Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kona Winners and Losers...and a few other Ironman Nuggets

Hi All,

Kona is now 10 days gone, and the shock is just wearing off from Chrissie Wellington's stunning DNS at the Ironman World Championships this year, where she just got a huge batch of bad luck in getting sick with flu-like symptoms the night before the race. Her early-morning decision to not start absolutely opened up the women's race to a much larger number of women to steal the title, but ultimately it was a great duel between Julie Dibens (who predictably opened up a huge gap on the bike) and Mirinda Carfrae, who ran her down with a record-breaking 2:53 run split to win easily over by 7:30 over Ironman newcomer Caroline Steffen. Julie Dibens finished  third, despite running 23 minutes slower than Carfrae.

Other Highlights

  • Despite her painful decision to not start, congrats to Chrissie for staying out of the spotlight on race day and allowing the race to make the headlines.
  • This sure didn't make a lot of press releases, but Paula Newby Fraser's female bike record that had stood since 1993 was broken by Switzerland's Karen Thurig, who rode a remarkable 4:48:22 to break the record by a whole 8 seconds
  • Virginia Beratasegui - after her under-the-radar third place in 2009, she finished an even farther under-the-radar 4th in 2010. 
  • Remarkably, the only other woman to repeat in the Top 10 from last year was Rachel Joyce, who improved from 6th last year to finish 5th this year. 
  • The Team TBB Breakthrough Performer of the Year - Brett Sutton's team continues to pump out great Kona performances.  Caroline Steffen is the latest in the long list of Team TBB athletes to have huge breakthrough race in Kona. Chrissie in 2007, Erika Csomor in 2008, Tereza Mazel last year, and now Steffen in 2010. 
A Couple of Lowlights
  • What happened to the rest of the so-called race favorites? Slowtwitch had female odds to win, and the ladies ranked 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th - Macel, Keat, Morrison, and McGlone - all had terrible days and finished outside of the Top 15. Terrible days for all of them...Morrison and Keat didn't even make it to the finish line this year.
  • Sandra Wallenhorst - picked by a many to be a dark horse, got DQ'ed for inexplicably cutting the bike course early on. I have no idea how that could happen, but have been unable to find any official explanation online. Regardless, a thumbs down to her.
  • The overall experience - yes, the streaming was much better this year. But the commentary was so-so, they were very inconsistent with time splits between the leaders, and it just seems that they need to spend some money on upgrading the graphical presentation. It just feels like the coverage isn't much better than it was in 2004....

Unfortunately for the women, the 2010 event was completely overshadowed by a very exciting and extremely memorable men's race. With a list of contenders a mile long going on, it was shaping up to a  be a great race. And it didn't disappoint, with the bikers going off the front trying to get enough breathing room on the runners. And unfortunately for the bikers, it was a day for the runners. The top 3 men off the bike ended up outside of the top 10 as the relatively easy conditions made for fast times.

Ultimately, it was Chris McCormack's day, as he started the run almost 8 minutes behind bike leader Chris Lieto. It took him about 11 miles to eliminate those 8 minutes, and McCormack looked to cruise to the finish line. Unfortunately for him, there were two men running faster than him coming up behind him. Craig Alexander, whose Kona formula is to give the bikers their lead and camera time, and then hammer through the field to win going away, ultimately gave Macca too much room and despite running faster than him and having the 2nd best run split, finished 6 minutes back in 4th place. However, Andreas Raelert made a huge push, caught Macca just before 24 mile, and the two men ran together for almost 2 miles before Macca dropped him on the downhill right at the last aid station. A gutsy move by a worthy champ - and McCormack joins a very short list of multiple Kona winners. And we'll look on back on the 2010 duel between McCormack and Raelert for years to come.

