Our round-up of some of the top women to watch this weekend in Kona.
With Chrissie Wellington absent from the field at Kona this year, there’s no defending champion to dominate, but that doesn’t mean it’s a totally wide-open race. There are a small group of women who all have the top step of the podium within their grasp, here – in no particular order – are the ladies to look for on the lava-lined highways.
After resigning from her job as a lawyer in 2008, Rachel Joyce’s fortunes in Ironman racing have seen a decidedly upward trajectory with sixth place at Kona in 2009, fifth in 2010 and fourth in 2011, she’s sure to be eyeing the podium. Joyce has plenty of big race results under her belt, coming fourth in Abu Dhabi, second at Ironman South Africa and first in Ironman Lanzarote in 2011. This year she’s upped her game again, taking silver in Ironman Melbourne (the Asia-Pacific Champs) and the win at Challenge Roth as well as a couple of 70.3 titles. With that rare ability to perform well throughout the season and go even faster at Kona – where others struggle with the conditions and enormous pressure – Joyce is definitely in with a shot at the title.
The rest of the women’s field will be looking to make time on Australia’s Carfrae long before the marathon as by the time trainers meet tarmac, it’ll be too late. Holder of the Kona run record – an incredible 2:52:09, ‘Rinny’ was first in 2010 (sans Wellington) and second last year, the only athlete to really put pressure on the four-time world champ. 2012 has been mixed though. Losing half an hour to Caroline Steffen in the Asia Pacific championships, Carfrae has only one 70.3 title to her name this year (Lake Stevens) in a season that has seen her change coach and revamp her training to improve cycling strength. Carfrae has also had to contend with bouts of illness – partly the reason for her DNF at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Despite this, a with minimal racing recently, a rested Carfrae who has increased bike strength will still prove a top contender in Hawaii so long as she’s not hampered by nutrition and illness worries.
Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen is one of the hardest-working and most consistent performers on the Ironman circuit. Coming second at Kona in 2010, Xena, as her team-mates know her, led the Ironman World Championships last year on the run until her recurring leg injury forced her to slow, resulting in fifth place. Steffen’s 2012 season has been as perfect as any athlete could wish for. With her injury finally sorted – thanks in part to a change in running footwear – she came third in Abu Dhabi before smashing the Ironman bike world record in Melbourne, completing the 112 miles in 4:35:29 and going on to secure the win with a 3:01:22 marathon. Steffen then added the European Championships to her Asia-Pacific title with a back-to-back win at Ironman Frankfurt before claiming the ITU Long Distance World Championship and Ironman 70.3 Philippines. Barring a catastrophic race, Steffen’s sheer power on the bike and massively improved run could very well earn her the Ironman World Championship.
Mary Beth Ellis
Now in her second year after moving up to Ironman-distance, America’s Ellis had a stunning debut season winning Ironman Austria in a first-race world record of 8:45:30. She followed this up with a victory at Ironman Regensburg and a course record win at Ironman Canada. Her first trip to Kona probably doesn’t rank highly in her all-time career memories however, with fatigue from a busy season stemming her ability to compete at her best, meaning a 15th place finish. 2012 has been just as impressive as last season – wins in Ironman Texas, Alpe d’Huez and Ironman New York – but with the key difference that this year she’s rested and ready to take on the rest of the world’s best in Kona.
Cave is another Brit in with a good chance of topping the podium in Kona this year. With a strong showing for third place in 2011, Cave followed this up with a convincing win at Ironman Arizona and has had a great 2012 that’s included a win at the renowned Wildflower long-course triathlon, yet another victory at the Escape From Alcatraz race and – despite losing some summer training with a back injury – winning the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. If she can combine her 70.3 speed and undoubted strength with a good race in Hawaii, Cave may indeed claim the Ironman World Championship to sit alongside her 70.3 trophy.
America’s Kessler has had a superb season that has shown improved form on 2011. This year, Kessler has won Ironman New Zealand, Ironman St. George and Ironman Coeur d’Alene and well as two 70.3 titles. Like Ellis, Kessler has taken things easy recently to prepare for Kona and could prove a serious podium contender.
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