[Editor's note: Timothy Carlson's odds, presented here, are those used by ProBikePool. The winner takes home a Kuota Kalibur bicycle.]
Guessing who will win Ironman Hawaii and in what order seems at first to be a simple thing. After all, Dave Scott and Mark Allen won six of these things, and Peter Reid finished 4-4-1-2-1-DNF-2-1-4-3 over a 10 year period.
Ironman Hawaii thus seems to reward consistent excellence and be less subject to one-hit wonders and lucky longs shots than almost any sport.
And yet, the conventional wisdom mavens at Kona are constantly caught short. In 1996 a careful look at his European results would have warned the Kona-centric press that Luc van Lierde was a killer in rookie’s clothing. Same story with Rutger Beke’s 2nd place in 2003.
While Kona is not subject to Las Vegas sports books, theoretically speaking no one ever went broke counting on the two-decades winning paradigm: stay with the main pack on the bike and win it on the run. Until Normann Stadler broke that old shibboleth and won it on the bike in 2004 and, to a lesser extent, in 2006.
Another bit of conventional wisdom is that the fewer Ironmans that year the better. If 3 is pushing it, two is better and best of all is to have qualified for this year’s race and make Kona your one and only. That worked for Dave Scott and Mark Allen. While Peter Reid won late-breaking Canada and Kona in 2000, the strain put him in deficit and illness for a year and a half.
Next bit of Kona Conventional Wisdom (CW) is that winning any other race means nothing when it comes to Kona. A subset of that wisdom is that great performances at Ironman Germany, however deep and strong the field, also mean nothing.
The final piece of CW is this: Some people are in tune with Madame Pele and the heat, wind and unpredictable spirit of the island. Some may believe in the spiritual aspect and some don’t. But both scientific and new age types can be in tune or out of tune with the island.
Finally, don’t take it as an insult when the odds on middle-range and long shot challengers seem high. These odds are based on the reasonable chance of winning – not where they stand on the bell curve. When there is a prohibitive favorite like Chrissie Wellington, that increases the odds against everyone else in the field.
In the case of the men, the field is so deep and talented, perfectly good Ironman triathletes have less chance of actually winning the Big Papaya. The high odds on many of them winning do not accurately reflect their chances of making the podium or a top five or a top ten finish.
Finally, these odds represent my attempt to handicap each contender according to their past record and present form. They do not represent any mad hunches who might get hot or who might not finish.
Remember, there are surprises in every Ironman Hawaii and while this race rewards fitness past record and current form, it is still maddeningly unpredictable
Craig Alexander (AUS) – 5-2
Bib number: 1
Defending champ and the most professional Ironman competitor today wisely avoided doing any other Ironman distance events before Kona (see Mark Allen and Dave Scott). Competitively, he had one bad outing at Vineman 70.3, but was undefeated at the rest of the 70.3 events at Singapore (beat Macca), Boise (ran down Lieto) Honu, Muskoka, Geelong. Stayed healthy and did all the long bikes, runs and swims required.
Eneko Llanos (ESP) – 4-1
Bib number: 2
This talented Spaniard quickly translated his Olympic short course Olympic speed to the rigors of Ironman. Won the ITU long course worlds in 2003. But key clashes on the big days, he takes a back seat in close finishes to folks like Macca and Crowie. This year, Llanos beat McCormack at Frankfurt, but bowed by less than a minute to Timo Bracht. Does Llanos have a fear of absolutely success? One of the best bets ever for second place.
Chris McCormack (AUS) – 5-1
Bib number: 15
The 2007 Ironman Hawaii champion and 2006 runner-up DNF’d with a malfunctioning bike last year. So he decided to do Frankfurt for an Ironman refresher and took third behind sub-8 hours Timo Bracht and last year’s Kona runner-up Eneko Llanos. Was Macca losing it? Well, on the same day he beat hot shot Andreas Raelert, Swiss upstart Matthias Hecht, 2005 Kona champ Faris Al-Sultan, and Ironman 70.3 World champ Terenzo Bozzone. On the 70.3 circuit, Macca took 2nd at Singapore (to Crowie) and New Orleans (to ITU stud Brent McMahon) won Austria and China (by 19 minutes in the heat), and took 2nd in the Philippines to Bozzone. Arriving at Kona a month early, he trained with Bozzone and, famous for getting inside the heads of his rivals, may have psyched out the young New Zealander.
