While a lack of imagination leads this prognosticator to foresee a replay of the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship men’s race dynamics, the challenging Zell am See bike course could throw some surprises and upset the old order.
While the top of the field talent is great, there is a noticeable absence of many ranked 70.3 stars. They include Lionel Sanders, Craig Alexander, Brent McMahon, Andy Potts, Ben Hoffman, Christian Kemp, Cameron Brown, Callum Millward, and several others who had enough points but not the inclination to enter.
As usual, the contenders here are listed in presumed order - best first - and include the athletes I think will make an impact on the race. Realizing this task is a fool’s errand, I encourage anyone offended by this list to prove it to be ridiculously wrong.
Jan Frodeno, 34, Germany
Last year Frodeno was this correspondent’s choice to win because I suspected Javier Gomez would be flat after his WTS series win and Grand Final 3rd place the weekend before. So wrong. So why make the same mistake again? Frodeno is even better at long course – he broke the Ironman Frankfurt race record by 5 minutes and set a new bike course record there with a 4:08:44 split. He was also 11 minutes ahead of runner-up Sebastian Kienle, the Kona champ. Frodo beat Andy Potts again at California 70.3 and was second at Cannes International. Last year he was 41 seconds back of Gomez at the 70.3 Worlds and this year will duel with Javier seeking to reverse that result.
Javier Gomez, 32, Spain
Well on his way to staking a claim as the best all-around triathlete ever, although the world will have to wait until after the Rio Olympics to see if he will conquer Kona as he has everything else. This 4-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion is leading the 2015 WTS points chase for a record breaking 5th title. He won XTERRA Worlds in 2012, Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2014, and crushed the non-drafting short coursers twice at Hy-Vee. Why not a two-peat at 70.3 Worlds? Just guessing here, but while Gomez is the most consistent on the WTS circuit, he is beatable. He has only won twice out of 7 WTS attempts. Why could he win at Zell am See? Gomez just won the Rio Olympic test event and seems to be fresh after a stress-free, easy win at WTS Stockholm.
Sebastian Kienle, 31, Germany
The defending Ironman World Champion proved last year that the Ironman 70.3 World title he had won twice already (in 2012 and 2013) was not as important as saving it all for Kona. He basically bombed at Mt. Tremblant 70.3 Worlds last year, shrugged it off and showed what he could do on the sport’s biggest day. So what is he up to this year? Not as impressive of a showing as his 2014 Frankfurt winning time of 7:55:14 with a 4:12:13 bike split and a 2:49:35 run. This time around at Frankfurt, he got whipped by 11 minutes by Frodeno, who was 4 minutes faster than Kienle’s 2014 Frankfurt bike split. Besides his 2015 Frankfurt runner-up finish, Kienle had an OK win at Kraichgau 70.3, a shrug-it-off 3rd behind Giulio Molinari and Frodo at Cannes International, and a catered workout 4th at Challenge Heilbronn. While he may have a good day on Zell am See’s tough climbs, Kienle’s chips are once again all in for Kona.
Tim Don, 38, Great Britain
Don won Ironman 70.3 St. George with a 1:14:02 rundown of early leader Brent McMahon. At Brazil 70.3 he passed Timothy O’Donnell at the 15km mark on his way to a race-best 1:13:20 run. He also won Monterrey and Ecuador 70.3s but fell to Callum Millward at Boulder 70.3. Don’s consistency makes him a good bet for the podium, but so far this year has not unleashed an absolutely killer run split. More likely he repeats his 2014 3rd-place finish at Mt. Tremblant 70.3 Worlds.
Terenzo Bozzone, 31, New Zealand
Just like Daniela Ryf among the women, Terenzo Bozzone is the most motivated competitor in the men’s field. That is because Bozzone and Ryf are the only athletes eligible for the $1 million Nasser Ben Hamad Triple Crown payday for the competitor who can win all three Triple Crown events in 2015. Bozzone and Ryf won the first event of the series, Challenge Dubai, in February. When Challenge Oman, the second round of the Triple Crown, was canceled, organizers considered several races to fill in. According to Ryf’s coach Brett Sutton, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Zell am See will sub for Oman. If Bozzone and Ryf can win, they will be shooting for a $1 million payday at Challenge Bahrain in December.
So what are Bozzone’s chances in Austria? Last year at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, he was off form and finished 9th at Mt. Tremblant. This year Bozzone was on form when he won Dubai, looked OK when he finished 2nd at Ironman New Zealand, beat a weak field at Challenge Taiwan, took 2nd behind Sam Appleton at Busselton 70.3, and took 3rd behind Cunnama and Tim Reed at Vietnam 70.3. Things seem to be looking up for Terenzo after his dominating win and fast run at Ironman 70.3 Budapest last weekend.
