It’s almost time for Hawaii’s Big Dance, the Ironman race that defines careers and make legends of its champions, which starts with the firing of a cannon and shot unknown Chrissie Wellington to multisport immortality back in 2007.
It’s the battleground of the most famous triathlon of them all, the Iron War, and year-on-year it provides feats of superhuman endeavour and industrial scale meltdowns in equal measure.
From its roots as the birthplace of Ironman, there is nothing like Hawaii’s Big Island, and next month the 2015 edition is set to be bigger and better than ever. 220 columnist Tim Heming casts his eyes over the Kona contenders and makes his picks for Ali’i Drive glory. First up, the women…
10. Meredith Kessler (USA)
Past results: Seventh in 2013; 26th in 2010; DNS in 2011 and 2012; DNF in 2014
Solid, dependable and successful – just not on the Big Island. Kessler’s transformation from an age-group triathlete with insatiable training needs to top-end professional is a testament to her perseverance, but she’ll have to keep working at it a little longer if she’s to crack the tough nut of Hawaii.
No doubt wily San Francisco-based coach Matt Dixon will have a plan to keep shaving the necessary seconds from the overall time that will give his star pupil and strong swim-biker a chance, but it’s doubtful whether the American has the run speed over a marathon to compete for the win.
Fortunes will at least look to be improved from last year where Kessler dropped out on the run, although her 5:11 bike split – while still the seventh quickest in the women’s field – was a good 15mins slower than she would have wanted.
This year Kessler has been back on the winning trail including six victories and wins in her favourite Antipodean hunting ground at Ironman New Zealand and in the Asia-Pacific 70.3 championship in Auckland – her only blemish being a DNF in last month’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship where she dropped out on the run.
It’s a similar build-up to the 2014 season, with an Ironman win early season to top up the qualifying points followed by a series of middle distance races. Her camp will just hope for a happier ending this time around.
9. Leanda Cave (GBR)
Past results: Champion in 2012; third in 2011; eighth in 2007; 10th in 2010; 12th in 2013; 18th in 2014; 20th in 2009; DNS in 2008
This promises to be Cave’s most competitive outing since taking the title in 2012. Since then the globetrotting star who was born in the UK, brought up Australia and now resides in Miami Beach, Florida has had to deal with press commitments, injuries and a debacle of a Commonwealth Games selection process that meant briefly flirting with a return to short course draft-legal races.
There was even a skin cancer scare to throw to into the mix. After a forgettable 12th in 2013 and 18th last year, Cave looks back in business, racing for a new Middle Eastern tri team, Alameda o.n, on a new bike, the quirky looking Ventum, and back with coach Cliff English.
Second in a fiercely contested North American Ironman Championship in Texas behind Canada’s Angela Naeth shows she is back in racing shape too. A rangy triathlete, Cave has proved she can cope with hot conditions despite the fair skin, and with a glut of experience, she’ll not be fazed by opposition tactics.
The biggest question marks are whether she has both the footspeed and desire for one more world title. Cave is already an ITU long distance champion, won the Ironman 70.3 title in the same year as her Kona win and even took the ITU world short course crown in Cancún, Mexico way back in 2002.
Expect better than the last two years, but at 37, there are a lot of miles on the clock for Cave to be much more than a top-10 contender.
8. Heather Wurtele (CAN)
Past results: eighth in 2011; 14th in 2012; 15th in 2014; DNF in 2013
One half of Canada’s first couple of triathlon, Wurtele is no longer a mere top-10 contender. The swim remains a weakness, which will not be helped by the absence of wetsuits from the warm Pacific waters, and it has to be disheartening running into T1 alongside Mirinda Carfrae as Wurtele did last year.
That said, as long as she’s not exiting T2 with Carfrae, Wurtele can at least match her best result to date on the Big Island. Her bike leg is strong and although the run did not hold up last year as she dropped to 15th, she consistently ducks under 3:10 for Ironman marathons.
This year performances have taken a step up. Wurtele was runner-up – albeit a distant second – behind Daniela Ryf in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria which matched the one-two of the stacked field in the $300,000 Challenge Dubai in February.
She also won the 70.3 North American title in St George, Utah. The final piece of the puzzle could be the dedicated support crew – because on the men’s side, husband Trevor hasn’t made the cut.
Continue reading our countdown for Kona 2015 (2/3)