No one wants to bet against Daniela Ryf as the champion here in Kona tomorrow, but then again, no one wants to count out Mirinda Carfrae.
The buzz here in Kona is that tomorrow’s race is going to be a wicked showdown between defending champion Mirinda Carfrae and last year’s runner up Daniela Ryf. The Swiss superstar came off a stellar 2014 and has gone even better in 2015, winning again and again in impressive style. She took Frankfurt with ease, then dominated the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, too. She says she’s feeling much stronger this year … just the news her competition wants to hear.
If all this sounds like a bit of deja vu, it is. Even though Carfrae was the defending champion last year, the feeling was that Ryf was the woman to beat. Carfrae managed the feat, but it took an epic run to do it – the Aussie came off the bike about 15 minutes down and used a 2:50 marathon to win.
One has to believe that a Brett Sutton trained athlete is going to come to Kona with the ammo to take the win. The same bike as last year, coupled with a three hour marathon, likely puts Ryf on top. But Carfrae is coached by Sutton protégé Siri Lindley, who no-doubt has her own tricks and plans, too. Carfrae will have to bike better this year, and who knows how fast she is capable of running – every time we think we have seen her at her fastest, she has found another gear so far.
So does that mean we don’t need to pay attention to anyone else? Hardly. Ryf is likely to have some company up front on the bike ride, and there are a bunch of women who will be quite happy to serve as spoilers if either of the two favourites falter at all.
One of those is our very own Angela Naeth, who arrives here as a Kona rookie, but has spent over seven weeks acclimating in Texas and Kona to hot, humid weather. She loves the heat and this is a perfect course for her. She’ll need to have a good swim, but if she can come out of the water within touch of the best women, she will certainly be a factor.
“I need to use my strength on the bike – if I can use my bike strength and stay hydrated then I can see myself in contention,” Naeth said earlier this week. “I feel like there are going to be a lot of group dynamics and a few packs forming.”
Included in some of those “packs” early on will be the likes of Leanda Cave, Rachel Joyce, Meredith Kessler, Heather Wurtele, Mary Beth Ellis, Caroline Steffen, Jodie Swallow, Julia Gajer and Liz Blatchford.
Anyone who saw Swallow lead from start to finish at the 2010 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, on a road bike, no less, is all too aware of just how talented the Brit is. She crashed the day before this year’s 70.3 worlds, so didn’t show the form that put her in front at Ironman South Africa earlier this year. She looks very fit coming into this weekend (as does everyone, mind you), but is certainly an athlete who can keep Ryf company at the front.
As is each and everyone of the women on that list above. Steffen has had an up and down year with sickness, but arrives in Kona rested for the first time in her life. Blatchford was second in Mont-Tremblant in August, which bodes well for her build into Kona. Joyce is loving being under the radar this year – a good run could put her in the driver’s seat tomorrow. Cave is as laid back as ever, but says she’s the most healthy she’s been at this race since 2012, when she won. Heather Wurtele has excelled everywhere else in the world other than Kona, and there really isn’t a reason she shouldn’t contend at this event. Kessler also remains very much under the radar this week – could this be her year to finally pop the run she has worked so hard on?
Suffice it to say there are a number of women who can finish in the top five here tomorrow. To win, though, they will likely need both Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae to falter. That’s a big ask.
Photos: Kevin Mackinnon