Normann Stadler (GER) – 13-2
Bib number: 12
Stormin’ Normann, the 2004 and 2006 Ironman World Champion and the holder of the sizzling 4:18 bike record, is now a grizzled eminence of the field at age 38. But a marriage and the birth of a son seems to have inspired the Normannator. And his confidence is untouchable – so he ignores sparse regular season results with full faith that he can uncork another home run and add to his legend as Herr Oktober. But 2009 wasn't entirely devoid of promising results. Stadler grabbed a big lead off the bike at Quelle Challenge Roth and held off Michael Goehner and Pete Jacobs until Mile 13 of the run and finished 4th. Afterwards, Stadler said: “I’m not worried. Today was very cool and made it easier for anyone to go fast. I run better in the heat and wind at Kona.” Stadler once could rely on a pattern where he had great races in even years (2000 3rd, 2004 1st, 2006 1st) but last year he faded from the lead at Mile 13 to 12th at the finish. Part of his problem was a slight misfit with his brand new Scott bike, which led to strain on his legs and a fade on the run. This has been cured working with laser-precision Retul bike fitters and the prodigiously talented Stadler once again is good to go.
Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI) – 7-1
Bib number: 4
This Swiss star almost struck the podium last year with his 4th place finish at Kona. This year he scored a repeat win at Ironman Switzerland in 8:20, took a third at California 70.3 and kept under the radar for the rest of the year. Just not sure he has improved his game.
Timo Bracht (GER) – 8-1
Bib number: 28
The still brash 34-year-old German didn’t agree with a drafting call last year in Kona and refused to stop in the penalty box. Ran his heart out to cross the line 5th but was correctly DQ’d. So is this wild child ready for prime time? His 7:59:15 win at Frankfurt against the best field of the year, combined with a 2:43:06 run, combined with a love of the heat and winds at Kona, says yes.
Tim DeBoom (USA) – 17-2
Bib number: 33
Look at DeBoom’s results this year and you might say no way he could duplicate his 4th place comeback-from-a-string-of-injuries finish of 2007, much less recreate that heady string of 3-2-1-1 finishes at Kona from 1999 through 2002. Consider his 6th place finish at Ironman Australia with a 3:00 run, his 11th place at Kansas 70.3 with a blister-plagued 1:25:38 run. Now consider that Dave Scott often would get his ass kicked all year long then ace the field at Kona. According to the Boulder grapevine, DeBoom looks outstanding on long bikes and long runs, and if he’s close to his best, cannot be ignored.
Chris Lieto (USA) – 19-2
Bib number: 24
Perhaps inherited Stadler’s title as the best cyclist in the sport after several outings with the big boys in pro cycling stage races. In 2007, dueled bravely at Kona for the lead on the run, then finished 6th. Last year his run was off, but seems to have put his game together after a rip-roaring second place by two seconds to Crowie at Boise 70.3 and a 2nd at Ironman Arizona.
Andreas Raelert (GER) – 11-1
Bib number: 54
This 2000 and 2004 German Olympian was down in the dumps when Jan Frodeno, Daniel Unger and Christian Prochnow took the 2008 Olympic spots. But instead of sulking, Raelert showed a blaze of talent going long and took second at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships – with the fastest run of the day – and then promptly won Ironman Arizona, closing with a 2:46 marathon and thus shutting down runner-up Chris Lieto by five minutes.
Cameron Brown (NZL) – 12-1
Bib number: 5
Along with Rutger Beke (out due to injury), Cam Brown is the most consistent Kona performer in the decade, with 2nd places in 2001, and 2005, 3rds in 2002, 2003 , a 5th in 2008 and an 8th in 2006. This past year he scored a 7th win at Ironman New Zealand with a definitive 8 minute margin over fellow Kiwi Terenzo Bozzone. No matter how lackadaisical some of his mid season races may seem, this man knows how to prepare and execute at Kona.
Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 13-1
Bib number: 22
Last year, Vanhoenacker was coming off a 5th place finish at Kona and top finishes through the year promised better things. But when the day was done, the Belgian was way off the top 10 and everyone was puzzled. This year Vanhoenacker raised expectations again with an 8:01:38 win with a 2:50 run at Ironman Austria, won Antwerp 70.3 again, and lost a duel to the line by three seconds to Macca at Austria 70.3.
Rasmus Henning (DEN) – 15-1
Bib number: 32
Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer. This Dane was clutch in winning the first two $200,000 prizes at the short course Hy-Vee World Cups in Iowa. A methodical heir to the scientific approach of fellow Dane and recently retired Torbjorn Sindballe, Henning thrives in heat, killed the field at Ironman China and was on schedule to run a 8:15 debut Ironman there until 108-degree temps forced a conservative finish. Has won ITU long course worlds at Iron distance. Preparing quietly, thoroughly, could break the established order in this race wide open. However, in late-September, Henning broke his hand in a bike crash. Contemplated withdrawal, decided he had focused on this all year so he will soldier through. Satisfactory Ironman results with casts before, but this will make it much harder to reach the podium. No swimming until cast comes off week of race. Crash only reason his odds are not single digit.
Andy Potts (USA) – 16-1
Bib number: 7
Would be a top three contender if an age grouper had not run into him at the Chicago triathlon in late August. Extensive injuries and an episode where his heart rate fell precipitously left Potts taking crucial pre-Kona prep time off to heal. Anticipation was high that with longer rides and runs than he had time for last year would have produced a real threat for the podium.
Patrick Vernay (NCL) – 17-1
Bib number: 6
Finished sixth at Kona last year, defended his Ironman Australia title, great in the heat and nerveless under pressure.
Faris Al-Sultan (GER) – 18-1
Bib number: 11
German sensation went from 7th in 2003 to 3rd in 2004 to a win in 2005, and back to 3rd in 2006. Powerful, talented, great tactically in all three disciplines, has disappointed himself the past few years. While recognizing that the only race that really matters is Kona, his 6th at the Frankfurt Ironman and 6th at Frankfurt 70.3 does not inspire a lot of hope.
Reinaldo Colucci (BRA) –19-1
Only 23, the tall, lanky Colucci was 5th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds last year, scored a 2nd at Pucon, 5th at Singapore, 3rd at Wildflower, 6th at Vineman, and a 2nd at Ironman Brazil. Has Olympic distance speed and resilience of youth and a liking for long distance tri. Coached by Brett Sutton, Colucci is primed to score a top 10 or better at Kona.
Terenzo Bozzone (NZL) – 20-1
Bib number: 30
Brilliant record-smashing performance at age 21 to crush the course record at the Wildflower half Ironman by six minutes, followed by an Ironman 70.3 World title last year at Clearwater. In his Ironman debuts this year, he took 2nd at Ironman New Zealand and 4th against a top field at Ironman Frankfurt. Won Philippines and Eagleman 70.3s, and spent a month swimming, riding and running the Ironman course on Kona, much of it with Macca. If he’s not burned out, can stir up the race. Has potential to make these odds look ridiculously conservative.
Phillip Graves (GBR) – 21-1
Bib number: 53
One of the biggest breakthroughs of the year was Graves’ win at Ironman UK– at the age of 20 he was by far the youngest to ever win an Ironman. Cold wet weather at UK doesn’t promise a quick adaptation to Kona. But the crushing bike splits of this former cycling road racer should be a good fit at Kona.
Eduardo Sturla (ARG) – 22-1
Bib number: 10
This three-time Ironman Brazil winner was 10th at Kona last year, outran Colucci to win Ironman Brazil by 10 minutes, took 5th at Pucon 70.3 and 10th at Vineman 70.3.
Stefan Vuckovic (GER) -- 23-1
Bib number: 68
The silver medalist at the 2000 Olympics has successfully transitioned to the Ironman distance and has a few wins in previous years in his pocket. But this time around, a second place to Bert Jammaer in rugged Lanzarote is his only mark.
Matthias Hecht (SUI) 24-1
Bib number: 8
Rising Swiss star scored 8th at Kona last year, and followed up with a 12th at Ironman Australia a 5th at Frankfurt and a 3rd at Frankfurt 70.3. Intense training at altitude in Boulder under the direction of coaches Greg and Laura Bennett may break him into the top five.