Other Highlights
  • Craig Alexander - despite having an overwhelming deficit on the run, he ran the 2nd fastest time of the day to defend his back-to-titles honorably. Congrats to him on being a great champion
  • A wicked fast run split by the "other" Aussie Pete Jacobs, who had a race-best blistering 2:41:06 run split to finish in 8th place.
  • The European Dominance - 6 Europeans in the Top 10, including 3 Germans (Raelert, Bracht, Al-Sultan) and one each from Spain (Llanos), Belgium (Vanhoenacker), and Luxembourg (Bockel).
And now for the Lowlights
  • 0 North Americans in the Top 10! How long has it been since the days of Peter Reid and Tim DeBoom being the race favorites?
  • Chris Lieto - just like last year, the race was there. He had the lead. He promised this year would be different. A 2:51 run would have been enough. However, the run didn't go well and he finished in 11th place. At 38, is his window closed?
  • Terenzo Bozzone/Andy Potts/Rasmus Henning - three guys expected to at least contend for the top 5. They finished 20th, 21st, and 24th. Their problem - none of them ran under 3 hours when 22 pro men and 2 pro women did it.
  • Where are the next generation of male Ironman pros? Most of the current top 10 are in their 30's, including many on the wrong side of 35. Who will be the guy in 2 years? It shall be interesting...

Anyhow, with 2010 out of the way, we can now already look forward to 2011, with the new Ironman qualification system for pros already in place. Essentially, the old system of qualifying for Kona at any one Ironman race is gone. Instead, a points system rewarding finishing positions in Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races will determine the top 50 men and top 30 women who will compete at Kona in 2011. You can read the full details here and the current ranking can be found here.  The other main difference is that all pro triathletes will be required to race one Ironman event to qualify for Kona. Even Carfrae and McCormack don't automatically get a free entry into next years race without finishing another Ironman.

All in all - I like the new system. It should encourage more racing among the pro racers. And could mean that races that often get shortchanged with regard to top pros (Ironman Coeur D'Alene, Lake Placid, Canada) could see more top competitors. We'll see how the system works...but already we've heard that Rasmus Henning and Chrissie Wellington are going to jump back into the Ironman pool at Ironman Arizona in late November as they look to move up the rankings.

More soon....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kona Preview...and Predictions!

Hi All,

We are now less than 48 hours from the start of the 2010 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, and it’s about time that I preview the race and make some predictions.

The Womens Race
As most of you know,  Chrissie Wellington is making her case for the Greatest of all time.  Right now it’s Paula Newby-Fraser (8 wins) and Natascha Badmann (6 wins) who get the most votes, but Chrissie is moving in the right direction. She’s now won consecutive Ironman races in Korea, Kona (2007), Australia, Germany, Kona (2008), Australia, Roth, Kona (2009), and Roth so far in 2010. That makes her 9 for 9 over 140.6 miles, and if she wants to continue her path towards GOAT status, she needs to make it to the finish line first on Saturday.

So far in 2010, Chrissie has won all 3 races she’s started, breaking records left and right. She’s improved her swim (first female out of the water at Ironman Kansas), bike (a 4:36 bike split at Roth) and hopes to see her best run time ever in Kona. She's a machine who threatens to beat male pros every time she starts.

However, in 2010 she faces what might be the strongest field she has ever competed against. There’s Mirinda Carfrae, 2nd last year and holder of the Kona run record. There’s Julie Dibens, current 70.3 World Champion and the last person to beat Chrissie in a race (last year at the Boulder half Ironman race). There’s Sam McGlone, who in 2007 finished 5 minutes behind Chrissie in what has been Chrissie’s closest finish yet. On the flip side, there are questions about all 3 of her main contenders. Can Mirinda stay close enough to Chrissie to make her run speed matter? Can Julie get far enough ahead of Chrissie to put Chrissie under pressure? And can Sam put it all together like she did in 2008, and still have some running legs to compete late in the race?

On top of Mirinda, Julie, and Sam, there are lots of other women who can complicate things. There’s Tereza Macel,  had a breakthrough year in 2009, winning two Ironman races and then finishing 4th in Kona. There’s Rebekah Keat, who has challenged Chrissie at Roth the last two years until Chrissie found another gear on the run. There’s also last year’s 3rd place finisher, Virginia Beratasegui, who  came from nowhere to finish 3rd last year. And Linsey Corbin, who had an amazing day in 2008 before falling apart in 2009. With a new coach and a new focus, she might be ready to put it all together again. Plus Kona veterans like Joanna Lawn, Belinda Granger, Kate Major, etc…

So what’s going to happen?  I see a group of women trying  to pull away on the bike, trying desperately to either pressure Chrissie or put some time on her. Remember, Chrissie was on pace to break the Ironman bike record last year until the winds picked up on the way home. This year, Dibens and Macel could potentially beat Chrissie to T2, but I don’t see Chrissie letting them get more than a couple of minutes. That will string out the rest of the ladies, and turn the run into a battle for second.  Chrissie might even be trying to win back her run record (set in 2008, broken in 2009 by Carfrae) and reset the course record. Chrissie has shown that records are made to be broken.

