Ironman 2014: Who Will Wear the Kona Crown?

Pro men from left: Tim O’Donnell, Pete Jacobs, Craig Alexander, Sebastien Kienle, Luke McKenzie and Frederik Van Lierde. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

By Matt Lieto (and friends) | Special to Hawaii 24/7

This men’s race could be one for the ages. There are just so many different ways it could unfold.

I think the swim will splinter and see two or three main groups, with some fast action the first hour of the bike to bring the race back together.

I think we’ll have two or three athletes off the front of the bike coming into T2, with a main pack of six to eight coming in together.

The run could be one we’re talking about for years to come with a few athletes capable of sub-2:50 runs starting the marathon together.

Nevertheless, you’ve got to narrow it down to the top three that count.

Eneko Llanos: Llanos was the favorite coming into last year’s race, he’s won Melbourne, Texas, and Frankfurt before. He’s been second here before, and is one of the most experienced athletes racing. With very similar strengths to Frederik Van Lierde, Llanos is steady across the board. With tough conditions you may see him rise back to the top.

Jan Frodeno: This guy has some insane talent across all three disciplines and had an amazing season with Ironman 70.3 wins in St. George, Oceanside and Auckland. He had no problem jumping up to the distance and hasn’t shown any weakness to make me think he can’t succeed here. A win as a rookie with all of the experienced racers out here would be a legendary performance, and one he is capable of.

Paul Matthews: Matthews has been taken under the wing of the fastest man on this course (Craig Alexander) and he showed his improvements with a second place at Melbourne earlier this year. “Barney” is a scrapper and will swim up front, bike with the group and has the legs for a fast run. Did I say a fast run? In his three Ironman finishes, Paul has never run slower than 2:48 and never finished slower than an 8:06. He’s strong and stubborn, and with Crowie’s direction is bound for a great race.

There is also a lot of depth in this women’s race this year.

I expect the race dynamic to be set early with a front swim group that will mostly stay together for the majority of the bike.

The effort will be high within that group as they will be aware that with fast runners in the field a sizable gap to the main group will be paramount.

The gaps off of the bike will set the stage for the run in this race.

We’ll have a few big movers in the last half of the run, but I feel we’ll have a good idea of our top 5, but not their order, after the bike is complete.

Mirinda Carfrae: The defending champ and the clear favorite here on Saturday. Her run will have the others swimming, biking and running scared to build a cushion over this predator. Her swim leaves her a little behind so she may have some work to do to keep that bike gap in check with others working together up ahead. I feel Rinny needs to be within 12 minutes of the front of the race to be able to win, but maybe not. Will we see our first sub 2:50 from the women’s field?

Rachel Joyce: Joyce is not afraid to put her nose in the wind and certainly has the strength behind her to go off the front for the win. She has had a steady progression of finishes in Kona and will use her top swim and strong bike to get the time she needs to try and pull of the win. She had an amazing day last year appearing to not falter, but only get bested by a great athlete on a great day. A repeat performance could certainly get her the win this year.

Heather Wurtele: This Canadian has been on a steady upward swing the last few years and this year has really come into her own. Known as a strong athlete she has obviously worked on her speed with podium finishes at the Ironman 70.3 U.S. championships and world championship this year. Marry this with her Ironman winning experience and she could be a big danger for a Kona podium.

Just for fun, below I asked some industry insiders and friends for their own “nickel tour” of this year’s podium.

Pro women from left: Mirinida Carfrae, Rachel Joyce, Liz Blatchford, Caroline Steffen, Meredith Kessler and Daniela Ryf. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton

* Jordan Rapp (Pro triathlete)

Frederick Van Lierde: No big changes from last year in any aspect; been consistent all year; knows how to pick a few key races and ace them.

Jan Frodeno: You just can’t argue with that engine. No weaknesses except a lack of experience.

Ivan Rana: His performance in Austria shows he’s figured out how to put all three together for a complete race.

Mirinda Carfrae: A win in Roth shows she still has the fire. Has continued on her path of “kaizen,” continual improvement. She just keeps getting steadily better in every aspect every year.

Daniela Ryf: Her lack of demonstrated performance in Kona-esque conditions is the only thing keeping her from being the next Chrissie Wellington. Wellington won her first 140.6 at Ironman Korea in conditions that make Kona seem tame. Ryf’s wins have all been in cool or even cold conditions. But she’s got the coaching and the motor.

Rachel Joyce: No drama, ever, with Joyce, ESQ. She just shows up and executes. No reason to think that will change this year.

* Callum Millward (Pro triathlete and video host)

Jan Frodeno: Hungry to win, wants to be one of few to win a debut Ironman.

Eneko Llanos: Quality year, big race in Melbourne, capable of big win.

Paul Matthews: Guided by Crowie, big second-place in Melbourne this year.

Mirinda Carfrae: Proven track record

Liz Blatchford: Great training block, injury free, and lean as.

Caroline Steffen: Off the front, her race to lose.

* Mark Allen (Ironman Hall of Famer)

Tim O’Donnell: Balanced training, he’s ready to go.

Frederik Van Lierde: Knows how to have a great race.

Jan Frodeno: Has true pedigree.

Mirinda Carfrae: Capable of possibly one of the greatest sporting performances of all time.

Rachel Joyce: Dave says she’s ready and I trust Dave’s opinion.

Liz Blatchford: Gained valuable experience last year.

* Nils Nilsen (photographer)

Sebastien Kienle: Redemption

Jan Frodeno: Newbie

Tim O’Donnell: ‘Merica

Mirinda Carfrae: Proven

Liz Blatchford: Matt Steinmetz

Mary Beth Ellis: ‘Merica

* Herbert Krabel (Slowtwitch editor)

Ivan Rana: Under the radar

Frederik Van Lierde: Steady and strong

Sebastian Kienle: He’s German

Daniela Ryf: Oh my that Sutto (Brett Sutton)

Mirinda Carfrae: Easily could win

Rachel Joyce: How can she not be your choice?

— Find out more:

Two Iron superstars: Two-time world champion Mirinda Carfrae and Madonna Buder, the oldest woman ever to finish an Ironman. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)