The pros are back! For the first time since 2014, Louisville Ironman will have a professional field.
Several years ago, Ironman Corporation decided to scale back the number of races each year that would have a prize purse and a pro field. Louisville has been an age-group only race for the last two years, but for 2017, the pro men and women will be back toeing the line with the age-groupers.
Along with a $40,000 prize purse ($8,000 for 1st, $4,000 for 2nd, $3,000 for 3rd, $2,500 for 4th, $1,500 for 5th and $1,000 for 6th place), there are Kona points on line. If you follow the world of Ironman, you know that in order to get to the World Championship (Kona) as a pro, you have to earn points in other Ironman brand races throughout the year. This year, IMLOU will offer 2000 qualifying points to 1st place. You get points all the way down the line if you finish, but really only 1st through 3rd earn enough to make it worth the effort if your goal is to qualify for Kona in 2018.
So what pros are going to be racing this year?
The most exciting name for me on the men's side is Andrew Starykowicz. "Starkey" is a 10-time Ironman Champion that holds bike split records all over the world. He was hit by a truck in August of 2016 while riding and has been on the comeback trail ever since. He rode an incredible 4:01:14 at Ironman Texas earlier this year in his first race back. I'd say that he's the odds-on favorite. Other male pros include Paul Ambrose from Australia who won here in 2010 and won Ironman Australia in 2015. Other names that could reach the podium include Jozef Major from Hungary who has yet to break the tape in an Ironman, but has multiple top 5 finishes under his belt. Another exciting guy to watch is American Thomas Gerlach. He's been to Louisville to race before. He was 3rd in 2012 and 2013 and 2nd in 2014 (16 seconds behind the winner). British triathlete Joe Skipper is undoubtedly coming here to try and secure those 2000 Kona points that go to the winner. He had planned to race Kona this year, but some early season disappointments meant that he wasn't going to have enough points. I'm sure he would like to get a jump on 2018 qualifying with a win here on Sunday.
I think that it's going to be tough for anyone to catch Starkey off the bike. I expect him to have at least a 10-15 minute lead and with the run course being flat, I just don't think anyone will be able to catch him. My top three are Starykowicz, Skipper and Gerlach.
As for the women, the field is full of triathletes from right here in the USA. Dede Griesbauer has three top-10 Kona fiinishes in here career ('07, '08 & '09), but don't assume that this 46 year old is past her prime . She won Ironman Taiwan in 2015. After battling multiple injuries and taking 14 months off from racing, she finished 3rd at Eagleman 70.3 in June of this year and appears hungry to prove she still has what it takes at the full 140.6 distance. I think Jessie Donavan is the favorite though. She finished 3rd at Ironman Chattanooga back in September and if she has recovered from that race, she should win here. Plus, she's a mom of three, so she gets bonus points from me! Nicole Valentine is another name to look for as she has put together a good 2017 season so far (6th at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico, 5th Ironman 70.3 Peru, 3rd at Ironman France and 5th at Ironman 70.3 Augusta). She's only been a pro since 2016, but she's been pretty impressive as a pro. I also want to mention Lesley Smith. She's had some great luck with 70.3's this season (two 2nd place finishes) and with her ability to chase down the field on the run, she could easily see the podium. After a 3rd place finish in Ironman Mont-Tremblant back in August, I think that Jennie Hansen could also make a play for a top 3 here in Louisville.
My picks for the women are Donavan, Valentine and Smith.
It's exciting to have the pros back here for the race and I look forward to seeing them go past me in the other direction on the bike and run! You can find a complete list of pros that are scheduled to start here. Good luck to everyone (pros and age-groupers) out there on Sunday. Make it an epic day!
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