Tim Reed, 30, Australia
Reed had a breakthrough in 2014 with 70.3 wins at Vineman and Buffalo Springs Lake and a 3rd at the big money Challenge Bahrain, although he slipped a bit with his 21st place finish at Kona. In 2015, Reed looked even better, highlighted by a 2nd place finish with a fastest run split of 1:11:39 at Challenge Dubai. He backed that up with 70.3 wins at Auckland, Philippines and Subic Bay, a 2nd at Vietnam 70.3, 3rd at Cairns 70.3, and 4th at St. George 70.3.
Michael Raelert, 34, Germany
Before he ran into a string of injuries, Michael Raelert appeared to be unbeatable at the 70.3 distance with his 2009 and 2010 Ironman 70.3 World Championship titles. Not until September of 2014 did he get completely healthy and return to top form on a consistent basis. He then went on a win streak that included 70.3s at Ruegen, Miami, Mandurah, and Ballarat, and a most impressive near-world best half Ironman time of 3:36:04 for big money at Challenge Bahrain. In 2015, he was a bit more human with a 3rd at Challenge Dubai, and won two little-known middle distance races in Austria and Germany. Things looked good when he seized the lead on the bike at Ironman Switzerland, but then he developed leg muscle problems that forced him to drop out at 18km of the run.
Sam Appleton, 25, Australia
Young Sam Appleton is coming on strong in 2015 under the tutelage of his rival and coach Tim Reed. After a 2nd place to Craig Alexander at Geelong 70.3, Appleton forgot how to lose as he took victories at Huskisson Long Course, Challenge Bateman’s Bay, Busselton 70.3, where he beat Bozzone and Cunnama, Ironman 70.3 Cairns where he beat Crowie, Tim Reed and Tim Van Berkel, and then capped off his regular season winning the classic Vineman 70.3 where he took it to Crowie and Kevin Collington.
Andi Bocherer, 32, Germany
His consistent high finishes should put him in contention for the podium but his lack of one spectacular race leaves him largely under the radar. Perhaps it is time for attention to be paid to Andi. His win at Challenge Heilbronn was good but besting Michael Raelert, Andreas Dreitz, and Kienle there made it is much sweeter. While finishing 3rd at Ironman Frankfurt behind Frodeno and Kienle was nice, beating Frederik Van Lierde , Andreas Raelert and Eneko Llanos showed he belonged in fast company. Throw in 70.3 wins at Aix en Provence and St. Polten and a 2nd at Kraichgau, and you see a man on the verge of stardom.
Andreas Dreitz, 26, Germany
Dreitz looked stronger after his 2014 season in which he won Challenge Fuerteventura, Mallorca 70.3, and Heilbronn City, as well a 2nd at Hagesund 70.3 and an impressive second place against a super field at Challenge Bahrain. But he lost momentum when he contracted mononucleosis at the beginning of the year and had to pass on Oceanside 70.3 and Challenge Dubai. Wins at 70.3s in Mallorca and Raleigh indicate he is back on track. Plus this excellent cyclist will love the steep, long climb at Zell am See.
Andreas Raelert, 39, Germany
You could argue that the elder Raelert has seen his best days. After all, a 12th and a 6th place at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics would be on most people’s highlight reels. The two 2nds (2010 and 2012) and two 3rds (2009 and 2011) at the Ironman World Championship are also quite memorable. Not to forget his silver at the 2008 Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and his 4 Ironman wins and 9 Ironman 70.3 wins. Also his world-best 7:41:33 at the Ironman distance at Challenge Roth in 2011. So what have you done for me lately? A 2nd at Wiesbaden 70.3, a 3rd at St. George 70.3 and a 4th at Luxembourg 70.3 indicate he is still a dangerous rival.
Nils Frommhold, 28, Germany
Frommhold proved he could run at the front and win with victories at Ironman Arizona in 2012 and Ironman South Africa in 2014, and a 2nd at Challenge Roth in 2014. This year he showed he could perform consistently with a 7:51:28 winning time and a 4:09:30 bike split at Challenge Roth, a 2nd at St. Polten 70.3, 5th at Ironman Melbourne, and a win last weekend at Gdynia 70.3.
Bart Aernouts, 31, Belgium
This talented Belgian had fantastic 2014 – 1st at Ironman France, 1st at Wiesbaden 70.3, 2nd at Mallorca 70.3, 9th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds and 9th at Kona. But his 2015 had some promising moments too – 4th at Challenge Dubai with a 1:11:17 fastest run, 3rd at South Africa 70.3, 3rd at Challenge Rimini and 1st at Challenge Poznan.
