Ironman North American Championship Sneak Peak

Can anyone come close to Daniela Ryf on the weekend? Can Matt Hanson take a fourth Ironman North American Championship title (and third in a row) in Texas? A preview of the weekend's racing.

| April 24, 2019 | NEWS

Matt Hanson and Ivan Tutukin blast through the marathon at the 2018 Ironman North American Championship Texas.

Matt Hanson and Ivan Tutukin blast through the marathon at the 2018 Ironman North American Championship Texas.

Photo >Talbot Cox

Set in The Woodlands, Texas, a planned community 45 km north of Houston, the Ironman North American Championship Texas has been a mainstay on the North American Ironman scene since the inaugural race in 2011 won by Eneko Llanos and Catriona Morrison.

The race hasn’t been without its challenges, though. Officials had to shorten the bike in 2016 and then a storm ripped through the event, forcing suspension of the race for many age groupers, too. Last year’s event saw issues out on the bike that had all vehicles pulled off the course, turning the race into a draft-fest. Since he was in front and unlikely to be getting any help, Andrew Starykowicz’s 3:55 bike split was certainly an impressive performance, but reports are that the course was about two miles, 3.2 km. short, which takes away from the American’s great ride. For the women, nine of the 10 fastest Ironman bike splits ever recorded came from the race, which has led many to question whether those times should be considered for overall records.

Hopefully officials will have things under control this year as the course is certainly very fast. Much of the bike course takes place on a fully-closed-to-traffic Hardy Toll Road, and the run course is also flat and fast, making for ideal conditions for a fast day.

Ryf ready to fly?

Daniela Ryf has been virtually unbeatable in long-distance racing over the last few years. The four-time Kona and four-time Ironman 70.3 world champion has seemingly only been challenged when she’s been dealing with injury or other issues – last year a broken zipper saw her do the ride at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship with a flapping-in-the-wind tri suit, but she still managed to take the win. If Ryf is healthy, its hard to imagine anyone can touch her on the weekend and we could be in for a record-setting day on the fast Texas course.

Other women to watch include 2017 Ironman New Zealand champ Jocelyn McCauley, her American countrywoman Lesley Smith, who was third in Texas last year and the runner up at Ironman 70.3 Texas a few weeks ago and Kimberly Morrison (GBR), who is likely to be very strong on the bike.

A fourth for Hanson?

Matt Hanson certainly loves the Texas course. He won in 2015, had a tough day in 2016, then returned to his winning ways in 2017 and 2018. His 2:34:39 run split last year was very impressive and he’s coming off a runner-up finish at Ironman 70.3 Texas, too, which bodes well for his fitness heading into the weekend.

The man who beat him in Texas, though, has proven his 2019 fitness in style. Andrew Starykowicz (USA) continues to blast through impressive bike splits as he did last year, setting a new bike course record on his way to second at Ironman New Zealand and taking the 70.3 Texas race in style thanks to a stellar bike and a solid run.

The list of other men’s contenders is huge. American Matt Russell made a miraculous comeback in 2018 after a horrendous bike crash in Kona in 2018 with a magical sixth-place finish at last year’s Ironman World Championship. Sweden’s Patrik Nilsson had a tough day at Ironman South Africa, but earlier this year took third at Ironman 70.3 Dubai. Great Britain’s Will Clark was third in Texas last year, posting a 2:40 marathon in the process. Michael Weiss won Ironman 70.3 Campeche in March and took third at the Ironman African Championship, so look for him to be in the mix, too.

One man who might sneak under the radar on the weekend is Mexico’s Mauricio Mendez Cruz, who is competing in his first full-distance race. The youngest ever Xterra world champ was supposed to make his Ironman debut in Cozumel last fall, but instead looks to be part of the stellar field this weekend.