Photo by Jay Prasuhn/EnduraPix.com
Susan Grant-Legacki, Editor in Chief
The Women’s Race
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR): This year’s women’s race is truly Chrissie Wellington’s to lose. But by all accounts, despite an early-season injury, she’s more on top of her game than ever. She shattered her previous race times at every major race this year—including her Challenge Roth 2009 course record by more than 12 minutes. However, I think I should also mention that while barring any astronomical mechanical mishap (think broken chain or derailleur), she’s got this in the bag. I also don’t think she will run away with the title by quite as much as last year. Which, of course, brings me to my number two pick …
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS): If you spend any amount of time with Mirinda, you can tell right away that she’s got what it takes both mentally and physically to steal Chrissie’s crown. Her run splits are enough to make even her male competitors sweat, but she’s also got a good head on her shoulders. She has admitted that she stayed within her limits last year and could have pushed harder on the bike, and after spending much of this year improving her strength on both her swim and bike, I firmly believe she will step up to the plate this year as a triple threat. If Wellington shows even a sliver of weakness, particularly in those last miles along Ali’I, Carfrae will be there to chase her down.
3. Julie Dibens (GBR): While Julie has never braved the lava fields, she has something else that few women out there can lay claim to: she’s actually beaten Chrissie in a race. Dibens’ strong showing at this year’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Triathlon showed that she can hold her own in hot conditions as well. The former NCAA champion swimmer will no doubt be in front heading out of T2, and if she can at least keep Chrissie in her sights on the bike she’s at least a contender for the podium.
The Men’s Race
1. Andreas Raelert (GER): Why? Because he’s unbelievably fast. At this year’s Ironman European Championship Raelert had an 11-minute lead heading out onto the run, he had an extremely successful introduction to Kona last year with a solid third-place finish, and he’s poised to built considerably on that success this year.
2. Craig Alexander (AUS): If anyone can do the elusive three-peat, it’s Crowie. Alexander has developed what can only be described as a fool-proof Kona training plan: several tune-up 70.3s heading into October, ending with the Muskoka 70.3. Alexander readily won that race last month, and by all accounts he is as focused and primed as ever. The only thing that could stop the Alexander train is some up-and-coming contenders (see picks one and three!)
3. Rasmus Henning (DEN): Sometimes it really is all about who you know. And Rasmus, a disciple of Torbjorn Sindballe, has been a good student. Henning’s fifth-place last year (in his first Kona attempt) was impressive, as was his Challenge Roth debut title earlier this year. If Henning continues the impressive streak he’s on so far this year, a Kona crown would truly be the perfect end to an already impressive year.
Jay Prasuhn, Senior Editor
The Women’s Race
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) I’m certain this is the year Chrissie feels a greater pressure; Julie Dibens from the front during the swim and bike, and Mirinda Carfrae from the back. But not much this year has indicated that Chrissie’s failed to keep stepping up her game. Her swim seems improved, by virtue of getting out of the water with super swimmer Dede Griesbauer at the 70.3 Timberman. The gap to second and third may be closer than ever before, but the top spot is not in doubt; the only things that may be in doubt again in Kona are the historically “unassailable” course records. With that irrepressible smile, Chrissie wins again.
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) The pint-sized whirling dervish has had Kona in her crosshairs since taking second last year, and has been working hard on her swim and bike. Her Twitter battles with her foe/buddy Julie Dibens have made for a good comedy, but we bet the tweets go radio silent Kona week; Carfrae will have look well past Dibens to dispatch with her buddy on the run if she want to claw her way up to Wellington and make it a game.
3. Julie Dibens (GBR) I was impressed with Dibens’ first true long-distance effort at the Abu Dhabi Triathlon. But I was equally distressed seeing Dibens walking during the run at Rev3 Quassy. Julie’s big question is not whether she can swim and bike at the front; there’s no doubt in my mind that she could conceivably get off the bike either with—or slightly in front of—Wellington. The question is how she will handle the heat and distance of a marathon in the Kona pressure cooker. This is her first go at Kona, so she needs to not get caught up in the media circus and race her own race, regardless what everyone is doing around her. This year, which should be merely a learning experience, ought to get her on the podium if she stays within herself.
The Men’s Race
1. Andreas Raelert (GER): Last year’s third-place finisher got thrust to the top of our list after Ironman Germany. It wasn’t that he won, it’s how he won: tearing off solo on the bike, and breaking Normann Stadler’s bike course record in the process. Suddenly, Raelert has two cards to play: the stay-in-the-group-and run-with-Crowie card, but now there’s an outside chance he may have a dig on the bike to stay in proximity with potential off-the-fronters Chris Lieto and Stadler. Crowie is more nervous about Raelert than any man in the race.
2. Craig Alexander (AUS): With a season not unlike any of his past efforts, he’s still the odds-on favorite. No, he doesn’t deserve the admonishment as packfill; I’ve seen enough of Crowie’s riding in Kona to know he pulls his weight in the group, and know who the sandbaggers are. And yes, he is clearly the class runner in the field. The question is not that there will be a smattering of bike breakaways; it’s who’s in that break. He’ll face a challenge from Eneko Llanos, Rasmus Henning, Dirk Bockel and perhaps Cam Brown on the run. But his fourth gear in the heat is everyone else’s redline effort. And if he was ever hurting, you’d never know under that poker face of his.
