With no Phil Graves at this weekend’s Ironman UK, it leaves the door open for Stephen Bayliss, right? In fact, we could very well be looking at Bayliss wins in both the men’s and women’s race. But there are some stalking horses in the field who could easily spring an upset, as Henry Budgett explains.By Henry Budgett
When Ironman UK moved to Bolton last year it would probably have taken a powerful crystal ball to have predicted that a 20-year old Iron-rookie would have beaten the defending champion and become the youngest person, pro or otherwise, to win an Ironman.
However, Philip Graves won’t be defending his title this weekend. Indeed, if his words are to be believed, we won’t see him at the full distance again for a few years after his spectacular race in Lanzarote back in May. He and Maik Twelsiek ripped up the bike course until Graves suddenly realized that he was playing in a different league and coasted home to publically put a bounty on his own head if he’s seen on an Ironman start line within two years.
Which leaves the 2008 winner, Stephen Bayliss pretty much in the driving seat for this year’s race. He placed second last year here in Bolton, just 2:38 off Graves, and with multiple podium places to his name across UK, South Africa and Austria he’s got the experience as well. It’s difficult to gauge who will be his most serious rival: Fraser Cartmell has a point to prove, his last Ironman distance race was at Sherborne in 2008 and it all went wrong at mile 15 on the marathon. Gregorio Caceres Morales has multiple finishes to his credit, the best being a fourth at Lanzarote last year – being a native of that island the hills round Bolton won’t phase him – while Eneko Elosegui raced here last year so he knows the course and has a previous best of 6th in China this year.
And there are a couple of potential dark horses in the mix as well; Anton Blokhin placed 10th in Austria last month while there have been more than a few comments about Axel Zeebroek’s potential. In truth, we probably won’t get to call this one until half way through the run on Sunday.
The women’s field does have returning champion, Bella Bayliss as a clear favourite. She’s won on home soil, both here and at Sherborne, for the last three years but a below-par start to her season with uncharacteristic DNFs in South Africa and Austria do put a small question mark against what appears to be a safe bet. There’s clearly a strong domestic challenge in the form of Jo Carritt, who has already delivered a seventh in Lanzarote and an eighth in France this year, plus Yvette Grice who had top five placings in the last two Sherborne races.
The domestic challengers won’t have a clear run at it though: Donna Phelan has probably the strongest portfolio with a fifth in Brazil this year and three podiums in 2008 including a second place in China. Also with a Far Eastern result to her credit is Zsuzsanna Harsanyi, who placed second in Malaysia in 2006. As with the men’s race, this one could go one of five ways… …and it probably will!