Jesse Thomas, 35, USA
He extended his record win streak to five this year at Wildflower, and in between some niggles, had decent outings - a 3rd at the New York City Triathlon, 5th at Oceanside 70.3 with a very fast bike split, and a 3rd at Mt. Tremblant 70.3.
James Cunnama, 32, South Africa
Broke 8 hours at Challenge Roth in 2012. Took 2nd at Ironman Texas, 2nd at Roth, and 4th at Kona in 2013. Won Ironman South Africa, Ironman 70.3 South Africa, and Cozumel 70.3 in 2014. And this year he won Vietnam 70.3, was 2nd at Alpe d’Huez and Challenge Poznan, and was 3rd at ultra tough Embrunman.
Leon Griffin, 35, Australia
This 2006 ITU Duathlon World Champion has had several highlights the past three years – 2nds at Wildflower and Timberman in 2013. A win at Timberman and 3rd-place finishes at Mt. Tremblant, Eagleman, and Texas 70.3 in 2014. And a busy 2015 included win at Challenge Melbourne, 2nd at Chattanooga 70.3, 5th places at Racine and Timberman 70.3s, and a 6th at St. George 70.3 The long steep hill at Zell am See should suit this duathlon champ.
Ruedi Wild, 33, Switzerland
Wild is still connected to the Olympic distance, attested by his win at St. Anthony’s and 2nd at 5i50 Zurich this year. But his win at Switzerland 70.3, 3rd at Wiesbaden 70.3, and 4th at ITU Long Distance Worlds show more promise at the middle distances.
Kevin Collington 30, USA
Collington started 2015 a little slow with 9th place finishes at 70.3 s in Oceanside and St. George, but steadily improved with a 3rd at Escape from Alcatraz, 1st at Challenge Williamsburg, 3rd at Vineman 70.3, and 5th at Wiesbaden 70.3.
Tyler Butterfield, 32, Bermuda
Not much happening this year other than a 7th at Ironman Frankfurt. But his 3rd place in 2013 and his win in 2014 at Abu Dhabi International show that Butterfield is good in the clutch and has the bike and run to get in the game. In case fans need reminding about his capability, recall his 2013 season that included 2nd place 70.3s at Cozumel, Calgary, and Muncie, and a 7th at Kona.
Joe Gambles, 35, Australia
Gambles at his best - 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2013, four-time Boulder 70.3 winner, silver medalist at the 2011 ITU Long Distance Worlds – is a world beater. But 2015 was a not Gambles’ best – 1st at Challenge Salou half, 3rd at Zurich 5i50, 7th at ITU long course worlds, and 10th at Challenge Dubai. Seems as if Gambles is overdue for another big time podium.
Ben Collins, 32, USA
At the Olympic distance, Ben Collins has a Toyota Triple Crown Series Championship, and wins at New York and Minneapolis. So far in 70.3 races, his highlights have been a 5th at Vineman 70.3 and a top American, 11th-place finish at Ironman 70.3 Worlds last year. A top swimmer and excellent biker, he starts the run within range but needs to create a bigger aerobic base to close the deal on half marathons.
Peter Robertson, 38, Australia
Robbo was the king of dramatic, clutch performances at one-day ITU World Championships – he took three of those. While he never had his day at the Olympics, anyone who saw his win-or- bust victory at the 2000 Australian Olympic Trials in Sydney knows he has the heart of a lion. So far at the 70.3 distance, Robbo is still chasing his dream - his best day in 2015 was a 3rd at Challenge Melbourne and his best in 2014 was a 3rd at Geelong 70.3.
Andrew Starykowicz, 33, USA
Despite race day problems with his adductor muscles and a lack of usual training thanks to an early season operation, Andrew Starykowicz managed to post a Challenge Roth record 4:09:13 bike split. While not as impressive on paper as his world-best 4:02 bike split at Ironman Florida, it showed Starky was back on track and may stir things up at Zell am See.
Cody Beals, 25, Canada
Young Mr. Beals provides Canada with a rival to the outstanding young gun Lionel Sanders – at least on the bike. Most impressive was Beals’ first win at Eagleman 70.3, which featured a 2:01 bike split and a 10-minute gap back to 2nd place. Beals was consistent all year – 4th at New Orleans 70.3, 3rd at Texas 70.3, and a slightly off-form 6th at Ironman 70.3 Mt. Tremblant – giving enough hope for a dark horse top 10.