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On the Relative Importance of Legs in Long Distance Triathlon

Triathlon’s combination of three different sports creates dynamic races. Comparing to single sport endurance events such as marathon running, you have to account for the strengths and weaknesses in each of the legs. While you can be pretty sure that the winner of a marathon will be close to the front after 30k, things are more complicated for a triathlon. The T2 leader is in a great position to win the race, but stronger runners keep the race interesting for much longer, and often big events are decided very close to the finish line – just think back to Kona 2014 when Mirinda Carfrae was able to win the race even after being more than 15 minutes behind in T2.

There has been a lot of discussion about the “most important” leg in a triathlon. In addition to getting the balance right, it’s still interesting to ask if long-distance triathlon favors the stronger bike riders (that will still need to have a decent run) or if everything is decided on the run and the strong runners just have to make sure to not fall too far behind on run.

This post discusses this issue from a statistical view point. I have analyzed Pro race results from 2005 to 2016, looking at more than 500 male and female races with a decent number of results from almost 300 Ironman and Challenge events over the IM-distance. For each of these I have calculated the “relative importance” of each of the legs with a statistics package. The concept of relative importance describes where the race is decided – not necessarily where the most time is spent or where the largest differences occur, but which leg matters most for the final outcome.

Examples and Averages

Here are a few examples where one of the legs had a very large influence on the race results:

  • 2015 Female Race at IM Cairns (Swim Importance: 40%)
    This race was basically decided after the swim. Liz Blatchford built a gap of more three and a half minutes to her competitors. She went on to post the best run and bike times as well, but the gaps were smaller than on the swim. Similarly, the order of athletes behind her didn’t change much after the swim, for example Gina Crawford was second in T1 and had the second best bike and run.
    It’s quite rare for the swim to be the deciding leg, there were only five races (out of more than 500 or less than 1%) where the swim was the most important leg.
  • 2014 Male Race at IM Hawaii (Bike Importance: 55%)
    In 2014 the men’s Kona winner was Sebastian Kienle – he built a dominating lead on the bike that he was able to hold on to during the run. Behind him there were a few shuffles on the run, but other than a few athletes “exploding” on the run the time differences were quite small.
  • 2016 Male Race at IM Hawaii (Run Importance: 69%)
    Last year’s male Kona race was wide open until the run: A group of seven athletes were leading into T2 less than a minute apart. Six of these finished in the Top 7 in the end, with the time differences on the run pretty much determining the order athletes finished. Only Patrick Lange managed to climb into the Top 7 – on the back of a new Kona run course record.

Another typical scenario is that there isn’t a dominating leg but that the bike and run have almost the same importance. Here’s an example from Kona:

  • 2013  Female Race at IM Hawaii (Bike Importance 43%, Run Importance 42%)
    The Top 5 women had almost the same bike splits: Yvonne Van Vlerken was the fastest with a 4:54, slowest among the Top 5 was Mirinda Carfrae with a 4:58 which was still the seventh fastest bike time – the fast bike times allowed them to separate from the rest of the field or make up lost ground after a slower swim. The top finishers also had pretty similar run times just above three hours with four of the five fastest runs among them, solidifying their positions at the front – exceptions were the winner Mirinda Carfrae with a 2:50 and fifth place Caroline Steffen with a 3:11.
The overall average numbers for the importance of each of the legs are:
  • 16% for the Swim
  • 39% for the Bike
  • 45% for the Run

Changes over the Years

While the leg contribution in a single race is often shaped by the participants, race tactics and dynamics, the average data by years shows a long term trend:

LegContributionYears

The graph above shows that the relative importance of the swim has increased in previous years but is still at under 20%. Similarly, the importance of the bike has been increasing, it is approaching the importance of the run. The run is still still the most important leg but with a smaller margin now than ten years ago. In fact 2015 has been the first year where I observed the bike on average being more important than the leg.

What’s the relevance of this data? Here’s my interpretation of it:

  • The increased importance of the swim shows that at the top level of our sport you have to be a good swimmer as well. This confirms the points that Tim Floyd and I made in our post “The Cost of the Kona Swim” for LavaMagazine.
  • It gets more and more important to be able to follow a fast bike with a fast run. In the past, the faster bike riders have always struggled a bit on the run, in order for them to be successful they can no longer afford to lose too much time on the run.
  • For the faster runners it’s the other way around: For them to be successful they can’t be too far behind in T2 – which means that they have to ride more aggressively, even if this ends up hurting their run times a bit.