My top ten,,,
  1. Chrissie - A mortal lock. A lava flow wont slow her down.
  2. Carfrae – will run herself into 2nd. Again. 
  3. Corbin – has been peaking for this race
  4.  McGlone – will be a factor, not sure if she can run fast enough to make podium.
  5. Dibens – amazing swim/bike, will need another year before she can run fast in Kona.
  6. Rebekah Keat - has to make up for last year's DQ
  7. Caroline Steffen – short course girl doing Kona debut
  8. Catriona Morison – mainly known for her dominance in duathlon
  9. Yvonne Van Vlerken – 2nd at Kona just two years ago
  10. Amy Marsh – American girl who has multiple wins this year behind Brett Sutton’s coaching
Men’s Race

I love this year’s men’s field. Most men only race sparingly nowadays, preferring to save themselves for one peak race in Kona. Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto, last year’s top two finishers, haven’t done an Iron-distance race since last year in Kona. Other top contenders like Rasmus Henning (Roth), Chris McCormack (Frankfurt), Andy Potts (Coeur D’Alene), Andreas Raelert (Frankfurt), and Terenzo Bozzone (New Zealand) did one full Ironman this year as part of their build-up to Kona. We’ll see whose strategy pays off on Saturday.

Until he gets defeated, the odds-on favorite has to be Craig Alexander. The two-time defending champion (who was second in his Kona debut in 2007), is healthy and has been dominant this year in his 70.3 races. His strategy is to bike at his pace, knowing his superior running will catch the cyclists before the end of the race. However, one of these years he might give someone too much rope.

There’s a huge group of European contenders, including Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel, Belgians Marino Vanhoenacker and Rutger Beke, the Dane Rasmus Henning,  and the German peloton of Normann Stadler, Faris Al-Sultan, Timo Bracht, and Andreas Raelert.  Then we have Australia’s Macca, Luke Bell, and Pete Jacobs and their Kiwi neighbours Cam Brown and the up-and-coming Terenzo Bozzone. It will be a battle out there.

I see the men’s race being a lot like last year’s – a few cyclists get away late on the bike, with the pure runners content to let them go. But there just might a guy who sneaks between those two groups who can do some damage. I’m thinking it will Raelert or Bozzone or Henning, but I think Raelert’s new bike speed might be enough to give him those extra couple of minutes to hold off Alexander.

My top ten...
  1. Andreas Raelert – might hand off title to his little brother, who after defending 70.3 World title, will compete at Kona in 2011.
  2. Rasmus Henning – has the pure speed. Can he improve under the Kona conditions?
  3. Craig Alexander – maybe just an off-year
  4.  Terenzo Bozzone – still learning the Irongame
  5. Andy Potts – 7th in 2008, 9th in 2009, better this year
  6. Dirk Bockel – trains with Raelerts, bikes like the Schlecks
  7.  Marino Vanhoenacker – consistent, solid 2010 so far
  8. Chris Lieto – I’m daring him to prove me wrong and lay down a killer run
  9. Pete Jacobs – the latest star who learned to win in Australia
  10.  Chris McCormack – would love to see him win again, but years of racing catching up with him
Of course, you could build a pretty solid argument for Timo Bracht, Cam Brown,  Rutger Beke and any number of other pros. Not to mention previous winners Stadler and Al-Sultan. 

I’ll have a post-race post sometime after the race.

More soon…

Monday, October 4, 2010

More bad news for Contador...

Hi All,

For those of you who don't like reading about doping in cycling, please move on. The NY Times is reporting tonight that Alberto Contador failed a second test during this year's Tour de France. This one has nothing to do with clenbuterol and any tainted meat, but instead a newly designed test can now check for the presence of plasticizers, a chemical found inside IV bags. Essentially, it is a way to see if athletes are having anything transfused into their system.

