Patrick Lange and Daniela Ryf will wear race number one as they return to the Big Island to defend their Ironman World Championship titles.
October 3, 2018 | NEWS|
In 1978 a group of 14 men took on what has become the Ironman – a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and 42.2 km run – an event that, in essence, served as a the way to come up with the answer to who was the fittest athlete: a swimmer, a biker or a runner. Now, 40 years later, triathlon hardly has to serve as the answer to a bragging match. The sport is a challenge all of its own, with an Olympic title up for grabs every four years and numerous world championships held every year.
The Ironman World Championship remains somewhat unique in sports – a world championship that is put on a by a private company, one that sold for just under a billion dollars a few years ago. It is this event that truly serves as long-distance racing’s biggest draw. Every year thousands of athletes look to try and qualify for their chance to compete in Kona. There are more than 40 full-distance qualifying events held around the world. This year’s race will see almost 2,500 athletes from 82 different countries compete.
Ryf’s race to lose
While the age-group competition is always fierce in Kona, much of the world’s attention is on the pros. Unless something crazy happens, we’re likely to see three-time champion Daniela Ryf will claim yet another title. Two years ago she set a new course record, besting the top full-distance athletes in the world by over 20 minutes. She did the same again earlier this year in winning the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, Germany and won by almost the same margin over fellow three-time Kona champ Mirinda Carfrae over the 70.3 distance in Gdynia, Poland the following month. Last month she took her fourth 70.3 world title, too, proving that she remains in top form heading into Hawaii.
The strong field on hand for this year’s race is hardly ready to hand the title over to the Swiss star, though. Last year’s runner-up, Lucy Charles, is a formidable swim-biker who could put some pressure on Ryf coming into T2. Carfrae is back, too, after a year off to have a baby and has looked stronger and stronger, especially on the bike, as the year has progressed. A look at the women’s pro start list is full of potential podium contenders, but in the end, their hopes for the overall win will likely depend on Ryf – unless she falters for some reason, the chances of her not taking a fourth title are slim.
Ironman World Championship 2018
Pro Women Start List
Lange is back
The male equivalent of Daniela Ryf in 2018 was Jan Frodeno, the 2015 and 2016 Kona champion who had a tough day last year and would be forced to walk much of the marathon. The night of last year’s race he decided he would embark on a 2018 campaign in which he raced all of the top athletes in the sport, at races they typically excelled, to ensure he was ready to take them all on when it counted for the world championship. The result was a stunning display of wins that included an Ironman 70.3 Oceanside victory over Lionel Sanders, a win at Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau over defending men’s champion Patrick Lange, another victory over Lange in Frankfurt and then a stunning victory over defending Ironman 70.3 world champion Javier Gomez and two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee at this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa.
But Frodeno announced a few weeks ago that he won’t be racing in Kona – he has a stress fracture that has put him on the sidelines. Which makes this year’s race all the more exciting, because, even though Frodeno wouldn’t have been nearly as favored to take the win as Ryf was, he was certainly the man to beat to the finish line in Kailua-Kona.
Course record holder Lange (he set the course record here last year and the run course record in coming third two years ago) is back to defend his title. While the German star hasn’t appeared to be in top form at many of his races through the year, that’s hardly a reason to count him out. Last year he was injured for much of the first half of the year, but rounded into incredible form in time for the big day. This year he’s been healthy all year long and, thanks to the masterful guidance of his coach, 2005 champion Faris Al-Sultan, will no-doubt arrive in Kona ready for a big day.
The man to beat, without Frodeno in the field, though, is likely last year’s runner-up, Lionel Sanders. Last year Sanders likely pushed too hard on the bike trying to stay close to former pro cyclist Cameron Wurf, who set a new bike course record, which likely cost the Canadian the overall title as he faded over the closing stages of the marathon and was passed by Lange with five km to go. If Sanders dials in his pacing better this year he could very well be the first man across the line.
Another former German champion, Sebastian Kienle, finished second to Sanders at the Challenge Championship earlier this year, but since then has put together a masterful year of preparation for another go at another world title. He won Challenge Roth and has looked excellent in his half-distance prep races.
One Kona rookie who will certainly be one to watch this year is Javier Gomez, who has been focussed all year on taking one of the only titles he doesn’t have on his incredible resume. (OK, he “only” has a silver Olympic medal, too.) Normally rookies aren’t considered favorites for the overall win, and, realistically, Gomez probably will need a year to figure out the Kona dynamics, but if the more experienced racers falter at all, Gomez could very well finish at the top of this stacked field.
But the man who truly could change the outcome of the race is the afore-mentioned Cam Wurf. He’s done an insane amount of full-distance racing throughout the year, steadily improving his marathon times throughout the year. At Challenge Almere in early September he ripped through the first half of the marathon in sub-2:45 pace, then “shut things down” with Kona in mind. A year ago the field could easily have let Wurf ride away, safe in the knowledge that the chances of him running a sub-three hour marathon were slim. This year taking that chance might not be such a good plan, which will force people to mark Wurf a bit more than they otherwise might have wanted to.
Kienle stayed with Wurf for roughly 150 km of Challenge Roth, then let the Australian go and quickly caught him on the marathon, which shows he’s figured out exactly how much he can push on the bike. At that race, though, Wurf had finished Ironman Nice just a week earlier. Things will be quite different on the Big Island in October.
Like the women’s race, the men’s field is simply stacked with top competitors, many of whom have very realistic aspirations of a top finish. The bottom line? For the 40th year in a row we’re in for a fun week.
Ironman World Championship 2018
Pro Men's Start List