I think this interpretation is supported by the development of race times we’ve seen in the last few years: For a while male athletes struggled to balance the bike and run. In 2013 we’ve seen a number of 2:40 runs: Bart Aernouts (at IM France) and Victor Del Corral (at IM Florida) ran 2:37 marathons.In 2015 there were some crazy fast bike times, for example IM Texas saw two great bike splits with a 4:10 by Joe Skipper and a 4:11 by Lionel Sanders, but they only ran 3:04 and 3:11 and the race was won by Matt Hanson with a 2:45 run. In 2016 athletes were much better at getting the balance right: A world record by Jan Frodeno (7:35 at Roth with a 4:08 bike and 2:39 run) and the fastest time in an Ironman-branded race by Lionel Sanders (7:44 at Arizona with a 4:04 and 2:42).

Differences between Courses

Another question that is often asked is which courses favor certain types of athletes.

As noted above, the swim has a relatively small contribution to the overall result, but there are still some noticeable differences between different courses:

SwimContribution

Kona is actually the course with the lowest average swim contribution. I think this is mainly caused by a relatively evenly matched field, and everyone tries to stay with the front group as long as possible, usually resulting in relatively large front groups coming out with very small differences. Compare that to IM Germany, IM Western Australia or IM Copenhagen, where often the swim leader manages to create a gap and then goes on to win the race. Think of Jan Frodeno in Germany 2015, Luke McKenzie at Western Australia 2015 or Camilla Pedersen at IM Copenhagen 2012.

Another question that is asked is which courses are good for the strong bike riders and which favor the faster runners. The following graph shows the average difference between the bike and run contribution for the courses with a decent amount of data:

BikeVsRun

If the bar goes to the left and into the red, the bike leg has a higher contribution, if it goes to the right and into the green, then the run is more important. Also, the longer the bar the larger the difference is. IM Wales is the best course for the strong bike riders (with the bike leg contributing 20% more to the final result than the run), while Western Australia clearly favors the runners (run contribution 19% larger than the bike).

Summary

Analyzing the importance of the swim, bike and run in long distance Pro races shows a couple of interesting points:

  • Each race has different participants creating different race dynamics, influencing where important things happen in the race, averages help to identify differences between courses.
  • While the swim and bike are getting more and more important, the leg with the largest contribution to the final result is still the run.
  • For most courses the contribution is between 13 and 18%, only very few have a swim importance slightly above 20%.
  • With Ironman Wales and Challenge Wanka there are only two courses that clearly favor the bike leg (bike contribution more than 5% higher than the run contribution).
  • Conversely, there are 12 courses favoring the run, the run legs at IM Wisconsin and IM Western Australia showing the largest difference.

While the analysis presented in this post is based on Pro data, the conclusions about the courses seem to be properties of the courses rather than the fields racing the course. Therefore, they should apply to agegroupers as well and can be used as a general guideline to decide which course might favor the strengths of a particular athlete.

But even with the differences between courses affecting the importance of the legs, triathlon is truly a sport of its own: You can only do well if you are great in each of the three legs. The interaction between the disciplines makes triathlon such an interesting sport to follow and to participate in.

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Updates to the Top10 Ratings

After the first round of 2017 Ironman races, here are the updated Top 10 Ratings. If you compare the “old” ratings to the new ones, you will notice that the numbers have slightly changed even for athletes that have note raced. This is caused by a small improvement in my algorithm that reduces an undue influence of older results for athletes that have a large number of races from more than three years ago.

TOP 10 Rated Ironman Distance Athletes

TOP 10 Rated Male Athletes

Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle are still my top ranked athletes. Nils Frommhold (having finished second in South Africa) has climbed back to third, very slightly ahead of Brent McMahon. Other changes are a result of the racing we have seen in 2017: Ben Hoffman entering the Top 10 after his sub-8 win in South Africa, and Marino and Frederik dropping back after a DNF and a sub-par race.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Jan Frodeno GER 07:59:19 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
2 Sebastian Kienle GER 08:08:32 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 13
3 Nils Frommhold GER 08:16:05 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
4 Brent McMahon CAN 08:16:06 IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 7
5 Andi Boecherer GER 08:17:13 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
6 Andy Potts USA 08:17:26 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 16
7 Patrik Nilsson SWE 08:19:21 IM Barcelona on 2016-10-02 7
8 Ben Hoffman USA 08:21:15 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 18
9 Marino Vanhoenacker BEL 08:21:27 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 21
10 Frederik Van Lierde BEL 08:21:52 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 21

TOP 10 Rated Female Athletes

For the females, the Top 4 have not changed: Daniela, Rinny, Kaisa and Heather are still the best-rated athletes. New athletes in the Top 10 are Meredith Kessler (new #5, third in New Zealand and also benefitting from the algorithm changes), Susie Cheetham (new #6, third place in South Africa after a Kona DNF) and Linsey Corbin (#10, slightly climbing with the changes).