According to the NY Times, one of Contador's tests on July 20 contained the high levels of plasticizers, at an amount apparently 8 times higher than the level thought to be associated with doping. The very next day was the one where Contador's sample contained the very minute concentrations of clenbuterol (well below the expected therapeutic concentrations). Contador's camp blames the presence of this minute amount of clenbuterol on some sort of accidental ingestion, while other media and doping experts have suggested that the amounts of clenbuterol might have due to with blood transfusions. Anyhow, the story keeps going, and now the NY Times is leading the charge...we'll have to wait to see what the UCI and Alberto Contador say next.

More soon...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cycling Worlds In Review

Hi All,

These last 5 nights have featured the UCI World Cycling Championships in Geelong, Australia. Unfortunately for us North Americans, that meant late night starts and even later night finishes for the 6 events that were held. However, for us few fans that stayed up late and watched foreign-language webstreams (thank you Flemish television for not restricting your viewership), it did provide some great entertainment. All 6 events had some great drama, cumulating with last night's unbelievable Men's Road Race.

It all kicked off Tuesday evening, with the U23 Men and Elite Women time trial events. Two names of interest during these events were Taylor Phinney in the U23 event and Edmontonian Tara Whitten in the Womens race. Phinney, at only 20 years of age, has already won multiple world championships in various track events (currently defending world champion in the individual pursuit) and is just starting to take his talents to the road. He even finished the 2010 season racing with Team RadioShack. He went into the event as probably the favorite, and did not disappoint, winning by over 2 seconds. Phinney is a future cycling superstar, maybe not the next lance or Contador, but he could win big races like Cancellara and Boonen. Canada's top finisher was David Boily (who rides for Spidertech) in 25th place.

For most riders, the World Championships is a year-ending event. For Tara Whitten, it's a warm up. After competing in both the time trial and road race in Australia, she's off to India to compete for Canada in the Commonwealth Games. Whitten, the current World Champion in 2 events on the track, will be competing in both road and track events in India, for a total of 6 separate competitions! She's the Michael Phelps of the bicycle world. Can she win multiple medals? In the Worlds Time Trial, Whitten was a medal contender, clocking the 2nd best time at the first checkpoint before fading to 7th. She was actually beaten by the remarkable Jeannie Longo, who at age 52 continues to dominate against women who weren't born when she won her first World Championship in 1985.

Then it was time for the Elite Men Time Trial. Current world champion Fabian Cancellara had the honour of going last, and didn't disappoint, blowing apart the field as he chewed up the 45.6 km course to win his 4th world title. He led after every checkpoint but the first one, and won by over a minute even after celebrating down the finishing stretch. Compare that to the U23 and Womens winners who won by 2 and 15 seconds. He is almost unbeatable right now in events that he aims for. 2010 has been a great year for Fabian and will once again get to the rainbow stripes in every time trial in 2010. David Millar and Tony Martin rounded out the podium, while Canadian Svein Tuft, who was seeded 7th and won a silver medal in this event only 2 years ago, could only manage a 26th place finish in what he called "the worst day of his life". He too is on his way to the Commonwealth Games and will hopefully bring home a medal for Canada there...

The next night featured the U23 Road Race, and it was being watched by the Elite Men for several reasons. Obviously, it would showcase the next generation of cycling stars, but there was a lot of interest to see if the difficult course would break up the peloton and enable a breakaway to succeed. The difficult course (one large and one shorter hill per lap) did wear down the peloton, but it did end with 46 riders together (out of the 97 finishers). Australian rider Michael Matthews won the sprint, but the real battle was for bronze between Taylor Phinney and Canadian rider Guillaume Boivin. Check this out picture...

At 2/1000th of a second, they couldn't determine who won bronze (the other rider is the silver medalist from Germany), so both Boivin and Phinney shared the Bronze medal. It is only the third medal from a Canadian male at a World Championship (with Tuft's 2008 silver in the TT and Steve Bauer's bronze in the 1984 Road Race.

