Friday, August 24, 2007

Chicago, Canada, Louisville all on tap for Sunday

We’re heading toward the end of summer and that means one thing – racing, and a lot of it. This Sunday, August 26, will feature three major North American events: The inaugural Ironman Louisville, Ironman Canada and the sports largest event, the Chicago Triathlon.

Ironman Kentucky and Canada will offer long-coursers one last chance to qualify for the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship, while Chicago will showcase some of the world’s fastest short-course triathletes.

We won’t see too many of the top ITU athletes in the Windy City, as many of them are preparing for next weekend’s World Championship, in Hamburg, Germany. That being said, expect some fast times on the super-flat lakefront course.

The age-groupers will get an early start, which will give them a chance to watch the pros at 11 am. The men’s favorite is American Matty Reed, but he’ll get his fair share of competition from the likes of super-swimmers Brian Fleschman and Craig Walton, as well as Brian Lavelle and former duathlon World Champ Leon Griffin.

The pro women’s start list is even more impressive. Aussie Emma Snowsill has to be the favorite, but it will by no means be a walk in Grant Park for her. American Dede Griesbauer is a powerful biker, who has a good chance of leading the women into T2, but she’ll be challenged by Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae, Becky Lavelle, Julie Dibens, Pip Taylor and Rebeccah Wassner.

A mere six-hour drive from Chicago you’ll find Louisville, Kentucky – home of Ironman’s newest event. The course is sure to be one of the more interesting 140.6-milers out there, starting off with a hot tub-like dip in the 85-degree waters of the Ohio River. Course officials modified the swim this morning, due to heavy upriver rain. Athletes will now be shielded from much of the heavy current.

The swim is likely to be the coolest part of the day for the athletes, as August in Kentucky usually means triple-digit temps. The mercury is set to hit 100 today and tomorrow, before “cooling” off into the low-90’s for Saturday and Sunday.

The bike course will feature rolling hills, similar to those found at Ironman Wisconsin, before things flatten out for the marathon through the city that Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and Jim Beam built.

The finish line is sure to be one of the most spectacular in all of Ironman, with athletes running down 4th Street Live – one of Lousiville’s most popular hangouts.

While many of the top Ironman pros have finished their Kona prep races, a few have penciled in Lousiville as a key race. Czech Petr Vabrousek figures to be the favorite, but expect Eagleman champ TJ Tollakson to charge hard on the bike. Also in the mix on the men’s side will be Alex Taubert, Craig McKenzie, Chris McDonald, Andreas Neidreig and Chris Hauth. As for the women, expect a showdown between American Heather Gollnick and German Nina Craft, who is racing in her first full season since a doping suspension.

Those heading North, to Ironman Canada, will be treated to much milder mercury. Temps are expected to be in the mid-70’s in Penticton, which will be a big help for athletes trying to conquer the grueling bike course.

It’s hard to find a clear-cut favorite in the deep men’s field at Canada. 2005 Ironman Wisconsin champ, Andriy Yasterbov, can close with one of the fastest marathons in the sport, but he’ll have to chase bike powerhouses Gordo Byrn, Kieran Doe and Wolfgang Guembel. German Jan Sibbersen, Ironman’s best swimmer, will have a chance if he can hang on to his early advantage.

The women’s race features two of Ironman’s most celebrated women: Heather Fuhr and Lisa Bentley. For Bentley, it’s only her second race of the season, due to an early-summer injury. Making things difficult for the two veterans will be youngster Sara Gross, as well as Linda Gallo and Andrea Fisher – two of the sport’s best swimmers.

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