IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – KONA 2016 – analysis

The men’s race this year shaped into the Frodeno / Kienle battle that we all expected. However, at only 4:44 down at the finish, we are left to wonder what would have happened if third place Patrick Lange had not served the drafting penalty. We’ll take a closer look at how inflicting drafting penalties can form part of the tactical plan of a strong rider.

The women’s race was once again the Daniela Ryf show. Many fans were hopeful that Mirinda Carfrae would be able to run down the massive 22 minute deficit at T2 to regain the crown. But the Angry Bird was following The Doc’s orders to run a sub 3 hour marathon. In the process she smashed Carfrae’s course record and even out-ran the traditional uber-runner.

Before the start Daniela Ryf was looking relaxed and confident ¬†heading into the water – showing nothing of the stress and nerves that you normally see on the face of a defending champion. There was even a chance to chat to legend, Natascha Badmann at Digby Beach in what would be Badmann’s final race as a professional.

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As usual at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, just below the surface of the pacific ocean is a quiet calmness that completely belies the buzzing nervous energy between the athletes waiting for the canon that turns everything into a giant washing machine.

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The Angry Bird was part of a huge lead pack that came into T1 at the same time and settled into a steady three watts per kilogram effort at or near the front of the race until the hill up to Hawi. That was where, as her coach tweeted, Daniela put away the blow torch and brought out the flame thrower. Only Anja Beranek had the guts to follow the 3.5W/kg pace set by Ryf, an effort that would burn off Beranek before T2. The German would eventually drop almost 30 minutes to Ryf and come in off the podium in fourth place.

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Instead of getting progressively run down by Carfrae like what had happened in 2014, Ryf and her coach had decided that a sub 3 hour marathon was a worthy target to shoot for. The result was a 2:56 marathon for the fastest run split of the day without the aid of a watch, heart rate monitor or GPS. In the process she took 6 minutes out of Carfrae’s 2013 course record.

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The men’s race had an even bigger front pack heading into T1 together, and then when Saunders and Kienle had pulled some of the second group up to the leaders before the Hawi turnoff, the front of the race swelled to a pace line of 25 riders. Coping with a group that large requires laser sharp focus for hours on end or else a sharper rider will sucker punch you into a 5 minute penalty for drafting. Let me explain.

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The anti drafting rules of Ironman say that you may not be closer that 12m to the rider in front of you. If you overtake a rider, you mast pass with a minimum of 2m of that rider. If you have overtaken a rider and the gap to the next rider up the road is larger than 12m, you can slot back into the line at the legal distance of 12m. In this instance the rider you have passed is closer than 12m to you – they will have to immediately sit up and soft pedal till they have dropped back 12m or risk a 5min anti drafting penalty. If, however, the rider you have passed is 12m from the rider in front, then there is no space for you to slot in as you will then get the anti drafting penalty. You will then need to continue overtaking riders till either you find a larger gap or till you reach the front of the line.

Now, if you are sitting and holding your position in the line you need to be vigilant at all times. If you allow a gap of more than 12m to open in front of you, another rider will take the gap and you will have to sit up and grab a hand full of brakes and drop back 12m – ruining your rhythm in the process. If the rider in front of you slows down for whatever reason (eg another rider took a gap in front of them), you must immediately slow down to maintain your 12m gap – or you must swing out and lay down the power to overtake everyone.

Both Frodeno and Kienle used these tactics. Either passing riders and jumping into any legal gap they could find, or just sitting up while riding on the front causing the line to concertina behind them and force others to either break rhythm and grab brakes or swing out and burn energy overtaking the whole group. The tactic had two outcomes that played into the hands of the two strong Germans. First, fatigue slowed the reaction times of some of the riders and five of the lead group were served 5 minute anti drafting penalties. The second was that when Keinle put in his surge just before Hawi, only Frodeno and Boris Stein could react immediately.

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It was a play that worked. The result was that even though Patrick Lange broke Mark Allen’s 1989 Kona marathon record, his 5min time penalty kept him 4:44 behind Frodeno and 1:12 behind Kienle.

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Now begins the process of qualifying for Kona 2017 for professionals and age groupers alike. I hope to see some of you out on the warm Alpujarra roads in Southern Spain for pre-season base training while the rest of Europe is still under a blanket of snow. For many a first stepping stone will be lining up for a first Half Ironman in 2017.

Choose your goal. Write it down. Make it happen.

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