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Daniela Ryf SUI 08:42:49 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
2 Mirinda Carfrae AUS 09:01:36 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
3 Kaisa Lehtonen FIN 09:09:12 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 4
4 Heather Jackson USA 09:12:39 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 6
5 Meredith Kessler USA 09:14:01 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 25
6 Susie Cheetham GBR 09:14:17 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 5
7 Melissa Hauschildt AUS 09:15:51 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 4
8 Lucy Gossage GBR 09:15:55 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
9 Anja Beranek GER 09:16:56 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
10 Linsey Corbin USA 09:18:58 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 20

TOP 10 Swim-Rated Ironman Distance Athletes

The Swim Ratings are mainly a very slight re-ordering of the end of 2016 ratings. The two notable changes are  Clayton Fettell who has entered the Top 10 male ranking in #2 and Annabel Luxford who is #8 in the female ranking.

TOP 10 Swim-Rated Male Athletes

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Dylan McNeice NZL 00:45:41 Challenge Taiwan on 2016-05-07 14
2 Clayton Fettell AUS 00:46:23 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 6
3 Jan Frodeno GER 00:46:52 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
4 Andy Potts USA 00:47:00 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 16
5 Marko Albert EST 00:47:03 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 17
6 Denis Chevrot FRA 00:47:20 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 9
7 Terenzo Bozzone NZL 00:47:30 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 11
8 Michael Fox AUS 00:47:30 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 3
9 Barrett Brandon USA 00:47:32 IM Cozumel on 2016-11-27 5
10 Timothy O’Donnell USA 00:47:37 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 13

TOP 10 Swim-Rated Female Athletes

Jodie is still my top-ranked athlete, but Lauren Brandon (as last year’s IM Texas was shortened, she only has two valid full IM finishes) and Lucy Charles (with one Pro finish) are likely to take over the #1 rank from her.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Jodie Cunnama GBR 00:49:34 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 9
2 Meredith Kessler USA 00:50:34 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 25
3 Amanda Stevens USA 00:51:17 IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 18
4 Celine Schaerer SUI 00:51:19 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 7
5 Mary Beth Ellis USA 00:51:31 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 19
6 Leanda Cave GBR 00:51:46 IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 20
7 Daniela Ryf SUI 00:51:52 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
8 Annabel Luxford AUS 00:52:00 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 4
9 Anja Beranek GER 00:52:15 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
10 Alicia Kaye USA 00:52:18 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 3

TOP 10 Bike-Rated Ironman Distance Athletes

TOP 10 Bike-Rated Male Athletes

After not finishing an Ironman race for more than a year, Andy Starykowicz posted a record-breaking 4:01 bike leg at IM Texas, allowing him to reclaim the top spot in the rankings. Cameron Wurf has entered the Top 10 in #3 after being first off the bike at IM South Africa.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Andrew Starykowicz USA 04:22:41 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 7
2 Sebastian Kienle GER 04:26:18 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 13
3 Cameron Wurf AUS 04:26:25 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 3
4 Dougal Allan NZL 04:30:36 Challenge Wanaka on 2017-02-18 7
5 Michael Weiss AUT 04:30:45 IM Cozumel on 2016-11-27 16
6 Jan Frodeno GER 04:31:05 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
7 Andi Boecherer GER 04:31:23 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
8 Lionel Sanders CAN 04:32:01 IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 6
9 Nils Frommhold GER 04:32:30 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
10 Marino Vanhoenacker BEL 04:33:39 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 21

TOP 10 Bike-Rated Female Athletes

There is one new athlete in the Top 10: After a DNF in Kona Tine Deckers has posted the third best bike split at IM Texas and re-entered the Top 10. Other than that there is only a slight re-ordering of the 2016 rankings.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Daniela Ryf SUI 04:55:11 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
2 Anja Beranek GER 05:01:54 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
3 Heather Jackson USA 05:03:54 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 6
4 Jodie Cunnama GBR 05:04:50 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 9
5 Annabel Luxford AUS 05:05:46 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 4
6 Tine Deckers BEL 05:06:29 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 17
7 Diana Riesler GER 05:06:38 IM Malaysia on 2016-11-12 16
8 Lucy Gossage GBR 05:06:38 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
9 Mary Beth Ellis USA 05:06:41 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 19
10 Yvonne Van Vlerken NED 05:06:43 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 25