Boivin is quite a talent for only being 21, having won races in Canada, Cuba, and Europe this season. He also had a Top 10 finish during a stage of the Tour of California this year. He is a great talent, and as SpiderTech aims to upgrade to a Pro Continental team in 2011, Boivin will be a huge part of their future. There is a great interview with him here...

The women's road race also came down to a sprint finish, with Italian Giorgia Bronzini winnning. Tara Whitten managed to make the final group, but had nothing left for the sprint, finishing in 15th place. Erinne Willock of Canada finished 23rd.

The big event was the Elite Mens Road Race. Hometown favorite Cadel Evans was trying to defend his 2009 title, but the pre-race favorites also included the leaders of the powerful Italian team (Fillipo Pozzato) and Spanish team (3-time winner Oscar Freire) plus one-day riders like Philippe Gilbert from Belgium, who might have been the favorite heading into this race. The race started off very slowly, as 4 riders actually got a 23 minute lead on the slow-moving peloton early on, but as they closed in on the finish line 262 km away, the peloton closed in. As they completed their 11 laps on the finishing circuit, the peloton kept losing riders as the speed and the hills kept claiming victims. It was in the last 30 or so km that the field really split up, with the Italians working hard to keep the group small. Eventually, riders like Evans and Gilbert both has short-lived solo breakaways but they were always swallowed back up by the remaining riders. Gilbert was the last to be caught, with less the 2 km to go. But like the U23 and Womens race, it did become a sprint finish, and it was the God of Thunder, Thor Hushovd, who hopped around the group to power away and win the World title! Congrats to Thor, who was joined on the podium by Matti Breschel (Denmark) and Allan Davis (Asutralia), for finally winning Norways's first ever World Cycling title! Pozzato finished 4th and Freire 6th, while Evans and Gilbert finished at the back of the lead group. Canada's Svein Tuft was our only finisher in 85th place, while Christian Meier and Dominique both did not finish.

More to come, as always...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Say it ain't so Alberto...

Hi All,

Earlier this afternoon the word came down that Alberto Contador has apparently tested positive for a banned substance during this summer's Tour de France. The substance in question, clenbuterol, is a bronchodilator specifically banned by the UCI's anti-doping rules. Contador has claimed this positive test is due to "food poisoning" and will supposedly give more details at a Thursday press conference. Later tonight, the UCI sent out a release that claimed the following...

“The UCI confirmed today that Spanish rider Alberto Contador returned an adverse analytical finding for clenbuterol following the analysis of urine sample taken during an in competition test on 21st July 2010 on the second rest day of the Tour de France. This result was reported by the WADA accredited laboratory in Cologne to UCI and WADA simultaneously.
“The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms (or 0,000 000 000 05 grams per ml) which is 400 time less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA must be able to detect.”
“In view of this very small concentration and in consultation with WADA, the UCI immediately had the proper results management proceedings conducted including the analysis of B sample that confirmed the first result. The rider, who had already put an end to his cycling season before the result was known, was nevertheless formally and provisionally suspended as is prescribed by the World Anti-Doping Code.
“This case required further scientific investigation before any conclusion could be drawn. The UCI continues working with the scientific support of WADA to analyse all the elements that are relevant to the case. This further investigation may take some more time.
“In order to protect the integrity of the proceedings and in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code, the UCI will refrain from making any further comments until the management of this adverse analytical finding has been completed.

There have been several other athletes implicated on clenbuterol doping including Team RadioShack sprinter Li Fuyu earlier this season, a Polish canoeist at the 2008 Olympics, and a world champion badminton player earlier this year. Jessica Hardy, an American swimmer who tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2008 Olympic trials, has also claimed that she had ingested it thru a sabotaged supplement. However, she ended up wasting a lot of time with lawsuits and ended up serving a doping suspension.

According to various sources, clenbuterol is often used illegally by athletes and body builders to help build slender muscle and reduce body fat. According to today's reports, Contador so far has only had his 'A' sample analyzed and we'll likely have to wait until the 'B' sample is tested.

