70.3 Clearwater Odds: the women

Mirinda Carfrae AUS 2-1

With Sam McGlone injured and Chrissie Wellington deciding to end her season on a winning note at Kona, Ironman 70.3 World Championship defending champion Mirinda Carfrae is the closest in this field to a sure thing. Last year at Clearwater, she broke Natascha Badmann’s world best time for the 70.3 distance with a 4:07:25, and closed with a smoking 1:18:40 run. This year, Carfrae put off her Kona debut until 2009, and focused all her gifts on a defense of her World title in Clearwater. Along the way, Carfrae won the Geelong, Saint Croix, Buffalo Springs and Newfoundland 70.3 titles. At Buffalo Springs, she beat Joanna Zeiger, her most dangerous rival, 4:23:28 to 4:27:29. Carfrae out biked Zeiger by three minutes and outran her 38-year-old rival 1:24 to 1:27. Carfrae’s only vulnerabilities came with an early season loss to Erika Csomor at Ironman California 70.3, and two short course excursions –a 3rd to Leanda Cave at Escape From Alcatraz, and a 5th at the Los Angeles Triathlon.

This is the woman in the wings who poses the biggest threat to Chrissie Wellington’s three-peat at Kona. With Wellington out, there is no one who can beat a full focused Carfare but Carfrae herself.

Joanna Zeiger USA 5-1

After a short run at a second Olympic slot (4th at Tuscaloosa) and a decision to postpone another heartbreaking rendezvous with Kona karma, Zeiger buckled down to her best distance and had the best 70.3 season of her career. She took Eagleman by 8 minutes over Dede Griesbauer, 4:22 to 4:30. At Buffalo Springs, she took care of everyone but Carfrae, losing 4:23:28 to 4:27:29. At Vineman 70.3, she whipped Tyler Stewart 4:19:58 to 4:20:20, and taking an injured Sam McGlone in her final race of the year by 4 minutes. At Boulder’s 5430 long course, Zeiger smashed the 4:20 barrier and took another half Ironman distance win. And she closed out her Clearwater prep with a 4th at Chicago and another definitive win on a tough course at the Muskoka Ironman 70.3.

Zeiger, now free of injuries that plagued her career for four years, combines the best swim at the distance with a first rate bike and run. Only Carfrae can top the 4th place finisher at the 2000 Olympics when both are on their game at the half Ironman distance.

Leanda Cave GBR 7-1

The 2002 ITU Olympic distance World Champion and the 2007 ITU long distance world champion scored third in a swift 4:12:29 at last year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship behind Mirinda Carfrae and Samantha McGlone. This season, Cave won her second straight Escape From Alcatraz and Ironman Florida 70.3, took second at Wildflower behind a near-record performance by a still-healthy Sam McGlone, got a third behind Carfrae and Erika Csomor at Ironman California 70.3. All primed for moving up the ladder from her 8th place finish at Ironman Hawaii in 2007, Carfrae caught a cold and found her race day lungs clogged and dysfunctional. If her lungs are clear, Cave will have more remaining energy than Kona finishers because she pulled out on the run. Last year, cave out swam and out biked both Carfrae and McGlone, but surrendered 7 minutes to Carfrae and 5 minutes to McGlone with an otherwise strong 1:25:55 run. The question: With a swim and bike equal to Zeiger, can Cave outrun the genetic epidemiologist?

Julie Dibens GBR 8-1

Last year, Dibens burst into a 2-minute lead after the swim and a 7-minute lead on eventual winner Carfrae after a race-best 2:13:16 bike. Just as she did this year, Dibens came into the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Championship after winning the Xterra World Championship in Maui. Just like last year, a kamikaze attack by Dibens will yield the lead but not the winner’s laurel. Even if she holds out longer than Mile 8 of the run, and even if she shaves five minutes off her 1:30:56 run, Dibens will succumb to Carfrae’s fleet feet. One performance hints that Dibens’ trouble on the run won’t be solved in 2008 – the two-time Xterra champ gave away a 2 minute lead and seven more minutes with a dispirited 1:34:32 run in a loss to Bella Comerford at Ironman UK 70.3.