TOP 10 Run-Rated Ironman Distance Athletes

TOP 10 Run-Rated Male Athletes

The athletes that have entered the Top 10 have all had great results at the start of the 2017 season: David McNamee (#3 after 2:45 at IM South Africa), Matt Hanson (#4 after 2:42 at IM Texas), Diego Van Looy (#9 after 2:51 at IM South Africa) and Cameron Brown (#10 after 2:42 at IM New Zealand).

Patrick Lange doesn’t have a valid rating yet – his only “full” IM was IM Hawaii (he qualified at the shortened IM Texas). But his run course record in Kona indicates that he will be well placed in the Top 10 once he has finished the required three valid IMs.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Jan Frodeno GER 02:45:34 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
2 Jeff Symonds CAN 02:47:53 IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 7
3 David McNamee GBR 02:48:59 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 6
4 Matt Hanson USA 02:49:11 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 10
5 Ivan Rana ESP 02:49:21 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 11
6 Bart Aernouts BEL 02:49:24 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 9
7 Patrik Nilsson SWE 02:49:40 IM Barcelona on 2016-10-02 7
8 Jesse Thomas USA 02:51:17 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 3
9 Diego Van Looy BEL 02:51:33 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 4
10 Cameron Brown NZL 02:51:41 IM New Zealand on 2017-03-04 28

TOP 10 Run-Rated Female Athletes

With a slower run in South Africa, Kristin Möller has dropped to fifth place, while Daniela Ryf has climbed into #2 and continued to improve her rating. Ruth Brennan Morrey benefitted from the algorithm change and is now in #9.

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 Mirinda Carfrae AUS 02:57:04 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
2 Daniela Ryf SUI 03:02:31 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 9
3 Kaisa Lehtonen FIN 03:03:27 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 4
4 Kelly Williamson USA 03:04:45 IM Texas on 2017-04-22 14
5 Kristin Moeller GER 03:05:16 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 20
6 Beth Gerdes USA 03:05:29 IM Australia on 2016-05-01 12
7 Lisa Roberts USA 03:05:58 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 15
8 Susie Cheetham GBR 03:06:12 IM South Africa on 2017-04-02 5
9 Ruth Brennan Morrey USA 03:06:42 IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 4
10 Linsey Corbin USA 03:07:27 IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 20

Strength of Field

One of the questions I’m often asked is how the fields in a races compares to that of another race (or year) and which one was stronger. I have tried a few different approaches but couldn’t quite figure out how to account for “super stars” in a race and at the same time for the “depth” of the field or “how close” the race is going to be.

As there are no races this weekend I’ve taken another stab at this question. This time I have come up with a relatively simple system that nonetheless yields some good results. This post contains a description of the system, my analysis of the strength for the 2016 IM-distance races and a look forward to the 2017 races.

Points System

For each athlete in a race, I’m assigning a simple points value:

  • 1 point for each athlete that has raced the previous Kona race (so for the 2016 races athletes that have raced Kona 2015),
  • 0.5 points for each athlete that hasn’t raced the previous Kona race but the year before (so for the 2016 races athletes that haven’t raced Kona 2015 but Kona 2014),
  • 0.5 points for each athlete that hasn’t raced Kona the two previous years but who has a rating that places them in the Top 50 (for new promising athletes that haven’t had a chance to race Kona yet, athletes that have declined their Kona slot or athletes that decided to focus on other races).

Based on this scheme, each athlete counts for either a full, a half or no points. (Because Ironman still keeps the female Kona Pro field smaller than the male field, this leads to lower scores for the female fields. I will adjust for this inequality when comparing each field against the typical Kona field in the next section.)

In addition, there are bonus points for having done well in Kona in the past:

  • 1 bonus point for an athlete that has won Kona in the past
  • 0.5 points for an athlete that has finished on the podium in Kona before

For example, Frederik Van Lierde or Daniela Ryf count for two points in the 2016 races: One point because they have raced Kona 2015 (no “extra” points for having raced there in 2014 as well), and one bonus point as they have won Kona (regardless of how often or how long in the past).

Of course you could make this a lot more complicated by coming up with additional points and bonus points for other things, but for now I consider this simple system to be “good enough”.

