We take a look at some of the top male contenders for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, this weekend.

With a staggeringly talented men’s field at Kona this year, there are plenty of contenders to try and steal the crown from defending champion Craig Alexander. Here are the cream of the crop to look out for.

Craig Alexander riding his Specialized Shiv in Kona last year

Craig Alexander

The Aussie returns to attempt a fourth title win after beating Luc Van Lierde’s 15-year-old course record in Kona last year, proving that at 38, his pro career was far from over. 39 is looking to be a good age for Crowie too. Despite losing his Ironman 70.3 World Championship trophy to Germany’s Sebastian Kienle this year, Alexander won the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships in emphatic style, crossing the line in 7:57:44, and without as busy a racing schedule in 2012, he comes to the race prepared for battle in fantastic form for another victory.

Andreas Raelert

Twice second and twice third at the Ironman World Championships, Germany’s Raelert will finally be looking to lift the tape ahead of the competition this year. 2011 was a spectacular season that saw Raelert set a new iron-distance world record at Challenge Roth, but he’s suffered with a thigh injury this year, meaning he’s coming into the race as something of an unknown quantity. If he is indeed in form, his previous Kona appearances show he’s a man for the big occasion and could well top the podium at last.

McCormack is back after a year away from Kona

Chris McCormack

Now that McCormack’s Olympic odyssey is over, Macca will be returning to the Big Island for the first time since his win in 2010. Though short-course triathlons haven’t afforded him the same build-up to Kona as in previous years, his added speed could prove decisive if he’s at the front of the field in the closing stages. He’s also shown that his endurance hasn’t tapered off, winning the ITU Long Distance World Championships this year. Master of mind games, the Aussie should never be underestimated, and it’s unlikely anyone in the field has written him off.

Sebastian Kienle

Racing in Kona for the first time, Sebastian Kienle has shown a flurry of fantastic performances in the build up to his Hawaii debut. At only 28 years old, the German holds the records for the fastest first-ever iron-distance race after going 7:57:06 at last year’s Challenge Roth (after smashing the rookie record the year before), where he came second to Andreas Raelert. This year he came second at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt and went on to beat defending champion Craig Alexander in Las Vegas to claim the 70.3 World Championship. Run speed is perhaps his weakness, but if he can make headway on the bike, a buffer of between five to 10 minutes could spell victory.

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Pete Jacobs could make it an all-Aussie podium

Pete Jacobs

Another Australian in the mix, Jacobs surprised many by coming second in Kona last year after eighth and ninth place finishes in 2008 and 2009 respectively. 2:41 and 2:42 marathons back to back in Hawaii proved it wasn’t a fluke though. Jacobs is also one of the sport’s fastest swimmers and has been working with diligent obsession on cycling gains. The Aussie has suffered with injuries in 2012 however, a pinched nerve contributing to a quiet season when the luxury of laying low in Kona is now lost to him. A recent win at Ironman 70.3 Philippines shows he’s recovered well and is likely to be headed to Hawaii well rested and in superb form.

Marino Vanhoenacker

Belgium’s Vanhoenacker is certainly one of the best European Ironman athletes. After a Kona DNF in 2009, Vanhoenacker took two Ironman wins in 2010, topping the season by coming third in Kona. 2011 saw a second place in Abu Dhabi before setting the Ironman world record in Austria. This year he took a strong victory in Frankfurt to claim the European Ironman Championship. Vanhoenacker has yet to show his true potential on the Big Island, but if this year turns out to be his perfect race, he’s a true contender for the crown.

Dirk Bockel

After a fourth place finish at Kona in 2011, Bockel, who hails from Luxembourg, will be looking to step into the podium this year. With McCormack back and such a strong field it’ll be a tough ask, but with sixth place in Abu Dhabi, third at the ITU Long Distance world champs and a win at Ironman Regensburg, Bockel has shown he’s in good form to give it his all in Hawaii.

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