Erika Csomor HUN 9-1

IF Csomor shows up at the start line in Clearwater, the three time ITU Duathlon world champion, four-time Zofingen winner and two-time 2008 Ironman winner has to be lacking snap in her legs after a tortuous 4th place finish at Kona. It’s a testament to Csomor’s talent – exemplified by a second-best 8:47 Ironman distance time at Roth at age 37 - that Csomor remains a short-odds contender. It would be an even better testament to her career judgment if she withdraws before the race. If she sticks it out and isn’t wasted post-Kona, Csomor is one of the few contenders with a prayer of outrunning Carfrae.

Becky Lavelle USA 10-1

After the tragic suicide of her twin sister last winter, Becky Lavelle slowly but surely regained the will to continue her chosen sport. By the end of the season, Lavelle won the Life Time Fitness series title and seems primed to regain her touch at the Ironman 870.3 distance. One of the best non-drafting competitors has remained uninjured and this able to build a big enough running base to contend at Clearwater.

Nina Kraft 11-1

Kraft had prepared well for her return to Kona, but DNF’d. This leaves her with fresh legs and a chance for a top five finish. If healthy, the 39-year-old German has a solid shot – she finished just 3 minutes back of Carfrae at Saint Croix and 1 minute 23 seconds back of Leanda Cave at Ironman Florida 70.3.

Mariana Ohata BRA 13-1

This Brazilian Olympian and long time ITU World Cupper hasn’t been seen on the Ironman 70.3 circuit this year. But witnesses to her come-from-way-way-behind fast run to third place on a brutally hot day at the 2007 Hy-Vee Triathlon will always give her a puncher’s chance. Ohata has 6 ITU World Cup podiums without a win in a 12-year ITU career.

Sandra Wallenhorst GER 16-1

Another Ironman Hawaii finisher who signed on to buck the odds at Clearwater. The last Ironman Hawaii podium finisher to pull off this quick recovery trick was Lisa Bentley, who in 2006 scored a fine second place finish at Clearwater after her third place finish at Kona. At age 36, Wallenhorst emerged from a rainy cold Ironman Austria with a smashing 8:47 time highlighted by a 2:54 marathon. At Kona, on a tougher course in tougher conditions, Wallenhorst broke 3 hours in the marathon and held on for a third

Why can’t Wallenhorst win? At Ironman Austria 70.3 she met two other women who broke the Ironman-distance world best this summer. After all three virtually tied after the bike, Yvonne Van Vlerken ran 1:22, Erika Csomor ran 1:24, and Wallenhorst ran 1:26.

Joanna Lawn NZL 18-1

Early in the season, Lawn won her record 6th straight Ironman New Zealand, took a 2nd place behind Sam McGlone at Ironman 70.3 Kansas, a 3rd at Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 behind Carfrae and Zeiger. And then, after a long, tough, off-form, dispiriting day she came 14th at Kona. If Lawn can regroup, she is s good bet for a top five finish. If she is out of gas, she will just be punishing herself.

Catriona Morrison GBR 20-1

This Great Scot has scored silver at the 2005 ITU Duathlon Worlds, silver at the 2006 ITU long distance Duathlon Worlds and a bronze at the 2007 ITU long distance Duathlon worlds. Despite giving away about 7 minutes on her swim, Morrison biked and ran her way to 5th last year at Clearwater.

Dede Griesbauer USA 22-1

Team Psycho pal of Hall of Famer Karen Smyers, Griesbauer scored a 3rd at Ironman Florida 70.3, a 2nd at Eagleman 70.3, and a 4th at Timberman 70.3. Coming off a 10th at Ironman Hawaii, great swimmer-biker Griesbauer hopes to have rested enough to improve considerably on her 15th place finish at the 2006 Ironman 70.3 Worlds.

The field 35-1

Sibylle Matter, Kate Major, Linsey Corbin, Fiona Docherty. Desiree Ficker, Katja Schumacher, Amanda Stevens, Pip Taylor, and Mary Beth Ellis all have the capacity to severely humiliate this misguided prognosticator.