Here are my picks to win the women's title at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 World Championship this Sunday in Las Vegas, favorites in descending order from the top to the bottom. Outrage over perceived slights is welcome.
Melissa Hauschildt, 30, (AUS)
The former 3000-meter steeplechase international star took triathlon by storm in 2011 and ended her first year as a pro with a win at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Last year, she did well, taking 70.3 wins at Mandurah, Augusta, and Phuket as well as 2nd place 70.3 finishes at Cozumel and Boulder before finishing a disappointing 4th at Las Vegas. This year Hauschildt took no prisoners with 70.3 wins at Timberman, Boulder, and Geelong; a gold at the ITU Long Distance World Championship and a win at the prestigious Abu Dhabi International. Her only blot was a not so shabby runner-up $20,000 finish at Hy-Vee. She has sacrificed a little from the 1:16 and 1:17 half marathon runs she made in her first 70.3 races for a dominating bike that has given her a formidable follow-up to her usual 2 or 3 minutes slower-than-front-pack swim.
Heather Jackson, 29, (USA)
Jackson had an excellent 2012 capped off by a podium at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. But at the beginning of 2013, she really made a claim to be among the most talented 70.3 competitors on the planet. Starting off, she posted a 1:14:23 time for the Carlsbad Half Marathon – faster than renowned triathlon runner Kelly Williams. Then Jackson won California 70.3 at Oceanside, the classic Escape From Alcatraz and capped off her spring surge with a second straight win at Wildflower long course. The second half of the season, she cooled off ever so slightly, posting runner-up finishes at Rev3 Quassy and 70.3s at Boise and Vineman. Jackson has cut most of her losses in the swim, developed a fearsome bike and, where once she simply hung on for dear life during the run, now has one of the best in the sport.
Angela Naeth, 31, (CAN)
Naeth slipped ever so slightly from her 2012 form with which she won four 70.3-distance events and took a 2nd at Abu Dhabi International. This year she simply won three Ironman 70.3 events – Buffalo Springs Lake, Eagleman and Racine. At Eagleman she posted a sizzling 2:18 bike split and at Racine she outdueled Mirinda Carfrae and Catriona Morrison. Her recent 12th place at Hy-Vee is off her best form. Can she find it one week later?
Heather Wurtele, 34, (CAN)
This tall Canadian broke through in 2011 with two Ironman victories, and a 7th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. In 2012, she scored a win at Timberman 70.3 and runner-up finishes at Rev3 Quassy and Ironman 70.3 New Orleans. But in 2013, she just kept improving, winning Rev3 Quassy and 70.3s at Panama and Calgary. She also was 2nd at Oceanside 70.3, 3rd at Ironman 70.3 St. George, and 4th at Abu Dhabi International. To top it off, she also won Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Wurtele has polished her already powerful bike skills and developed into a 1:20 70.3 runner who will be dangerous and sure to improve on her 6th place finish last year on the Las Vegas course.
Kelly Williamson, 36, (USA)
This fleet of foot Austin triathlete took 2nd at the Ironman 70.3 World championship last year – behind Cave and ahead of heavy hitters Heather Jackson and Melissa Hauschildt. The key to her podium – coming after a bike split where she gave away 8 minutes to Cave, 9 minutes to Heather Jackson, and 10 minutes to Melissa Hauschildt -- was her 1:23:19 run. On any easier course, that time would not mean much. But the Las Vegas course is hot and tough and Williamson’s run was 6:34 faster than Cave, 9 minutes faster than Jackson and 10 minutes faster than Hauschildt. This year Williamson had another good record that looks like a 6-card straight -- 1st at Rev3 Williamsburg, 2nd at Texas 70.3, 3rd at Panama 70.3, 4th at San Juan 70.3, 5th at St. George 70.3, and 6th at Rev3 Quassy.
Leanda Cave, 35, (GBR)
What in the world is Leanda Cave doing as 5th choice? The defending Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Champion, who also has the 2002 ITU Olympic distance World Championship and a 2007 ITU long course World Championship under her belt, is having an off year. While in 2012, she endured and bounced back from early season back problems to earn two of her greatest victories, in 2013 she dug a deeper hole by not taking time off to heal a developing injury. In February she developed a severe hamstring pain but kept training. As she outlined in her blog, the pain became a hamstring tear, which led to a left glute strain. Then, as her body tried to adapt to the pain, she developed pain in the left quad and then her left knee. All the while, she kept trying to train 30 hours a week, but after an 11th place at the Columbia Triathlon, she retreated to Phoenix, and then Boulder, for expert rehab treatment. Finally, by August, she had recovered enough to race Boulder 70.3 and finished second to Melissa Hauschildt. With her recovery still a fragile prospect, Cave did not start Hy-Vee, putting her cards all in on a healthy day at Las Vegas.
Lisa Norden, 28, (SWE)
Lisa Norden, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist with a long list of non-drafting, Olympic distance wins, should, like Leanda Cave, be at least a co-favorite if she were completely healthy. Unfortunately, she suffered a case of plantar fasciitis early this year which recurred when she raced the Stockholm round of the World Triathlon Series. She tried to rest and recuperate, but had to withdraw from an attempt to make a three-peat at Hy-Vee last weekend. Right now she is trying physical therapy and rest and has crossed her fingers that her foot can hold up for 13.1 miles in the Nevada desert.
Annabel Luxford, 31, (AUS)
This long time ITU star seems to have taken well to a transition to long course racing. This year she won Auckland 70.3, placed 4th at Ironman 70.3 St. George, 3rd at Rev3 Quassy and most impressive, took 2nd at Wiesbaden 70.3 against a superb field.
Catriona Morrison, 36, (GBR)
This Scottish star had a quietly excellent 2013, starting with a win at St. Croix 70.3, followed by a 3rd at Racine 70.3 and a 3rd at Wiesbaden 70.3.
Lisa Hütthaler, 30, (AUT)
Coming off a suspension for a drug violation, Hütthaler had an excellent stretch in the middle of this summer – 70.3 wins at Mallorca, St. Polten and Hagesund. Her 5th place at Wiesbaden showed that she was not invincible, but she likes to climb hills on the bike and Vegas should suit her.
Emma-Kate Lidbury, 33, (GBR)
After enduring some injuries in 2012, Lidbury hit her stride again in 2013 with wins at 70.3s in Texas and Kansas. She also took 2nd to Laura Bennett at Raleigh 70.3.
Laura Bennett, 40, (USA)
Two-time Olympian Laura Bennett knows big days in the sport. She earned a silver and three bronze medals at ITU World Championships and a $200,000 win at the inaugural Hy-Vee Triathlon in 2007. In a gradual tilt to long course, she has done well in 2013 with a win at Raleigh 70.3 and runner-up finishes at Eagleman and Buffalo Springs Lake.
Svenja Bazlen, 29, (GER)
Bazlen has been coming on strong at long course this year with runner-up finishes at San Juan 70.3 and St. George 70.3 a 4th at St. Anthony’s and a $15,000 3rd place at Hy-Vee. Bazlen still has short course speed as evidenced by her ranking 8th in WTS points midway through the 2012 season.