Now before I pile on as another blogger automatically convicting Contador  - right now all we have a positive test for a drug that others athletes have used to cheat with, we have a dubious excuse, and it appears we are walking down that same Floyd Landis path. Here's hoping we don't get too far down that path...or can this minute amount of drug be enough to get him off the hook? I'll reserve judgement until we know more...this one could last a while. I could see this case going all the way to the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) or I could see it being dismissed within a couple of weeks by the UCI.

From 2006, here's a  humourous look back on some of the best doping infraction excuses around...

So far, Lance Armstrong has been quiet on the subject on Twitter...but that can't last, can it?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Canadian ITU 2010 Year in Review...Womens Edition...

Hi All,

I have ignored most of the 2010 ITU Season this year on Bikey, highlighting a couple breakthrough performances (Barb Riveros early, Paula Findlay late) that appeared to inject some new blood into the same old faces who seem to be on the podium race after race. For the women, it was Emma Snowsill, Emma Moffatt, Lisa Norden, and Nicola Spirig who battled it out all year for the overall title.

A quick recap of the year  - Emma Moffatt repeated as World Champion in 2010. Unfortunately, she didn't have a banner year, winning a grand total of ZERO events in 2010. In 2009, she won 4 events and was the dominant female, but this year she had two 2nd place finishes and 2 3rd place finishes to outpoint the rest of the women. Canada's Paula Findlay was the only multiple winner in the World Championship Series, but the fact that she only competed in 3 out of the 7 events in 2010 left her far behind in the overall Series, finishing in 5th place on the season.

A couple questions: Am I the only one who thinks that the World title should go to someone to actually wins a race? And does the average fan really miss the "All or Nothing" one day, one race World Champion? I get that it's important to convince the best athletes to race all around the globe, but isn't there a better way?

The Canadian content from 2010 - our women had a very mixed season. Our pre-season troika of Kirsten Sweetland, Kathy Tremblay, and Lauren Groves had an abysmal year, with Tremblay finishing the highest overall in 48th place on the ITU World Rankings. Of course, the performance of Paula Findlay in July and August leaves our female team with a lot of question marks leading into 2011.

Tremblay (13th overall in 2009) never real got on track in 2010, had a nasty crash in Madrid, and never really had a solid race all season long. The 28 year-old has always been a consistent racer, but will need to have a bounceback season in 2011 or her Olympic goals might be a longshot.

Sweetland suffered thru more injuries and sickness early on this season, and never really got on a roll like she has in the past. She got a flat tire in the WCS event in Hamburg, competed while sick in London, and then regrouped in August to finish 2nd overall at the Canadian Championships (less than a minute behind Findlay) before going to Budapest and finishing 2nd overall at the Under-23 World Championship race. With two career World Cup wins and still only being 21 years of age, Sweetland still has unlimited potential. Can she stay healthy for an entire season? And can she team up with Findlay to give Canada a one-two punch to take on the world?

Lauren Groves broke her collarbone in the offseason, but unfortunately it never healed, so she needed success in June and lost her entire season. She was 12th in the 2009 rankings, and has proven she can have big results in big races. Can she bounce back after losing an entire season? Let's hope so...

Canada's shining star for 2010 was Paula Findlay, who started off this season racing against second tier competition before shocking the world by winnning her first two World Championship Series races in London and Kitzbuhel  before finishing a gutsy 5th overall in Budapest after having to play catch up the whole day...she'll enter 2011 as one of the favorites in every event she enters. And with her taking the winter semester off of university to prepare for her 2011 season, the 21 year-old will be looking to take her replicate her 2010 successes.

Findlay also took home some hardware in Budapest as the winner of the "Fastest Runner" award from the ITU. This season, the ITU gave an extra award (plus $5000 in cash) to the male and female who consistently had the best swim, bike, or run splits for the season. Findlay's blistering run splits won her the 2010 award, while Jan Frodeno won for the men.

A quick note on the other winners...the bike award went to Calgary's Lisa Mensink (who competes for the Netherlands). However, despite being rated as the top biker, her best overall finish was a 17th place finish. Lance was right - it's not about the bike. The top swimmer award went to Laura Bennett, who had another great season to finish the year as the 10th place overall female as a 35 year old! Nice work Laura...

So let's call this year a solid B+ overall, after an A+ by Findlay and a bunch of C's and D's from the rest of the girls...

Men's recap coming soon...

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