Stellar pro and age group fields line up in Frankfurt

Celebrating 15 years of racing in the European monetary capital, the Ironman European Championship will once again be one of the year's most exciting races.

| July 1, 2016 | NEWS

Ironman Frankfurt 2015 - Laufen - 10 | Daniela Ryf managed to set a course record last year despite the extremely hot conditions.

Daniela Ryf managed to set a course record last year despite the extremely hot conditions.

Photo >Michael Rauschendorfer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since the Ironman European Championship started here in Frankfurt. I’m dating myself here, but I covered the last “Ironman Germany” race in Roth in 2001. That year, just days before the race, then race director Detlef Kuhnel held a press conference and let the world know that since Ironman had decided to start looking into an event in Frankfurt, he and the crew from Roth were going to go their own way.

We’ll be in Roth in a few weeks to see the magnificent result of that decision – the Roth event has become one of the pinnacle races in the world of triathlon. The race here in Frankfurt has also firmly established itself as one of the biggest events outside of Kona, too.

Just ask Tim O’Donnell, last year’s third place finisher in Kona.

“Everything I do is in preparation to race in Kona,” he said yesterday. “At the end of last year I decided that there’s nothing harder to do than racing the German’s in Frankfurt, so that’s why I’m here.”

Or ask Ironman CEO Andrew Messick, who, despite his obvious bias, was hardly making things up when he talked about this race at the press conference yesterday:

“Frankfurt is special because it is the biggest and most competitive professional and age group race outside the world championship,” he said. ”There are more age group slots than any other age group race. There are more than 65 countries represented. More than half of the field consists of non-German athletes. The finish line is legendary. The hospitality here is renowned among our athletes around the world.”

While you might want to quibble about the “most competitive” part of his statement when it comes to the pro race, the one thing that is certainly undeniable about Sunday’s 15th running of the Ironman European Championship here in Frankfurt is that we’re in for some exciting racing.

Pressekonferenz Ironman Frankfurt | Daniela Ryf arrives as the prohibitive favorite.

Daniela Ryf arrives as the prohibitive favorite.

Photo >Frank Wechsel / Spomedis

Ryf ready to rumble

Last year’s women’s champ, Daniela Ryf, has been pretty much unstoppable since she finally got through a bunch of school stuff two years ago and started to get things in motion to begin her long distance career in earnest. Two years ago in June she won Ironman 70.3 Switzerland, then came back a few weeks later to take an impressive double – 5i50 European Championship and Ironman Switzerland on the same weekend. From there began a “race every second weekend” stretch that saw her take, amongst other titles, the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden, Ironman Copenhagen and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. She rested up for a couple of weeks after the 70.3 worlds and then took second in Kona.

The following year there were no seconds on her race resume. The magical 2015 year included wins in Kona and in Zell am See at the Ironman 70.3 worlds, along with a course-record win here in Frankfurt (which was even more impressive considering the oppressive heat that made the day so challenging). There was also the “triple crown” that, thanks to wins in Zell, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, netted her a cool $1 million.

Ryf is back to defend her title in Frankfurt. Just as was the case a few years ago, she’s only recently finished up with school for the year. Her coach, Brett Sutton, has “gone easy on her” so far (her words), but that’s hard to believe when you look at her – she looks incredibly fit, strong and ready to rip this course apart in two days.

There are really only a few women on the planet capable of taking Ryf on when she is in good form and one of them is here ready to race on Sunday. Melissa Hauschildt is a two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion who dominated the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship last year but has been plagued with injuries ever since. A former steeplechaser, anyone who has seen Hauschildt run knows just how strong she can be when she’s firing on all cylinders. She’s in desperate need of qualifying points to get to Kona (a win here would guarantee her a spot, too), so she arrives in Frankfurt extremely motivated to go for the win.

After that it’s really hard to see any other women in the running for the win here in Frankfurt. Even Natascha Schmitt, the hometown hero, downplayed her chances for a win here at yesterday’s press conference. There are numerous Ironman champs and top contenders in the field, though, who will at least keep the two favorites honest throughout the day including last year’s Ironman Lanzarote champ Diana Riesler, speedy runner Kristin Moeller and Emma Bilham from Switzerland, who is fresh off a runner-up finish in Nice.

Pressekonferenz Ironman Frankfurt | Sebastian Kienle would love to take the title he earned here two years ago.

Sebastian Kienle would love to take the title he earned here two years ago.

Photo >Frank Wechsel / Spomedis

Kienle is motivated

Last year’s Frankfurt champ, Jan Frodeno, is getting ready to go after the world-best time in Roth in a couple of weeks, which in theory should have made this an easier day for 2014 Ironman champ (and 2014 Frankfurt winner) Sebastian Kienle, but he’s going to have his work cut out for him to take the European title again this weekend.

Kienle admits that he struggled last year under the pressures and commitments of being the defending world champion, not to mention an Achilles tendon injury that slowed him up, but arrives here in Frankfurt as confident as I’ve ever seen him before a race. He’s focussed and fit, but also fully aware that Sunday is going to hurt.

O’Donnell is just one of a number of men who has a legitimate shot at the win here, and everyone’s path to the top of the podium will follow the same race strategy. Andreas Boecherer hasn’t been beaten this year and arrives in Frankfurt brimming with confidence. Both O’Donnell and Boecherer are strong in the water, which allows them to follow the same race strategy that Frodeno has used to beat Kienle at other events: push through the swim to open a gap, then keep the pressure on during the bike to ensure that if Kienle is able to get up to the front during the ride he’s had to pretty much leave a lung on the side of the road to get there.   

Helping them with that race strategy will be the likes of Christian Kramer, Marko Albert, Will Clark, former Frankfurt champ Eneko Llanos, Aussie Joe Gambles and Bertrand Billard.

All of which should lead to quite a show on Sunday.

Throw that exciting pro race in with an age group event that includes over 3,000 registered athletes from 65 different countries gunning for 75 Kona qualifying slots and you have the makings of another great day of racing here in Frankfurt.