By Michael Lovato
This Saturday at 6:30 in the morning, a cannon will fire from the Kailua Pier and the start of the women's race at the 2015 IRONMAN World Championship, presented by GoPro, will commence.
From that point onward, one question will be looming large in each of the professionalwomen's minds: "Where is Mirinda?"
That thought may remain front and center for the entirety of the race, or it might get pushed to the back burners for a few self-assured moments. But eventually--not unlike Rinny's relentless and powerful run--the question will push its way to the front again and again. And like the three-time champion's marathon speed, eventually it will become the central focus of everyone on the island, from athletes to spectators.
At various times throughout the race, the question might change from "how far back is she?" to "how did she get here so quickly?" or, even "can I keep up with her?" but rest assured, there is not a woman on the start line who can pretend she doesn't care or doesn't want to know, where is Mirinda.
Stage set in the swim
From the opening strokes of the swim, last year's podium finishers Daniela Ryf and Rachel Joyce will attempt to put some distance between themselves and Carfrae. Joyce will use her vast Kona experience and her greatly improved swim to make waves early on. Led by Jodie Swallow, she'll link up with 2012 Kona champ Leanda Cave, multiple IRONMAN champs Mary Beth Ellis and Meredith Kessler, and Aussie fish Liz Blatchford and Annabel Luxford. Even though Ryf's race will not depend on her exiting the water with this lead group, she will do exactly that.
Other top caliber swimmers will make (or even lead) that front group--including Amanda Stevens, Haley Chura, and Dede Griesbauer. Each of these dozen or so women will do everything they can to put as much of the Queen K highway behind them as they can before Carfrae puts foot to pavement.
And then, on two wheels...
Five minutes after the leaders leave T1, Carfrae will exit the water motivated, ready, and with a level of confidence that no woman on the race course can possibly grasp. She'll have good company at the outset of the bike, surrounded by temporary allies Angela Naeth, Heather Wurtele, Julia Gajer, and Liz Lyles.
This second group will wrestle with the urge to make up lost time immediately, and those who give in to that desperation and hammer the opening 25 miles will pay a dear price much later in the day. A little composure in the opening 90 minutes will pay dividends later.
Meanwhile, up the road, last year's runner-up, Daniela Ryf will find herself surrounded by the amazingly consistent Rachel Joyce, ever-present fighter Mary Beth Ellis, and the strangely underrated Leanda Cave. This group will set the tone the others follow, and until the winds start to kick and thrash them about will remain 12-strong.
By the time these women roll through Kawaihae and begin the up-and-down approach to Hawi, it will become evident that few women have the guns or the desire to keep fighting with Ryf. By her choice or theirs, the Swiss powerhouse will distance herself from everyone but Rachel Joyce.
That duo will make the turnaround with over two minutes between themselves and the nearest challengers, but by the time they return to the Queen K highway, and begin the final 35 miles home, their gap will having increased to four minutes. And it will only get bigger from there.
Meanwhile, Carfrae will lose contact with Naeth and Wurtele, as the Canadian duo does its best to catch some of the frontrunners. Carfrae will produce a strong bike ride--likely her best to date--and she'll do much of it alone in the lava fields.
Only a few women have ever ridden sub 4:50 in Kona, and this year we'll see two of them do just that: Ryf and Joyce will benefit from one another's constant presence and unrelenting pressure. The fallout from their pace will be seen throughout the field.
Feet to pavement
Upon arriving at T2, Ryf and Joyce will enjoy a double-digit lead over the diminutive defending champion. They won't know it until they hit the turnaround on Ali'i Drive, but over two miles' worth of road will be between them and the hard-charging Aussie.
Neither one willing to submit, the two Europeans will continue to swap places for the lead--as they have done since the outset of the race--and the accountability they provide each other will offer spectators a new rendition of the 1989 "Ironwar." Toe-to-toe, mano-a-mano, head-to-head: we will see a battle we have not seen in years.
Carfrae will not realize it, nor will she likely care, but she'll lose time over the opening five kilometers of the marathon. But then she'll start to work the same magic she has in each of the past six years. She'll go from tenth to eighth to sixth before she reaches Palani. By the time she's back on the Queen K, she'll have top five in her sights. In and out of the Energy Lab, Mirinda Carfrae will have laid the groundwork for Kona's first sub-2:50 marathon time.
Within the final three miles of the run, we'll finally start to see some people truly crack. Approaching the second-to-last uphill, Ryf will make a slight surge to see if Joyce responds. Half a step will turn to three meters, which will then turn to 30 feet. And before we know it, Daniela Ryf will have a small but insurmountable 40 seconds on Rachel Joyce.
Bombing down the hill on Palani, Ryf will again wonder about Carfrae's whereabouts, but it won't matter, as she'll be at the finish line before she finds out just how close she got. However, just under a minute back, Joyce will have just figured out where Carfrae was.
The two rivals will run the final mile and a half together--locked in a quiet battle--no words, no acknowledgment, only power and pain. Their fight will have the crowd captivated, as the two stars cruise down Ali'i Drive only 45 seconds behind the winner Daniela Ryf. Sprint finishes in an IRONMAN race are always inspiring and painful to watch. After so much racing, Rinny will inch ahead of Joyce to take second place, while Rachel will cross seconds later in third.
One of the best races we've seen in Kona will continue as Jodie Swallow repeats her stellar fourth-place finish from 2014. The top five is closed out by newcomer Angela Naeth; while sixth place goes to Carline Steffen. With another tight rush of finishers all bunched together, seventh, eighth, and ninth will be Julia Gajer, Leanda Cave, and Liz Blatchford. And Heather Wurtele will round out the top ten.
Michael Lovato is a former professional triathlete who is now a coach and IRONMAN Live commentator.