Top field expected in St. George

A rematch of the Challenge Championship podium (Lionel Sanders, Sebastian Kienle and Michael Raelert) highlight the stacked field set to compete at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George, Utah.

| May 4, 2018 | NEWS

The podium from the Challenge Championship in 2017.

The podium from the Challenge Championship in 2017.

Photo >Peter Jacob / spomedis

This weekend we're looking forward to a big day at the event that has become an international spring classic: Ironman 70.3 St. George traditionally attracts many strong professional athletes and serves as the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship.

The prohibitive favorite has to be Canadian Lionel Sanders, who won the race in 2016 and finished second last year to Alistair Brownlee. The 30-year-old Canadian has already taken Ironman 70.3 Pucón in Chile in 2018 and finished second to Jan Frodeno despite an extremely strong performance at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. After that race, the 2017 Kona runner-up said that he wanted to work on his bike position and aerodynamics. So it will be interesting to see if he's made any significant changes on that front.

Saturday's race will serve as the first real endurance test of the 2018 season for Germany's Sebastian Kienle and Michael Raelert. Kienle had to cancel his start at Ironman 70.3 Texas at the last minute, but after his impressive riding at the mountain bike race "Cape Epic" in South Africa, it will be interesting to see what sort of shape the 2014 Kona champion is in. In 2016, Kienle finished second to Lionel Sanders in St. George, and was beaten by Alistair Brownlee and  Sanders last year.

It's not like things will be any easier this year. In addition to Sanders, Kienle's countryman and reigning Ironman 70.3 European Champion Michael Raelert is also looking to start his season in style after spending time preparing for the season in Lanzarote, Girona and in his hometown Hamburg.

It won't just be a three-way battle between Sanders, Kienle and Raelert. The international competition is huge: Tim Reed (AUS), who finished third behind Frodeno and Sanders in Oceanside, is also registered and can certainly be considered a favorite considering he's a former Ironman 70.3 world champion. His countryman Sam Appleton should also be in the running for a podium finish. Joe Gambles (AUS), TJ Tollakson (USA), Trevor Wurtele (CAN) and Antony Costes (FRA) are also potential podium finishers.

Wurtele, True and Seymour highlight the women's field

The women's race should also be very competitive. Last year's winner, Holly Lawrence, isn't racing this year, which put's last year's runner up, Jeanni Seymour, as one to watch. She'll face some stiff competition, though - Canadian Heather Wurtele has an amazing record in St. George and has spent lots of time training in the area. Add to that list Americans Sarah True and Alicia Kaye and you have the makings of an exciting day of racing in in Utah.