her title, but—like Jacobs—she hasn’t had many impressive finishes this season, including 13th place in Vegas, but she proved last year she knows how to pull it together for the races that count. Her top competition will come from Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen of Team TBB, who’s had multiple top four finishes in Kona. The 2010 champ, Aussie Mirinda Carfrae, will also be returning, though she’s had a rollercoaster of a season with coaching changes and eventually returning to Siri Lindley, who coached her to her 2010 victory (and is also coach to Cave). Other women we have our eyes on are Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce, who managed an 11th-place finish last year despite being ill race week, and Canada’s Heather Wurtele, who set a new course record at Ironman Coeur d’Alene this year and has added multiple wins and podium finishes to her résumé this year. Having been known for her bike strength, Wurtele has added strong off-the-bike running to her arsenal this year.