Picking winners in the realm of Ironman-distance triathlon is foolish at best and quite revealing of the shortcomings of the stubbornly quixotic prognosticator for sure. Still, the lure of calling an upset, or a world-record performance is a siren call this man cannot resist.
Historic Roth is Iron-distance triathlon's equivalent of Iffley Stadium in Great Britain where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. Here Thea Sybesma was the first woman to crack the 9-hour barrier with an 8:55:29 clocking in 1991 and Lothar Leder cracked the 8-hour barrier with a 7:57:02 in 1996. This is also the place where Luc Van Lierde set a still[-standing world best at the Ironman distance with a 7:50:27 clocking in 1997, and Yvonne Van Vlerken set the current women's world best of 8:45:48 last year.
In short, Roth is the Autobahn, the Talledga, Indy 500, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Iron-distance courses While Ironman Austria at Klagenfurt comes close - last year Sandra Wallenhorst held the record for a few minutes before Van Vlerken crossed the line in Roth -- it is Roth's super-fast canal swim, its combination of short, sharp hills and subsequent long slight downhills that rewards the power cyclists, and perfectly flat run paths of densely packed dirt that relieves the impact that all equates to das schnellste triathlon rennen der welt.
Year to year, Roth and its newer WTC rival Frankfurt duel for the most prestigious field in the German Ironman sphere. The way it works out, both races have excellent fields on both ends. But truth be said, one race gets the best men, the other gets the top women. This year, Roth's women's field is super-heisse! On paper, two-time Kona champ Chrissie Wellington is a lock and touted to run some otherworldly record-smashing times. Yet, Erika Csomor has a faster Ironman time, Joanna Lawn and Belinda Granger have far more Ironman wins, Leanda Cave has a two world championships and short course speed, Rebekah Keat has speed , strength and good karma on her side, and Gina Ferguson is a newcomer who now breaks 9-hours with regularity on slower courses.
Will a woman break Van Vlerken's 8:45:48 WR?
On-off rains, sunshine, winds, and calm make this projection a crapshoot even with two-time World Champ Chrissie raring at the bit. 2-1.
Chrissie Wellington, 32, GBR -- 3-2
Undefeated at the Ironman distance since her smashing debut in 2007 with wins at Ironman Korea and Kona. Keat predicts an 8:35 total with a 50 minute swim, 4:50 bike and 2:55 run. Looks healthy. Smashed course record at Port Macquarie, Kansas 70.3, got schooled by Rebeccah Wassner and four other women at the Columbia Maryland Olympic distance race, but is now back in her element. Now even cut her flat-changing time to 4 minutes. What can stop her? "She IS human, after all," said some of her admiring rivals. "Some day she will have a bad day." Not Sunday.
Erika Csomor, 35, HUN - 4-1
Brilliant duathlete with four wins at Zofingen, a win at Ironman Arizona, and last year set second-fastest Iron distance time ever at Roth with a 8:47:05, just 72-seconds behind Yvonne Van Vlerken. In the chase for the World record, Csomor is hoping she has improved her 53-minmute swim so she won’t give away 5 minutes to the likes of Joanna Lawn, Gina Ferguson, Belinda Granger, Rebekah Keat and Ute Muckel, as she did last year. Really, the goal is stay in sight of Wellington as she sets launches out on the bike.
Joanna Lawn, 35, NZL - 5-1
Six wins at Ironman New Zealand, a win here in 2006, a second in 2007, a 4:52 bike split here, and a 4th at Kona mark Lawn as a formidable competitor.
Leanda Cave, 31, GBR - 7-1
Still learning the Iron distance, but what a pedigree! The 2002 ITU Olympic distance World Champion, two-time Escape from Alcatraz winner, wins at Ironman California 70.3, Florida Ironman 70.3, both Tri 101s at Nice distance, Cave has middle distance speed and huge Iron potential. Last year's 7th at Roth can be excused by racing with broken ribs.
Catriona Morrison, 32, Scotland - 8-1
Morrison holds five major titles -- two ETU Duathlon European Championships (2007 and 2009), two ITU Long Distance Duathlon World Championships (2007 and 2008) and she was ITU Duathlon World Champion in 2006. Remarkably, she won all her 2008 titles after April knee surgery. Bike-run star is still struggling with her swim, but managed a 4th place at Clearwater Ironman 70.3 Worlds.
