A look at the top women vying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, this weekend

The Ironman World Championships women’s race is set to be a corker this year with a field levelled by injury and uncertainty that should provide compelling racing on Saturday.

Here’s a look at some of the best women toeing the line in Kona.

Leanda Cave Ironman triathlon

Leanda Cave (GBR)

Top finish in Kona: 1

The reigning world Ironman and 70.3 world champion tops the KPR by a huge margin and validated her 2013 slot by racing the 2012 edition of Ironman Arizona, meaning she’s been concentrating only on defending her title since the end of last year – or would have been were it not for a string of injuries sustained after hitting training too hard after her off-season break.

Rehab seemed slow, with Cave training under the radar before taking a second place finish at Ironman 70.3 Boulder before going on to a 13th-place finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Vegas, where she slipped off the back of the lead bike pack.

It’s hard to say whether Cave will have managed to find title-defending form In just over a month, but her inexorable running last year in Kona shows her mind-over-matter strength, signalling that she should never be underestimated.

Swim 10/10
Bike 8/10
Run 9/10
Overall 27/30

Challenge Roth 2013 Caroline SteffenCaroline Steffen (SUI)

Top finish in Kona: 2

Xena’s race schedule has been a little lighter than last year’s but she’s still taken second at Ironman 70.3 Auckland and in Abu Dhabi, third in Ironman Melbourne and won Challenge Roth in 8:40:35 (which she raced instead of defending her Ironman European title), beating Yvonne Van Vlerken – who beat her in Melbourne – by over five minutes. She took a big payday by winning Meta Man Bintan in late August and has been prepping for Hawaii since.

This steadily-improving form signals a better-rested Steffen who is going into Kona in her best ever shape and has to be a good bet for the top of the podium if the race doesn’t conspire against her.

Swim 8/10
Bike 10/10
Run 9/10
Overall 27/30

(Photo: Allen Krughoff)

Rachel Joyce (GBR)

Top finish in Kona: 4

Joyce’s 2012 Kona campaign was scuppered by tonsillitis, though the plucky Brit still finished 11th. This year, she utterly destroyed the competition at Ironman Texas, clocking an 8:49:14 to go eighth overall, just 25 minutes behind winner Paul Amey and 35 minutes ahead of her nearest competitor. Joyce skipped Challenge Roth due to illness but is on the mend and should be ready to rumble in Kona, a stage upon which she has already performed well, coming sixth, fifth and fourth in 2009, 2010 and 2011. If she’s managed to fully overcome the illness, Joyce is certainly capable of winning on Saturday.

Swim 9/10
Bike 9/10
Run 9/10
Overall 27/30

Mirinda Carfrae (AUS)

Top finish in Kona: 1

Tiny Aussie star Carfrae completed her mandatory Ironman for this season’s rankings last November in Florida, leaving her to take a steadily-improving series of results over 70.3 and Olympic distance through the middle of the year culminating in victory at Ironman 70.3 Muskoka on 8 September.

Carfrae is one of the – if not the undisputed – fastest Ironman runners in the world and holds the women’s Kona run course record of 2:52:09, proving she isn’t phased by Kona’s heat or the pressure of the big occasion.

The Aussie was third in Hawaii last year and has since returned to Siri Lindley, who cached her to a win in 2010. Meanwhile, the lack of an Ironman race in 2013 should mean she’s fresh and fast on race day, making her a cert for the podium and a likely winner overall.

Swim 7/10
Bike 9/10
Run 10/10
Overall 26/30

Mary Beth Ellis Ironman Mont Tremblant 2013

Mary Beth Ellis (USA)

Top finish in Kona: 5

Ellis has won all eight Ironman races she’s competed in outside of Kona and was a contender at last year’s world champs, where she came fifth. She ended 2012 with a win at Ironman Cozumel and has continued to race brilliantly in 2013; winning 70.3 Florida and Ironman France, where she set a new course record.

All this would point towards her being a dominating force on the Big Island this weekend, but a bike crash on 9 September means the American has had to deal with a shoulder injury interrupting her crucial Kona build-up. Nevertheless, Ellis is a tough competitor and it wouldn’t be the first time that an injured – and perhaps discounted – athlete had taken the crown at Ironman Hawaii.

Swim 10/10
Bike 9/10
Run 7/10
Total 26/30

Jodie Swallow (GBR)

Top finish in Kona: First time

A regular on middle- and long-distance podiums, it feels as though Swallow should have raced Kona before, but 2013 marked her Ironman debut in South Africa, where she took second before setting a course record at the country’s 70.3 event.

The Brit’s superb form continued at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt, where she clocked a stunning 8:58 to come second behind Camilla Pedersen before winning Ironman Sweden in 8:54:01 by 23 minutes and booking her spot for the Big Island.

Swallow is a superb swimmer who will probably leave the water with the pro men and has a savage turn of speed on the bike. If she can survive the heat and put in the run she’s capable of, she could be on course for a spectacular end to the season.

Swim 10/10
Bike 9/10
Run 7/10
Overall 26/30

(Photo: Triathlon.org | Delly Carr / ITU)

Liz Blatchford (GBR)

Top finish in Kona: First time

Blatchford is a recent convert to long-course racing who took her first Ironman victory in her first attempt, winning Ironman Cairns earlier this year in 9:19:51. This planted the seed for Kona with Blatchford’s fourth-place finish at Ironman Mont Tremblant securing the points needed to race on the Big Island. A fantastic swimmer with a strong bike and run in her arsenal, Blatchford’s  ITU speed should help her keep pace in Kona, where she’s been training for a month in the lead up to Saturday’s race.

Swim 10/10
Bike 7/10
Run 8/10
Overall 25/30

Sonja Tajsich (GER)

Top finish in Kona: 4

Tajsich was fourth in Hawaii last year and completed her mandatory Ironman by coming third in Cozumel in November. Rarely racing more than one Ironman a year outside of Kona, the German has completed rather than competed three 70.3 races to fill her scorecard and punch her ticket for this year’s world championship. If she manages to improve on last year’s slow swim, she’ll be in the running for the podium, having biked exceptionally strongly and set the fastest run time in 2012.

Swim 5/10
Bike 10/10
Run 10/10
Total 25/30

Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED)

Top finish in Kona: 2

Van Vlerken didn’t race in Kona last year, but won Ironman Florida with a new course record of 8:51:35 before taking fifth in Abu Dhabi, second at the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships and second at Challenge Roth. The Dutchwoman knows how to perform in Hawaii too, having come second there in her Kona debut to Chrissie Wellington in 2008.

Like Cave and Carfrae, Van Vlerken is now being coached by Siri Lindley, who could well enjoy a sweep of the podium this weekend.

Swim 7/10
Bike 9/10
Run 8/10
Overall 24/30

See the rest of our 2013 Ironman World Championship coverage here. We’ll be updating regularly in the run up to Kona.