Michael Lovato (USA) – 25-1
Bib number: 9
Lovato is starting to do for 9th place what Fernanda Keller did for 3rd. Keller took the bronze six times in Kona, and after 9th place finishes in 2003, 2007 and 2008, Lovato is preparing to put a copyright on 9th place.
Stephen Bayliss (GRB) – 26-1
Bib number: 18
A 2nd at Ironman UK 70.3, 6th at Ironman New Zealand, 4th at Ironman South Africa, a 5th at Lanzarote, a 3rd at Ironman Austria, 2nd at Ironman UK with a 2:47 marathon mark Bella’s husband as consistently good in 2009 but not the flash of 2008 in which he was a breakthrough two-time Ironman winner.
Michael Goehner (GER) – 27-1
Bib number: 93
Smashing win at Quelle Challenge Roth in 7:55:53 with a 2:41 run marked him as a contender – if he didn’t admit that he doesn’t perform quite as well in the heat. Still, Goehner is for real, as witnessed by his 2nd place to Vanhoenacker at Ironman South Africa.
Ain Alar Juhanson (EST) – 29-1
Bib number: 13
Former Lanzarote winner from Estonia is very tall (6-feet 5-inches) and finished 13th last year at Kona. Can really bike. Will race number prove lucky?
Maik Twelsiek (GER) – 30-1
Bib number: 14
This young German finished 14th at Kona last year. This year he placed 5th at Ironman Australia with a middling bike and a 2:55 run, won Ironman Lake Placid with a killer 4:37 bike and a mediocre 3:02 run, and took 5th at Muskoka 70.3.
Bryan Rhodes (NZL) – 33-1
Bib number: 20
This four time Ironman winner took 2nd at Ironman Malaysia but has yet to out his game all together at Kona.
Paul Amey (GBR) – 45-1
Bib number: 16
Three-time ITU duathlon world championship medalist has also earned a medal in the ITU Olympic distance world championship and placed well in Ironman races, but more often than not recently is well off the podium at Ironman.
Francisco Pontano (POR) – 50-1
Bib number: 29
Won Ironman Coeur d’Alene by 10 minutes over TJ Tollakson in a time of 8:32. .
Dirk Bockel (LUX) – 60-1
Bib number: 79
The man from Luxembourg led a bike breakaway at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Triathlon. This year he went long and took a win at Florida 70.3, a 4th at St Croix 70.3, and a 3rd at Ironman New Zealand
Bert Jammaer (BEL) – 66-1
Bib number: 48
Defended his title at Ironman Lanzarote.
Thomas Hellriegel (GER) – 70-1
Bib number: 35
The 1997 winner who pushed to the brink Mark Allen in 1995 and Luc Van Lierde in 1996 still had game – but not enough to reach the podium. Let’s see, at age 38, Hell on Wheels has probably ridden a distance equal to a trip to the moon a quarter a million miles.
Luc van Lierde (BEL) – 100-1
Bib number: 34
This man still holds the course record of 8:04:08 set in 1996 and which included a 3-minute stay in the sin bin. During his heyday, he set a still-standing world record for the Ironman distance at Roth in 1997, finished second to Peter Reid at Kona in 1998, and won a second Kona crown in 1999. A rash of injuries has taken away the most awesome motor in the game, but just watching Van Lierde’s calves brings goose bumps to anyone who saw him in his prime. Comeback to health led to 8th place finish two years ago. The only 2009 result I could find for Van Lierde was a 4th place at New Orleans Ironman 70.3, 5 minutes behind winner Brett McMahon and 4 minutes behind runner-up Chris McCormack.
Tom Evans (CAN) – 101-1
Bib number: 44
Won Ironman Canada in 2008 at age 40 with a sizzling bike split. Four-time Ironman winner still rides like the wind.
TJ Tollakson (USA) – 111-1
Bib number: 50
Powerful cyclist finished 2nd to Francisco Pontano at Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
Sergio Marques (POR) – 200-1
Bib number: 65
Marques set fastest run at Kona in 2006 with a 2:43:55 – but finished out of top 10.