Ironman World Champ predictions: who will be queen of Kona?
It's Kona time and the best long distance triathletes in the world are descending once again on Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship, but who will be high-fiving along Ali’i Drive and supping from the largest umeke bowl on Saturday, October 14? 220Triathlon columnist Tim Heming counts down his top 10 women’s predictions.
10. Anja Beranek, 32, Germany
Those who enjoy the raucous atmosphere of Tenby in Wales might remember the German from her Ironman victory in 2015 and a runner-up spot four years earlier. She followed up that 2015 result with a second consecutive DNF in Hawaii, before finally cracking a big part of the Kona code to finish fourth last year. A strong swim-biker, Beranek was in exalted company at the front of the bike ride with Daniela Ryf for much of last year’s race before slipping back with a 3:16hr marathon. This year hasn't been straightforward. A virus meant she only finished eighth in the European Championship in Frankfurt, but a confidence-boosting win at Ironman 70.3 Ruegen at the start of September suggests she’s in the form to again make the prize money.
9. Lucy Charles, 24, Great Britain
Charles slips through the water so quickly she clocked the fastest women’s swim by almost 3mins in 2015… as an age-grouper. In 2016, she wasn't competing in the main event, so instead won the pre-race Ho'ala training swim over the same course outright. This year expect the youngest in the field to emerge with plenty of clear water - perhaps joined by almost-as-impressive American Lauren Brandon - and then lead the way for the first 40km of the bike. It’s when the chasers catch that the race will really start for the 24-year-old, but even if she does lose time on the bike, expect a sting in the tail on the run. Charles won the inaugural Challenge Half Championship in Samorin in Slovakia in the last kilometre of the half-marathon, and second place at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt was also impressive. So too was victory at Ironman Lanzarote – a volcanic island as close to anything Europe has to Hawaii’s terrain. And although this is Charles’s first Kona start as a professional, she's raced on the Big Island before, winning the 18-24 age-group in 2015 in 10:20hr.
8. Susie Cheetham, 31, Great Britain
After a spectacular first season in Ironman in 2015 - culminating in a sixth-place finish in Hawaii - the Brit was dogged by plantar fasciitis, a bike crash in South Africa, and a DNF at Kona last year. But 2017 has been kinder on Cheetham, who's been back on form and threatening at the front of races again. The 31-year-old made it a British double with Tim Don in winning Ironman Brazil in a speedy course record 8:52hr to back up a third place in South Africa in April. Add that to a trio of 70.3 runner-up positions in South Africa, Dublin, and Luxembourg, an improving swim and strong bike coupled with an already formidable run, and the former national level cross-country and track runner could match her result of 2015, or perhaps go even better.
7. Sarah Piampiano, 37, USA
Piampiano has finished seventh in Kona for the past two years and as she looks set fair for another top 10 finish, another seventh is as good a pick as any. In her only Ironman of the year, she placed second behind Sarah Crowley at the Asia-Pacific Championship in Cairns, underlining her strong bike-run credentials with a 4:52hr bike and 3:02hr run. In Kona last year she was similarly strong on dry land with a 5:07hr bike and 3:07hr run combination. Where Piampiano struggles is in the water, and a 1:02hr 3.8km swim in Hawaii will need to be improved upon if the former investment banker - who took up triathlon in 2009 – wants to threaten the top five. This season she's been solid in middle-distance competition. After three runners-up spots in 70.3 races, she finally stood atop the winner’s rostrum in August – although she did have to head to Qujing in China to achieve it.
6. Michelle Vesterby, 34, Denmark
The Dane loves Hawaii but, judging by her effervescent demeanour, she seems to love every race. Vesterby goes into her sixth appearance on the Big Island as a strong contender, having finished sixth in the qualifying points list and sixth last year too. A win in Ironman Cozumel in November was backed up by another on home soil in Copenhagen and a third place in Austria. Vesterby needs to improve her run if she’s going to push for a podium place, a 3:12hr marathon best is solid but not frightening any of the main contenders. Whatever the finishing position, you can expect a beaming smile to emerge along Ali’i Drive. And, when the going gets tough, that positive outlook is probably her greatest strength.