Comparing Against Kona

The first observation is how much stronger Kona is compared to all the other races:

  • After the introduction of the KPR (limiting the Pro field sizes), the female Kona fields have about 40 points (2016: 40.5 points), the male fields around 55 points (2016: 56.5 points). This is pretty consistent with the number of slots (females: 35 plus 5 Regional Champs, male: 50 plus 5), so you the typical “turnover” (new athletes qualifying for Kona) is offset by the previous winners and podium finishers.
  • Even the strongest non-Kona IM-distance races start have a score of less than 20 points – the 2016 race with the most points was the male field at IM Germany with 17.5 points.

In order to account for the different points available for male and female fields, I calculate a “Kona Strength” for each male and female race by dividing their points by the “typical” Kona points (40 for the females and 55 for the males).

Based on this simple scaling, the strongest 2016 fields were:

  • for the males: IM Germany at 32% Kona strength (results)
  • for the females: IM New Zealand at 25% Kona strength (results)
This “scaling” also creates a meaningful interpretation of the strength  of a field: For IM Germany it means that roughly a third of the male Kona field was racing in Frankfurt, and about a quarter of the female Kona field in New Zealand.

Male Races

Here’s a closer look at the strength for the 2016 long distance male fields:

MenStrength

(Regular Ironman races are shown in blue, Regional Championships in green and Challenge races and the ITU long-distance championship in yellow.)

For the men the best fields are racing in the Regional Championships: IM Germany, IM Texas, IM South Africa and IM Cairns have had the four best 2016 fields (Kona strength between 32% and 25%). IM Brasil wasn’t quite on a similar level, but 15% Kona strength is still better than almost all other “regular” Ironman races.

Challenge Roth (16%) and the ITU Long Distance Champs (15%) also had strong fields while some of the smaller IMs weren’t able to generate much interest among Kona level athletes.

Female Races

Here’s a closer look at the strength for the 2016 long distance female fields:

FemaleStrength

(As for the men, regular Ironman races are shown in blue, Regional Championships in green and Challenge races and the ITU long-distance championship in yellow.)

Interestingly, the strongest field of the year (of course outside of Kona) wasn’t in a Regional Championship but at IM New Zealand – lots of Kona racers started their season early in the year, and Mareen Hufe finished in 7th place with a time of 9:16 – a time usually good enough to win the race or at least finish on the podium. For more details on New Zealand, have a look at my results analysis.

Most of the Regional Championships were able to draw strong fields: South Africa, Brasil and Germany had a Kona strength between 20% and 16%, and only Cairns (with a relatively small field) fell off a bit with 9%. Challenge Roth had a female field comparable to the Ironman Regional Championships, their 2016 female field (18% Kona strength) was slightly stronger than the field in Frankfurt.

2017 Races

The first long-distance races of this year have already been raced, and while the fields at Challenge Wanaka had similar Kona strength as last year, IM New Zealand wasn’t quite able to hold on to their great field strength from last year: The female field was at 18% and the male field at 12%. It seems that the strong 2016 fields led to some athletes making different plans for this season.

With the start lists for the first 2017 races, we can calculate the Kona strength of the fields:

  • Ironman South Africa (start lists and seedings): female Kona strength: 40%, male Kona strength: 37%
  • Ironman Texas (entry lists): female Kona strength: 24%, male Kona strength: 32%

Of course the fields and the corresponding numbers are still preliminary (for example not all the athletes registered for both races will do Texas if South Africa isn’t a complete disaster, also the Texas list isn’t closed yet). But the South Africa number seems quite firm and if they end up anywhere close to where they are now, the fields would already be stronger than for any race in 2016. I can’t wait for the racing season to start!

Updated Female Top 10 Ratings

The following is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details about the Report in this post or get your own free copy here. The full Top 10 Ratings (male and female, including for the individual legs) are posted here.

Rating Analysis 2016 – Female TOP 10

Here are the top ranked female athletes at the end of 2016, comparing the ranking and rating to the end of 2015:

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 (1) Daniela Ryf SUI 08:45:06 (-14:23) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
2 (3) Mirinda Carfrae AUS 09:02:01 (-6:11) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
3 (-) Kaisa Lehtonen FIN 09:13:42 (n/a) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 3
4 (19) Heather Jackson USA 09:14:57 (-9:20) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 6
5 (-) Melissa Hauschildt AUS 09:15:55 (n/a) IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 4
6 (9) Yvonne Van Vlerken NED 09:16:20 (-1:11) IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 24
7 (13) Anja Beranek GER 09:16:56 (-2:22) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
8 (12) Lucy Gossage GBR 09:17:08 (-1:14) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
9 (15) Jodie Cunnama GBR 09:18:18 (-1:34) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 9
10 (10) Mary Beth Ellis USA 09:19:32 (+1:44) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 19

DaiBIkeKonaAfter continuing her domination in 2016, Daniela Ryf has not only defended her first place, but also extended the gap to second place. She now has a rating that is more than 15 minutes better than her closest follower.

