A NEW men's champion will be crowned when the sixth edition of the Spec-Savers Ironman 70.3 is held in East London on Sunday next week in the absence of 2012 winner Marino Vanhoenacker.
And leading the way in the list of favourites is James Cunnama, twice runner-up in the Border event and back in action after missing last year's event through injury.
Cunnama is in good form, having won the Challenge Roth last year, breaking the eight-hour barrier in the process.
But he will be up against some top-class talent in East London with another 70.3 runner-up, Switzerland's Ronnie Schildknecht, keen to show he can go one step further.
Schildknecht is a multiple Ironman Switzerland winner and will be highly motivated to finish on top next weekend after narrowly missing out to Vanhoenacker last year.
Another athlete sure to come into contention for the top placings is Germany's Faris Al-Sultan. He is a former Ironman world champion and finished fifth at last year's Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in October. He will be racing in East London for the first time next weekend and will be one to watch.
The women's race will be a hotly contested affair, with the top three from last year returning for another tilt at the first prize – Britain's Jodie Swallow, Czech Republic's Lucie Zelenkova, and Belgian Tine Deckers.
In contrast to the men, the women's field contains two Ironman 70.3 SA champions in Swallow and Zelenkova. Swallow is the defending champion, having taken the 2011 and 2012 titles, and she will be tough to beat.
But there will be no respite for her because Zelenkova, who won in East London in 2009 and finished second last year, is a serious threat.
Former Ironman France champion Deckers will be hoping to get to the top spot, having finished in the top three in the past two years.
The race will also feature some big names from outside the Ironman arena in the persons of ITU stalwart Tim Don (Britain), South African Olympian Richard Murray and Travis Johnston, who represented South Africa at the Hy-Vee 5150 US Championship this year. Don has competed in East London before, finishing fourth in 2009.
British triathlete couple Stephen and Bella Bayliss will be making a long-awaited return to South Africa, having won Ironman South Africa in 2008.
South Africa's favourite triathlete couple, Kent and Claire Horner, will also be back after a busy 2012 which saw them race all over the world, including the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Las Vegas. The Horners were the highest-placed South African finishers at Ironman 70.3 South Africa last year, while Kent won the 5150 Bela Bela Triathlon in August.
The race has again been sold out and will see a total of 2986 individuals, including 38 professionals, and 100 teams competing.