70.3 Clearwater odds: the men

The 70.3 series has advanced from 17 to 22 to 29 worldwide races to 32 for the 2009 season making it the fastest growing triathlon series in the world. While the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater still lags well behind Ironman Hawaii’s near-$600,000 purse, that gulf is closing. And the prestige of this popular series, which bridges the gap between short- and long-course skills, also has a big effect on sponsorship payoffs.

As race time approached, several key contenders withdrew.

Ironman champions Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington decided to rest on their laurels for the rest of 2008. Potential difference maker Nicola Spirig decided to pass, as did Ironman Hawaii Good Samaritan Rebekah Keat and third place finisher Sandra Wallenhorst. Still, well-worn Ironman Andy Potts decided to defend, just as Ironman Hawaii top five finisher Erika Csomor also decided that they had more in the tank. And Sam McGlone, the 2006 Ironman 70.3 champion, has to grit her teeth and continue to let her Achilles tendinitis heal and watch from the sideline.

Still, the fields are strong and racing on the flat Clearwater course will be hotly contested. With Andy Potts still recovering from his Ironman baptism, the men’s race seems wide open, while Mirinda Carfrae holds the women’s field in a Wellingtonesque grip.

The men

Terenzo Bozzone NZL 4-1

This 23-year-old blazed into the triathlon limelight with a record-smashing 3:53:43 course record at Wildflower half-Ironman in 2005. Top finishes at ITU Olympic distance events showed that the young Kiwi phenom’s speed would prevail at the longer distances. But after a 6th and 9th place finishes at the first two Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, and missing the final slot for the 2008 New Zealand Olympic team, Bozzone seemed to be a poster child for the pitfalls of a career split focus.

Bozzone had been motivated to kick butt at the 2005 Wildflower after a casual remark by a legendary pro after Bozzone’s 2004 Wildflower debut dissing the youngster’s all-around game. Explaining the flattening out of his subsequent results, Bozzone said “I trained an insane amount before Wildflower in 2005 and have not approached that level since.” This year, after missing the Olympic squad, Bozzone went on a similar mission to prove to himself and to the world he had game at the 70.3 distance. In three straight weeks, Bozzone scored a 3:53:28 win at Boise 70.3, a 2nd to three-time ITU World Champion Paul Amey at Eagleman 70.3, followed by a 3 minute 54 second whipping of Craig Alexander at Kansas 70.3. Bozzone then set a Vineman 70.3 course record of 3:49:40, whipping Alexander again, by a 1:45 margin.

Then he cooled down a little, with a DNF while Andy Potts won at Timberman 70.3, and taking a second place to the swift-improving Simon Thompson at Singapore 70.3.

So why did Bozzone fizzle out at Clearwater the past two years? “I was insecure, pushed too hard on the bike and blew up on the run,” said Bozzone. “And I never came close to the training I did for 2005 Wildflower.”

With no Bjorn Andersson to tempt all competitors to ride over their heads, bike ace David Thompson off form due to hand and knee injuries, defending champ Andy Potts likely still recovering from his outstanding 7th place Kona debut, and last year’s runner-up Oscar Galindez under-raced and slightly off form this year, the door is wide open for Bozzone to parcel out his energy in a winning formula.

Paul Amey GBR 6-1

Although this skinny 35-year-old Brit has achieved deserved fame for winning the 2005, 2007 and 2008 ITU Duathlon World titles, Amey long ago proved he could swim with his second place to Simon Lessing at the 1998 ITU Triathlon world championship in Lausanne. Despite an off form 17th-place finish at Kona, Amey has blazed in his three tries at the 70.3 distance this year. He won Ironman Florida 70.3, stopped Bozzone’s win streak at Eagleman with another dominant win, but faded to 4th at Vineman 70.3. Here’s betting the Englishman who loved pancake flat 70.3 courses in Florida and Maryland will be on fire this weekend.

Richie Cunningham AUS 13-2

This stalwart Aussie loves the 70.3 distance and has a 3rd place in 2006 and a 5th last year at Clearwater. This year Cunningham started well (3rd places at Saint Croix 70.3 and Eagleman 70.3), faded in the middle (7th at Kansas 70.3) and is peaking at the right time (2nd at Rhode Island 70.3 to Oscar Galindez and a win at Austin’s Longhorn 70.3, beating up and comer Joe Gambles.

