A year ago Tempe was the scene of Leanda Cave’s first IRONMAN title. The win capped off an impressive fall surge that saw the 34-year-old from Great Britain finish third at the Ironman World Championship, win Ironman 70.3 Miami, finish second at the ITU Long Distance Championship and then take the title in Arizona. After a tough start to the 2012 season, Cave is once again proving that she’s the one to beat over the last four months of the year. Since September she’s unbeaten when it comes to anything longer than a half-distance event – she won the IRONMAN World Championship 70.3 in Henderson, Nevada, won the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawai’i and defended her title at Ironman 70.3 Miami last month.
Care to bet against her on Sunday? While you’d be foolish to do so, Cave is hardly guaranteed an easy swim, ride and run to the finish line over the flat, fast course in Tempe. Ironman champions abound in the deep women’s field, including Americans Linsey Corbin, Meredith Kessler and Amanda Stevens, along with this year’s Ironman Lanzarote champion, Denmark’s Michelle Vesterby, who led for much of last year’s race.
Ironman Arizona has been a mainstay race for the 2009 champ Jordan Rapp for years, but an unfortunate mountain bike accident last week has forced this year’s Ironman North America champ to pull out. His absence hardly diminishes the talent competing in the men’s race, though. Ironman champions abound, including Americans TJ Tollakson and Matthew Russell, Germany’s Stephan Vuckovic (who was also the silver medalist at the first Olympic triathlon), Switzerland’s Mathias Hecht and Great Britain’s Fraser Cartmell. It will also be interesting to see how Olympian Tyler Butterfield makes out in his IRONMAN debut on Sunday.