3. Eneko Llanos (SPA): The unbreakable Llanos finally had a rough year in Kona last year, and admitted his confidence had been flagging. This spring, with all his primary competitors there, he knocked out a big win at the Abu Dhabi debut—certainly a confidence-inspiring win. Since then he’s taken on a late-season training block of altitude in Boulder, Colorado before heading to Lanzarote for fine-tuning heat acclimatization, then on to Kona. I think there are a handful of men who can weather the soul-twisting surges Crowie is capable of putting in late in the run—and the fleet-footed former XTERRA World Champ is one of them. If he weathers Crowie’s best into and out of the Energy Lab, it could be an interesting finish.
Brad Culp, Senior Editor
The Women’s Race
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS): Jordan missed his fair share of big shots, Tiger forgot how to play, and Brady throws plenty of interceptions. You can’t always be on your game and I think this may be the year that Chrissie’s luck runs out. Wellington may very well win this race three more times before she retires, but this year it’s Rinny’s race. Carfrae is simply the best runner in the sport and this year she knows what to expect on the bike. Chrissie better have a big lead at T2 if she’s going to top the woman who just clocked a 1:18 half marathon on a very difficult course at Ironman 70.3 Muskoka.
2. Chrissie Wellington (GBR): I may end up eating these words later, but someone in this panel had to pick against her. Maybe having a powerful cyclist like Julie Dibens in the mix will keep Chrissie from getting too far away from the rest of the field at T2. Maybe Rinny will be right on Wellington’s heels out of the water. Maybe I should reevaluate my pick…
3. Samantha McGlone (CAN): I don’t think we’ve seen the best of McGlone just yet. Let’s not forget that Sam has come closer to Chrissie in Kona than any athlete, finishing only five minutes behind in 2007. She’s had one of the most consistent seasons of her career in 2010 and I think the tough-as-nails Canadian will fight her way back to the podium.
The Men’s Race
1. Rasmus Henning (DEN): I never pick someone to win in his first attempt, which is the only reason I didn’t pick Henning last year. Like Alexander, he’s a guy with absolutely no weakness and will be very difficult to break on the bike. The Dane’s 7:52 finish at Roth this year showed he has the raw speed to race with the best, and I think one year of experience is all he needed to figure this race out. Don’t forget that he has studied under Kona guru Torbjorn Sindballe, but unlike his mentor, Henning thrives in hot conditions.
2. Andy Potts (USA): For the past few months I haven’t seen Potts, but I’ve been hearing a lot about him. “Potts is fitter than he’s ever been,” one athlete said. “Andy looks like he can win,” another claimed. “Andy is doing ridiculous workouts in Colorado Springs,” a coach remarked. We know where he’ll be at the start of the bike, but the big question is if he can stay with the likes of Lieto and Llanos on the bike. Potts is one of the best all-around athletes in the mix and I think he’s due for a podium finish in his third try at Kona.
3. Chris Lieto (USA): So the Red, White, and Blue won’t get the win, but second and third isn’t half bad. Shortly after the turnaround in Hawi, Lieto will bid the rest of the field adieu. I have no doubt that Lieto will have the lead at T2, but he’ll need a massive gap to hold off the class runners in the mix this year.
Jennifer Ward Barber, Online Editor
The Women’s Race
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR): Despite my comparatively green take on the pro triathlete circuit, I’d be a fool not to choose Chrissie. Her training under the legendary Brett Sutton was one of the first stories to draw me into the sport, and I’ve been following her—along with every Ironman junkie around—ever since. My colleagues have all stated her claim to the 2010 title in enough detail; all I know is that I’ll enjoy watching her push the divide between the sexes again this year.
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS): I’ve got this 2009 second-place finisher on my A-list for a few reasons. Sure, her season of 70.3 wins (Vineman, Calgary, and Muskoka) was impressive—especially that sub-6:00 run split on the latter. But Rinny has also left an impression on me as a sweet, down-to-earth girl with a great laugh, someone who can let herself enjoy a beer and a battered fish taco. We also share a birth year, and I like to pretend I’m her when I’m running in my K-SWISS Blade Lights.
3. Samantha McGlone (CAN): It would be wrong of me not to pick at least one fellow Canuck, and with my patriotic pick at least partially validated by my much more astute colleague above, I can say confidently that I’ll be hoping McGlone—and the maple leaf, since it’s been absent since 2007—makes an appearance on the podium.
The Men’s Race
1. Chris Lieto (USA): I saw this guy win the Malibu Triathlon a few weeks ago, and similarly to how I feel about Mirinda, I just like him. I also learned recently that his Kona wheels will be covered with the names of kids he’ll be supporting through his foundation More Than Sport. Add to that his second place finish last year, I think he’s a fair bet for a Kona newbie like me.
2. Craig Alexander (AUS): Crowie has been rising steadily to Kona fame, with his second place 2007 finish leading into back-to-back World Championships in the successive two years. I respect his values (see LAVA inaugural issue’s double feature), and on the more evidence-based front, he’s been racing strong this year.
3. Andreas Raelert (GER): This wickedly fast German is poised to keep the men’s field striving. He set a new course record (4:03:47) at the European 70.3 Championships this year, and secured an impressive win in this year’s European Ironman Championships over a field stocked by the likes of Timo Bracht, Chris McCormack, Cameron Brown, and Jan Raphael. With a sucessful pro triathlete brother, he also keeps himself in fit company.