9 December 2017
In a race that was minus the usual 1.8km swim due to the potentially toxic algae found in Lake Taupo on Thursday afternoon, athletes took on a 3km run, 90km bike ride and 21km run in near perfect conditions, and it was the Kiwis who conquered the internationals.
Phillips (Christchurch) is still a relative newcomer to the sport, earlier this year posting the fastest time ever by a debutant over the IRONMAN distance with a 7:52:50 in Barcelona, today he controlled the race from start to finish, winning by over two minutes from Braden Currie, with Callum Millward in third making it an all New Zealand men’s podium.
“I was second here last year so it is great to get the win,” said Phillips. “Duathlon is not my strength, I am more a swim-biker, so I took the opportunity to get a lead on the return leg bike and that ended up being just enough to get the win ahead of Braden and Callum. Braden is a phenomenal runner, it was important to keep an eye on him as he could always have a great run, so it is awesome to hold on.”
Phillips must now loom as a genuine threat at Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in March.
“After today and my race in Barcelona, IRONMAN New Zealand is the big goal and it would be great to come back here and race all the top Kiwi guys and legends of the sport and hopefully make it to Kona. I have only done one full distance and ten or so 70.3 races, so I am beginning to get a handle on it.”
The Cantabrian didn’t think the late change to the course had a major impact on the Pro race.
“Not everyone that was a contender could swim well so I am not sure it would have changed things much. Everyone on the bike close together is not unusual, that is usually the time to break the race up anyway.”
Currie’s day was tougher than intended, the defending champion rode the 90km in one gear due to a mechanical, one that remained something of a mystery in the moments after crossing the line.
“I knew it would be a tough day, but to jump on the bike and realize I had no gears made it a lot more challenging, but hands down Mike had a good race, I put it down on the run but couldn’t catch him. It is a weird one, I think my battery might have disconnected because it is definitely charged, downhill I was doing 130 cadence and uphill 50, that gets taxing on the legs after a while.”
Currie agreed with Phillips that the absence of the swim did not change the race dynamic too much at all today.
“This race would have been similar with or without the swim, with the athletes here. It is still a great race on a great course and we all had plenty of fun out there.”
Currie now looks forward to two weeks off training before he gears up again for the New Zealand summer and a return to the same venue to defend his Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand title in March.
Based in Thailand, Auckland’s Watkinson stamped her mark on the race at a similar time to Phillips, breaking the field apart on the bike back from Reporoa into Taupo and the transition to the run.
“That wasn’t an easy one out there, I wore a few layers to make sure I didn’t get too cold and I managed to hold on to the lead after making a break on the bike, but that run was tough, I was certainly pushed. It is tricky, not as hot as racing in Asia so I am probably not as thirsty and wasn’t taking on enough electrolytes – and you need them, I was hurting on the second part of the run and was checking splits to make sure Jocelyn wasn’t catching.”
26-year-old Atkinson is a genuine threat now in any 70.3 event, and is starting to show and feel the confidence that regular podiums can deliver.
“I have had a couple of really tough races, two weeks ago I was third at Asia Pacific Champs, I am building confidence with each tough race. You take each race as it comes, there are always funny little challenges with each one and it is another win, I am really happy.”
Watkinson is targeting the 2018 70.3 World Champs and then first IRONMAN later in the year, in an effort to try and qualify for Kona.
McCauley finished with a trademark beaming smile, the American is hugely popular wherever she races and loves Taupo.
“The conditions were awesome, the sun came out for the run which I love, I love the beauty here and the sun always helps! I had Amelia in my sights the whole time, I could see the lead mountain biker the whole way, but I am coming off my off-season and building up into the new season, so I am happy with the result.”
Even without the swim, McCauley was raving about Taupo, the course and the people as she confirmed a return for Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in March.
“I love this course, I love the people out here. The support on this course is parallel to none, I love it out here, it is just amazing. No swim changed it a little for me, having a swim might have helped me out, but we basically all stayed together until the end of the bike when it broke up. It was fun to have something different and new though.”
The surprise of the day may well have been the sight of Laura Dennis on the podium, the 22-year-old Aussie is relatively unheralded at this distance, but ran strongly though the field to grab third place.
“It has been a great year, my first in 70.3 racing, it is pretty exciting, and l love this format of racing much better than the ITU. I feel I have a lot longer to extend a lead or cut into one and today I was able to move from 5th 3rd over the final 7km today. I am happy with my progress and want to thank my coach Clayton for his work, I am not the easiest athlete to work with at times!”
Dennis says in some ways the lack of a swim has been a good experience for her.
“I am a bit of a creature of habit so not having the swim threw me a little, but every race is different, and you have to be ready for change. It wasn’t a disadvantage, it is just more getting stuck in your habits, so this week I have learned to be a bit more adaptable.
“It is a lovely spot here, the weather was a bit dodgy yesterday, but it has been great today, thanks to all the volunteers and people around the course, it is a great race and I will definitely be back.”
Race Director Wayne Reardon described a great day, with the weather, the town, the people and the athletes turning it on.
“The attitude of everyone has been wonderful. The delivery of the event has been seamless and the response from the competitors has been amazing, while many were disappointed with the news about the Lake, they rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job of executing their race plans and I hope have all had an amazing day and weekend in Taupo.”
IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo (3km run, 90km bike, 21km run)
1 Mike Phillips, NZL, 3:36:02
2 Braden Currie, NZL, 3:38:32
3 Calllum Millward, NZL, 3:41:27
4 Dylan McNeice, NZL, 3:43:55
5 Casey Munro, AUS, 3:44:32
1 Amelia Watkinson, NZL, 3:59:42
2 Jocelyn McCauley, USA, 4:01:00
3 Laura Dennis, AUS, 4:02:23
4 Laura Siddall, GBR, 4:02:59
5 Christine Cross, USA, 4:04:02