(Photo: Daniela on the bike in Kona. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

Mirinda Carfrae is the solid second place in my ranking. Her results this season – a lightning fast finish in Austria and a second place finish in Kona – have been great, but she’s probably frustrated that this year she wasn’t even close to Dani in Kona. I’m sure she and her coach Siri Lindley will have a close look at how to change that for next year.

The athlete in third is my “Rookie of the Year”, Kaisa Lehtonen. She’s raced three great IMs storming into the top ranks. Will she be able to continue to race at this high level in 2017 … or maybe get even faster?

Third place finisher in Kona is my fourth ranked athlete: Heather Jackson. She’s made steady progress this year, improving her rating by almost ten minutes with two great IM finishes in Lake Placid and Kona.

Melissa Hauschildt (#5) is another athlete in this year’s Top 10 that hasn’t been ranked last year. She’s been dealing with an injury for most of last year and was forced to withdraw from Kona. This year she qualified by winning the European Championships in Frankfurt, then DNF’d in Kona with muscular problems, followed by a sub-9 win in Western Australia. Hopefully she can stay healthy, then she’ll be a force to consider in each race she enters.

Even though Yvonne Van Vlerken (#6) gained three places in the rankings, she’s probably not fully satisfied with her season. She’s had some great results with a win at Challenge Wanaka and a third place at Challenge Roth, but her plans were focused on a good result in Kona – unfortunately she DNF’d when she didn’t have enough energy on the run. She quickly rebounded with a second place finish in Arizona, chasing Meredith Kessler for the whole day. She has already announced that she’s going to race Ironman Maastricht in August and Challenge Almere in September. It’s unlikely that she’ll race Kona 2017, my gues is that she’ll work to improve on her record of twelve sub-9 IM-distance finishes.

The next three athletes were just outside the Top 10 at the end of 2015: Anja Beranek (#7) had a great Kona race finishing fourth, proving she is one of the strongest women on the bike. Lucy Goossage (#8) was racing a lot this year, finishing second at IM New Zealand, third at IM South Africa and winning IM UK. Unfortunately, she broke her collarbone in the summer, but recovered just in time for Kona where she was able to race without too much pressure and even improved with a ninth place finish. For 2017 she’ll return to work as a doctor, and while she will continue to race as a Pro and is already targeting IM UK and IM Wales, she does not plan to return to Kona in 2017. Jodie Cunnama (#9) was having a great race at IM South Africa until she crashed when the camera helicopter was getting close. She recovered from a broken elbow with an emotional win at IM Cairns, the Regional Championships for Australia. At Kona she was close to the front for most of the day, but had to walk the last part of the run just to be able to finish. With the way she races, she is a contender for the win in any race she enters.

Mary Beth Ellis (#10) has won two Ironman races in her last season as a Pro at IM Netherlands and Mont Tremblant after suffering from Lyme’s disease in the summer. In her last Kona Pro race, she was in the Top 10 almost until the end, it was only in the last six miles from the Energy Lab to the finish that she dropped back from eighth place to 14th at the end. Now she wants to focus on growing her family, but it would be great to see her stay involved in long-distance triathlon.

A number of athletes have dropped from the Top 10. Rachel Joyce (was #2) and Eva Wutti (was #6) have had children and are likely to return to racing in 2017. Caroline Steffen (was #4) has raced shorter distances, it would be great to see her tackle Ironman racing again. Liz Blatchford (was #5) struggled with injuries and couldn’t race, now she has announced that she’s pregnant. Susie Cheetham (was #7, now #15) DNF’d in Kona, as did Julia Gajer (was #10, now #16), who has only finished IM Texas which was on a shortened course. Both are already working hard to return to Kona 2017 and a good performance there.

Updated Male Top 10 Ratings

The following is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details about the Report in this post or get your own free copy here. The full Top 10 Ratings (male and female, including for the individual legs) are posted here.