Rebekah Keat, 31, AUS -- 9-1
Won 2007 Ironman Australia, 2005 Ironman 70.3 Busselton, a top 10 at Ironman Hawaii 2007, and took to Challenge half Ironman titles in France and Germany this year under master coaching of Brett Sutton. Looks strong and might well go higher.
Belinda Granger, 38, AUS -- 10-1
Fast swimmer (48:46) great biker should be ranked much, much higher here except for a crunching encounter with a car this Tuesday at nearby Pffafenhofen. Granger has 11 Iron-distance titles, two 4:50 bike splits here, a win at Roth in 2005, and a PB 8:58 last year in the cold rain. If enforced taper due to crash and splints overcomes her aches and pains, Granger could well podium.
Charlotte Paul, 36, AUS - 14-1
This mighty mite won Ironman China in oven-sauna stifling heat this year (has she recovered for cool Roth?), won Ironman Western Australia in 2007 (almost broke 9 hours), and took Port Macquarie half in 2007 and 2008.
This odds maker rates Normann Stadler, Patrick Vernay and Pete Jacobs no chance of breaking Van Lierde's 7:50:27 mark. But it will be an interesting, close race.
Normann Stadler, 36, GER 7-2
On paper the Normannator is a lock with his two Ironman Hawaii titles, Ironman Hawaii bike record and the ability to run 2:55 after that in the heat. Recent form means little to Stadler. For the record, his only hit pout was a fast 3:45 half Ironman in Germany with a relaxed 1:14 half marathon. True, Stadler wants to win once at Roth - he has a forgettable past here long ago - but he doesn’t feel the urgency. Perhaps then birth of his son on June 8, will inspire the explosive power in Stadler's legs. Perhaps not.
Patrick Vernay, 35, New Caledonia -- 5-1
The reliable New Caledonian added to his two Ironman Australia wins with a win at Roth last year. The only knock is this: Can an 8:09:34 PB at Roth beat an on-form Stadler? Vernay says he will have to run 2:40-low and believes he can do it after a 2:47 here last year.
Pete Jacobs , 27, AUS -- 6-1
Has the swim (46 minutes), can keep in touch on the bike (4:33) and isn’t crazy when he thinks he can crack 2:40 on the run, since he posted a 2:44 here in 2007 when he placed third to Chris McCormack and Eneko Llanos. Sign he might be ready for a breakthrough? He beat Craig Alexander for the Australian long course championship early this year. Second at Roth in 2008, is looking to complete a 3-2-1 pattern.
Chris McDonald, 31, AUS -- 8-1
Rising Aussie star has wins at Ironman Louisville in 2007 and 2008, Ironman Wisconsin in 2008 and Challenge Wanaka this year. Hopes to improve on 4th last year at Roth, but must run better than his 2:58 clocking last year.
Raynard Tissink, 35, RSA - 9-1
The guy has won Ironman Canada (2003) Ironman Austria (2005) Ironman South Africa (2005) and Ironman Korea (2007) with a 10th and 7th at Ironman Hawaii. If back to 2005 form, can contend.
Thomas Hellriegel, 38, GER -- 10-1
Strange to see this uberbiker who broke into the Ironman scene in 1995 like a young comet is now the Grizzled Eminence of the Sport. Starting off 2-2-1 at Kona, he set course records all over the Ironman map and stayed relatively healthy during a long distinguished career, scoring a 4th and 3rd this decade at Kona. And yet, he still has a score to settle at Roth. His first sub-8 hours netted him only 4th at Roth in 1997. Since then, his best finishes have been 2nd, 2nd, 5th, 3rd, 5th and 7th. This year, Hellriegel says his training is better than ever thanks to good health. Ooops! Last week, he got a big pain in his leg from running too slow.
Tim Berkel, 24, AUS - 11-1
The 24-year-old won Ironman Western Australia last year and placed third at Ironman Australia this year. Can he travel?
Ain-Alar Juhanson, 32, EST - 13-1
This 6-foot 5-inch Estonian looks fearsome on the bike, but hasn’t had much luck at the finish since his 2005 and 2006 wins at Ironman Lanzarote and win at the storm shortened 2006 Ironman New Zealand.
Olaf Sabatschus, 38, GER -- 15-1
Wins at 2008 Ironman China and 2004 and 2005 Ironman Brazil show the pro athletes rep still has game.
Petr Vabrousek, 34, CZE - 18-1
Iron glutton has won many out of the way Ironman-distance titles and can run 2:45 all day long but his bike is historically weak. Good candidate for run-from-behind 5th place.