By COURTNEY LEWIS Press-Republican
---- — LAKE PLACID — As part of its SwimSmart Initiative, Ironman has made changes to the swim portion of this year’s Lake Placid race, including switching from a traditional mass start to a rolling start.
That move was made with eye on safety for age-group athletes, but at least one professional is worried the new start format will change the dynamic of the women’s race.
“I think it’s really a problem for the pro women, actually,” Hillary Biscay said. “To be totally honest, I think that if you’re doing Ironman, you should know how to swim, and I don’t think that the Ironman should have to be taking these safety precautions.
“Ironman shouldn’t necessarily be a thing that everyone can do.”
Ironman Lake Placid begins with the professional men entering Mirror Lake at 6:20 a.m. today. The triathlon, in its 15th year, includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
Rather than having all of the age groupers start the swim at once, they will start in a steady stream, with their time beginning when they cross a timing mat. It’s expected to take 25 to 30 minutes for everyone to get in the water. The process will start at 6:30.
Biscay said this could end up giving some women a boost, especially as they begin the bike leg. While drafting is against the rules, Biscay said there can still be advantages to riding with a group of strong cyclists.
“It means that the age groupers are going to start five minutes after the pro women,” Biscay said. “And what happens then is that we have age-group men that are getting in the middle of our race. And that presents a massive advantage for the women who are weak swimmers because they will immediately have age-group men to sort of tow them along.
“And not just in the water, but off the bike. So people like Dede (Griesbauer) and I, who are off the front of the swim, will be by ourselves on the bike at the front, where those women — even not wanting to cheat — will be in the midst of a pack of men who can drag them up to us.”
More than 2,800 athletes are expected to compete today. The 25 pro men and 17 pro women will be racing for a $25,000 purse that includes $5,000 for the winners. For the age-group athletes, there will be 60 qualifying spots for the 2013 Ironman World Championship in Kailua Kona, Hawaii.
The pro men’s field includes defending champion Andy Potts, and four of the top five women from 2012 have returned.
Biscay has raced in Lake Placid three previous times.
“I think that this is a very, very honest course, a very tough course,” the Tucson, Ariz. resident said. “I tend to favor the harder Ironman courses; they suit me well. So that’s what brings me back here.”
Biscay thinks Jennie Hansen, who placed second in nine hours, 56 minutes, 40 seconds last year, and Australian Carrie Lester are the women to beat today.
Hansen is a Rochester native who’s in her second season as a professional. Lester, who holds two Ironman titles, is racing Lake Placid for the first time.
“It’s been on my list pretty much since I did my first Ironman,” Lester said. “It was one of the ones I always wanted to do. The place itself is just, it’s always intrigued me. I’ve heard beautiful things. I have a soft spot for these little mountain ski-town type of areas.”
Last year’s third-place finisher, Jacqui Gordon, is in today’s field along with Suzanne Serpico and Kelly Fillnow, who were fourth and fifth, and 2008 champion Caitlin Snow.
Potts set a swim course record en route to winning the 2012 men’s race in 8:25:07. He said familiarity with the course could help him.
“But just because it’s the same course and the same sport, it doesn’t mean it’s the same race,” said Potts, who’s from Colorado Springs, Colo. “So the conditions could be a little bit different on race day; the cast of characters that I’m racing against is certainly different on race day.
“So showing up to the same place the next year obviously doesn’t guarantee the same result, nor does it guarantee just the same type of race.”
One of Potts’ new competitors this year will be Italy’s Daniel Fontana, who’s competing in his first full-distance Ironman in the United States. Fontana said he prepared for the hilly bike course by competing in a cycling race in Italy two weeks ago.
Besides Potts, the pro men’s field includes three other athletes who finished in the top 10 last year: Douglas MacLean (fifth), Brad Seng (sixth) and Logan Franks (eighth), a Keeseville native who now lives in Syracuse.
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