Rating Analysis 2016 – Male TOP 10

Here are the top ranked male athletes at the end of 2016, comparing the ranking and rating to the end of 2015:

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 (1) Jan Frodeno GER 07:59:12 (-8:10) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
2 (2) Sebastian Kienle GER 08:10:48 (-3:35) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 13
3 (3) Brent McMahon CAN 08:17:17 (+0:46) IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 7
4 (10) Marino Vanhoenacker BEL 08:18:37 (-6:01) IM Chattanooga on 2016-09-25 21
5 (6) Nils Frommhold GER 08:19:27 (-1:12) Challenge Roth on 2016-07-17 8
6 (7) Andy Potts USA 08:20:53 (-1:47) IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 16
7 (5) Frederik Van Lierde BEL 08:22:19 (+1:52) IM Cozumel on 2016-11-27 20
8 (42) Patrik Nilsson SWE 08:22:23 (-15:48) IM Barcelona on 2016-10-02 7
9 (-) Jesse Thomas USA 08:22:27 (n/a) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 3
10 (21) Andi Boecherer GER 08:22:32 (-9:26) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14

JanKonaRun

Jan Frodeno was my #1 ranked athlete last year, and of course he remains in first place, even increasing his lead. The fact that his second place in Lanzarote was his worst performance of the year is indicative of the level he’s racing at: His two other IM-distance races were a world-record time at Challenge Roth and a win in Kona. How long will his domination of male IM-racing last? There hasn’t been a three-peat in Kona since the days of Mark Allen (who won five in a row between 1989 and 1993) and Dave Scott (among his six wins was a three-peat from 1982 to 1984). A third Kona win for Frodo in 2017 would raise his profile to “Dave and Mark level”.

(Photo: Jan slowly running away from Sebi on Palani Road during IM Hawaii. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

It’s been a solid 2016 for Sebastian Kienle (#2), and though he’ll be proud of his results I’m pretty sure he’ll be looking for more in 2017. This year, he had a win at Ironman Frankfurt that included a new marathon PR of 2:44. Second places at 70.3 Champs and in Kona were good results, but probably a bit too close to the very front to be satisfied. In Mooloolaba Sebi came up just short after lots of back and forth in a sprint finish to Tim Reed, and in Kona Jan was able to run a bit faster when it mattered. After Sebi wasn’t rewarded for more aggressive racing in Kona 2015, he was a bit more conservative this year – forcing Jan to use every last drop energy but not enough to crack him. After struggling with a few injuries in previous seasons, Sebi has been healthy for most of this year. If his progress on the run continues for 2017, it means he can probably afford to be a bit more active on the Kona bike.

2015’s summary for Brent McMahon (#3) is also applicable to this year: Great racing – except for Kona. Unfortunately, that’s where it matters most and the performance on race day determines whether an athlete has had a great year – or merely a good one. Brent had two fantastic races in Brasil and in Arizona, both times posting extremely fast times: 7:46:10 in Brasil (a North American record at that time) and a 7:50 in Arizona which was overshadowed by Lionel Sanders going 7:44 and grabbing the North American record. In Kona, Brent lost contact to the front group in the early parts of the bike when he received a drafting penalty. Similar to Patrick Lange he raced his own race and was running well, almost working his way into the Top 10. But around the Energy Lab he started vomiting and though he tried hard he didn’t have any power left, dropping all the way back into 30th place. If Brent manages to figure out how to race well in Kona, he’s easily a podium candidate. He’ll be back in 2017 to give it another hard try!

With Marino Vanhoenacker (#4) there is an athlete who is very unlikely to return to Kona. Marino is picking races that better suit his strengths, and two wins at IM Austria and IM Chattanooga allow him to close this year with a much better feeling than after his 2015 Kona DNF. I expect him to continue to pick races he loves to race – and chase his goal of winning an Ironman on each continent. He was scheduled to race Ironman New Zealand 2016, but had to withdraw when he sprained his ankle in the last run before his departure. Expect him to give it another try in 2017!

Nils Frommhold (#5) has improved his ranking and his rating – but he’ll probably view his tri season as a disappointment. He was struggling to race well in the heat of 70.3 Brasilia, then DNF’d at IM Texas when he was trying to secure a Kona slot. In the summer he posted his second sub-8 at Challenge Roth. Even that wasn’t what he was hoping for in his title defense – the gap to Jan Frodeno was too large, and he lost second place in the final kilometers of the run to Joe Skipper. He was eyeing a fall IM to get started on Kona 2017 qualifying but then was diagnosed with another stress fracture, ending his season. At least the year ended well on a personal level: In late November his daughter Louisa was born – congratulations! I’m sure that’ll be extra motivation for him to have a solid 2017 season.