Andy Potts USA 7-1

Potts rightfully ragged on me last year for picking a tired post-Kona Crowie over a fresh and dangerous Potts, who won! Which is why, after Potts’ fine 7th place Kona outing on virtually no long distance training, I’m picking him in Crowie’s 2007 slot – 4th. Potts had an up (Wins at Escape From Alcatraz and Timberman 70.3, 2nds at Life Time Fitness, Saint Anthony’s and the Tuscaloosa Olympic Trials round two, and a stirring 7th place at Kona) and down season (missing the Beijing Olympics). But throughout Potts held his head high and now looks like he has the goods to win on the Big Island. But if Crowie could not fully recover one month after Kona last year, it says here that Potts will struggle, too, but his talent will almost make the podium. This pick could also be such an embarrassing underestimation.

Andreas Raelert GER 8-1

This two-time Olympian (12th at Sydney, 6th at Athens) has the short course speed and form (a win at the prestigious Monaco 70.3 this September) to do even more damage.

Oscar Galindez ARG 9-1

This 37-year-old former Duathlon World Champion, two-time Olympian, and multiple Ironman winner almost held off Potts’ fierce charge last year. After a shorter race schedule this year, the question is: Will he be fresher and stronger for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship this year. Or was he battling injuries? This pick could be so wrong (too low).

Simon Thompson AUS 10-1

The 2004 Olympian and World Cup winner Thommo is coming off the mat after years lost to injuries. After a win at Boulder 5430 and a 15=-second win over red-hot Terenzo Bozzone at Singapore 70.3, he is ready for the big time again.

Brent McMahon CAN 11-1

This Canadian ITU stalwart was a better solo triathlete than third pick Colin Jenkins. But Colin Jenkins, with his great swim and bike, was the best teammate for team leader Simon Whitfield, who nabbed an Olympic silver to bookend his 2000 gold. This is McMahon’s chance for redemption at another distance. Top 10 is the least of his potential.

Timothy O’Donnell USA 13-1

O’Donnell is another great swim-bike ITU ready teammate. But this year he’s scored two near wins at the 70.3 distance – to 2006 ITU Duathlon World Champ Leon Griffin at Buffalo Springs Lake, and to a resurgent Simon Thompson at Boulder 5430. Both races proved O’Donnell could run – just not with the best in the business.

Reinaldo Colucci BRA 15-1

When he’s on, this young Brazilian, coached by Brett Sutton, can compete with anyone. Witness his January win over Oscar Galindez at Pucon 70.3. When he’s off, the tall skinny young man from a small Brazilian village is off the back.

Joe Gambles AUS 17-1

His young Aussie has proved he can run 1:17 and under and has been consistently in the top 5 all year at the 70.3 distance. Seconds at Racine and Lake Stevens, thirds at Philadelphia and Boise 70.3, and a 4th at Geelong 70.3 mark him as an outside threat.

David Thompson USA 19-1

Thompson uncharacteristically blew his cool protesting a drafting call at Clearwater last year when he was duking it out with Swedish Velo Machine Bjorn Andersson on the bike. With all his wins at the half distance and an improving run, Thompson was bitter about his chance of making a World Championship podium. Unfortunately, hand and knee injuries have left Thompson behind the curve in rehab and he likely will be relegated to making a statement on the bike.

TJ Tollakson USA 20-1

The man who set the course record at Eagleman in 2007 has not yet returned to form. Anyone who can swim and bike that strong will always be a threat – but not likely this year.

22-1 AUS Peter Robertson

If he is on, three-time ITU World Champion Robbo could run to a smashing upset. But a 4th place at Singapore 70.3 – eight minutes behind Simon Thompson – don’t add up to the legend.

The field 35-1

With Craig Alexander resting on his laurels, there are many other worthies who could make a statement; Fraser Cartmell, Santiago Ascenco, Paul Ambrose, Stephen Bayliss, Markus Fasbach, Chris Legh, Luke McKenzie, Paul Matthews and Jimmy Johnsen (not the stock car racer, the Danish triathlete) all have a puncher’s chance.