Packed, stacked, a tough one to call… say what you like about the men’s race at the Ironman World Championships, but this year more than many in recent memory is a tough one to predict. Or is it? Because despite all the media speculation and the great man himself suggesting that he expects to be pushed all the way, can anyone really beat Craig Alexander? Of course. There is too much at stake and too many variables at play to reach any other conclusion. So then the question becomes who? Well, using the good old fashioned finger-in-the-air approach we’ve tried to narrow it down to the top six contenders for the crown (plus a few others), but feel free to have your say in the comments section below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.
Craig Alexander (AUS)
Best Kona Result: 2008, 2009, 2011 Ironman World Champion
Craig Alexander came to Kona this year with a view to taking on Lance Armstrong. For very obvious reasons that tete-a-tete will not materialize and so Crowie has his sights solely on gunning for title number four. If he can do it it will be a remarkable achievement; he is only the fourth man in Ironman history to back up a Kona crown (2008 and 2009) and was the first to hold the 70.3 and Kona crowns in the same year (2011). However, in his last 70.3 outing at Vegas – a race he now affords equal billing to alongside Kona – Sebastian Kienle outbiked the Aussie and held him off on the run. Can the German – or anyone for that matter – do that over 140.6 miles? It’s going to be hard. On his last outing Crowie beat Luc Van Lierde’s 1996 course record by 12 seconds (8:03:56). This year the 39-year-old Aussie hasn’t raced as much as usual, but he says he is in the best shape of his life. If that’s the case, don’t bet against him bettering his own record on race day.
Pete Jacobs (AUS)
Best Kona Result: 2nd 2011
Anyone who watched the 2011 Ironman World Championships will know what Pete Jacobs is capable of. The Australian had a breakthrough performance in the race, nailing a 2:42:29 run (a minute short of his 2:41:06 marathon in 2010) en route to second. One of the fastest swimmers in the field, Jacobs only real Kona weakspot is the rolling hills of the Queen K. I he can limit his losses over the rollers this year then he is genuine contender for the win. That is a big if, though. The Australian has had an injury-disrupted season that has seen him perform below-par relative to previous years. A win at 70.3 Philippines was a definite step in the right direction, and word is that he’s in the best shape of his life coming into this race. If he can nail the 2:37 marathon he’s aiming for then he could be walking away with the title.
Andreas Raelert (GER)
Best Kona Result: 2nd 2010
So near, but yet so far. Andreas Raelert has promised to deliver the title on the Big Island on numerous occasions but has always found himself thwarted by an Australian (Alexander twice, McCormack once). Whereas in years gone by the German has gone into the race having enjoyed almost unparalelled success (2011 was a particularly vintage year for Andreas with a 7:41:33 Ironman-distance world record at Roth), this year has been trickier. An early-season thigh injury disrupted proceedings, and while he has returned to winning ways in the latter part of the year he is yet to pull together one of those blistering performances that leave the field in his wake. Can he do that in Kona? It would be foolish to bet against him, but he would need to have one hell of a day out there to do it.
Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL)
Best Kona Result: 3rd 2010
Is this Marino’s year? Undoubtedly one of the best Ironman triathletes around, when Vanhoenacker has one of ‘his’ days he’s pretty much untouchable. The question is: can he have one on the Big Island? Vanhoenakcer has historically struggled to transfer his European form to the Hawaiian Islands, a third in 2010 the Belgian’s best finish to date. Once again, the build-up has been spot on. 2012 saw Vanhoenacker win on the biggest European stage (Frankfurt), in the process beating a stellar field that included Sebastian Kienle. So can he finally claim the title in 2012? It depends on the day, the race conditions and the mindset. If they all come together he will be nigh on unbeatable.
Sebastian Kienle (GER)
Best Kona Result: First Time
Not many people had Sebastian Kienle down as a contender for the 2012 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Watching him ride away from the rest of the field in Vegas was nothing short of inspirational, while his gutsy run to seal the victory showed how deep the German can dig in pursuit of the win. Can he do the same in Hawaii? It might be the first time Kienle has raced on the Big Island but that doesn’t mean he can’t win it. The German boasts the fastest bike split in the history of the sport and scored a 7:57:06 at Challenge Roth – the fastest Ironman debut in the history of the sport. The question is whether a 2:50(ish) marathon is fast enough to win in Kona? If Crowie is flying (and other guys aiming for sub-2:40) then perhaps not. If the run is slower for whatever reason then we might well witness another one of those dig deep and tough it out runs to victory.
Chris McCormack (AUS)
Best Kona Result: 2007 & 2010 Ironman World Champion
Everybody loves Macca. Well, almost everybody. There are a few pro men who find his mind games slightly ‘difficult’ to handle, but that’s why he does them. When Macca left Ironman to pursue an Olympic dream the Ironman world was stunned. Macca raced hard over short course, but at the same time kept his eye in with a few impromptu Ironman appearances. The time away did him no harm as evidenced by his win against a solid field (including Eneko Llanos and Dirk Bockel) at the ITU Long Distance World Championships. McCormack is one of two genuine contenders who knows what it takes to win at Kona and is capable of putting in a big performance on the day. Will he have the legs to beat Crowie? Most pundits would say no, but that’s probably why Macca thinks he has a chance.
A Few Others To Watch Out For:
The men’s field really is stacked and it feels wrong to narrow it down to six main contenders. Here are a few of the other guys who could have a run at the title:
Dirk Bockel (LUX): Very good, very fast, and capable of nailing a Kona podium spot on his day. Bockel took the win in Regensburg earlier this year and will be looking to build on his fourth-placed finish in 2011.
Rasmus Henning (DEN): The Great Dane says he will bow out of professional racing after this World Championship so it’s an all-or-nothing race for him. He’s certainly got the pedigree to win it, but Kona has not historically been kind to him (admittedly, sometimes he hasn’t helped himself). If the preparation has been good and he races relaxed then he’s good enough to be a genuine threat.
Michael Raelert (GER): The Ironman world salivated over the prospect of the brothers racing in 2011. Injury put paid to that and Michael is yet to display the kind of form that everyone thinks he is capable of over full distance. Second on his IM debut at Regensburg was a good start, but will undoubtedly be an outsider for the race on Saturday.