#6 Andy Potts has also gained one spot compared to last year, but his season was somewhat mixed. As usual he won his North American summer IM (this time IM Canada) and 70.3s (winning Coeur d’Alene and Vineman) and he was eying the Kona podium after finishing in fourth place in 2015. In Kona he lost seven minutes to the front in the last hour of riding and crashed coming off his bike. The first part of the marathon went well, but eventually he ran out of steam and dropped back to 11th place. He closed the year by racing IM Western Australia in a new North American record of 7:55:12, but his performance was a bit overshadowed by Terenzo’s win. Having already secured his Kona slot, he can now try a different season plan – either not doing an IM over the summer or racing the deeper fields in Europe. He’s already 40 years old, but he hasn’t given up chasing a Kona podium!

For #7 Frederik Van Lierde 2016 could have been another “lost year” when he broke his collarbone in a spring race. But he handled the challenge well, and was on the start line of IM France just six weeks later. Of course he wasn’t yet at 100%, but a fourth place finish took care of Kona validation. In Kona he faced another challenge when he received a drafting penalty early in the race. He continued to ride hard, then had to pay the price when he wasn’t able to go with the faster runners that caught up to him. Still, tenth place is a very respectable finish considering his year and the penalty. Fred closed the year with a win at IM Cozumel, giving him complete freedom to focus on Kona 2017. If his preparation goes well and he doesn’t overrace in the summer, he’ll be at least a strong podium contender for Kona.

Having turned 25 this August, the youngest athlete in the Top 10 is Patrik Nilsson (#8). In 2015 Patrik decided to focus on his home Ironman race instead of taking his Kona slot. In tough conditions he won with a comfortable margin. After a long build into this season he put up two sub-8s within six weeks, winning IM Copenhagen and IM Barcelona and taking the Swedish Ironman record. After these two great performances he had to withdraw from racing IM Cozumel which could have already secured his Kona slot. Nonetheless, Patrik was signed by the BMC Uplace team – and they have clearly stated their goal of having a member of their team win Kona in the next few years. If Patrik is given the time to stabilize his performance, gain some experience in big, deep fields and develop a bit further, he may well be the athlete in the team to fulfill the dream goal.

With Jesse Thomas (#9) there is another new athlete in the Top 10. Jesse has cautiously moved into long-distance racing, after winning IM Wales at the tail-end of the 2015 season he also won IM Lanzarote, earning the distinction of being the only athlete who was able to beat Jan Frodeno in 2016. Going into Kona he said he would be racing his own race, but he got caught up in the Kona atmosphere and rode up to the front group, only to get dropped on the climb to Hawi. The rest of the day was tough, and even working as hard as he could he finished in 16th place. He might have hoped for more, but even blowing up in Kona he delivered his fastest Ironman finish to date! He also seemed intrigued by the race, and I’m sure that this was not the last time we’ll see him race in Kona.

After suffering from a tough bike accident, it’s great to see Andi Böcherer (#10) back to enjoying racing. As last year, he was in excellent form in the summer and was unbeaten in all his races on the 70.3 distance. He had a great race at IM Frankfurt where he challenged Sebi Kienle all day, was finally able to run an excellent 2:45 marathon, and finished in second place just a minute behind Sebi. This year he also managed to hold on to his summer form for Hawaii. He was in the front group all day and ended up in a close fight with Ben Hoffman and Tim O’Donnell. It took Ben Hoffman all he had to stay 20 seconds ahead of Andi, but while Ben was completely gone and needed medical attention, Andi was able to celebrate his fifth place and finally being able to improve on his eighth place from 2011. I’m sure that next year he’ll try to reach more aggressive goals … and he hasn’t won an Ironman yet!

Last year we’ve also had a couple of other athletes in the Top 10:

  • Andreas Raelert (was #4, now #22) struggled with injuries all year. He managed to qualify for Kona, but DNF’d. He’s already back to get in shape for the 2017 season, chasing his dream of a Kona win.
  • Timo Bracht (was #8, now #16) had to race quite often to get the points to qualify for Kona. He was racing Kona with high hopes, but was probably a bit tired and finished 28th. I’m looking forward to see him focus on one or two big races for the 2017 season
  • Eneko Llanos (was #9, now #13) is still a very solid athlete, but this year he struggled with stomach issues on the run and didn’t have a stellar result.

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