Despite the fact that it is a regional championship with a US$150,000 prize purse, the field set to compete for tomorrow’s Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Cairns is pretty much exclusively from Australia and New Zealand. That doesn’t mean we’re not in for some exciting racing, though. The event will be streamed live through IRONMAN.com/LIVE, YouTube and Facebook, beginning at 5:20 pm EST on Saturday, June 17 (later today for those in North America), and should be well worth the watch.
Here’s a look at the pro field set to compete tomorrow.
Currie leads the Kiwi vs Aussie rivalry
New Zealand’s Braden Currie (pictured above) had lots of top Ironman finishes (including a pair of wins here in Cairns in 2018 and 2019) before last year’s Ironman World Championship St. George, but many North American triathlon fans were surprised to see him at the front of the race for so long. He would eventually get passed by Kristian Blummenfelt and (in the last few hundred metres) Lionel Sanders, but his podium finish in St. George was a clear sign of his potential to win the world championship. Throw that race in Nice, with all the climbing, and things get even more promising for Currie.
First things first, though. Earlier this season Currie finished second to his countryman Mike Phillips at Ironman New Zealand. Phillips followed that win up with a win at Ironman 70.3 Geelong, too.
So, while there’s always lots of rivalry between the Kiwi and Aussie competitors, we could actually see a duel develop between two New Zealand athletes.
“Cairns is the Asia-Pacific Championship so brings with it more prize money, PTO points and a stronger field,” Phillips said. “I want to race the best in our region and hence why I always try to keep Cairns in my race calendar. A win would be another big tick in my return to racing and towards performing well at the Ironman World Championship.”
Of course the strong contingent of Australian competitors will do everything they can to ensure the race doesn’t turn into the New Zealand national championship. Fresh off his first Ironman win at Ironman Australia, Steve McKenna is ready for a competitive day of racing.
“I’ve attempted to improve my swim, bike and run all just a little to be ready for anything in this race,” McKenna said. “I think with my recent run form the past eight to 12 months it’s unlikely other athletes will want to start the run leg with me. So, I want to be prepared for any attacks in the swim or bike and train my ego to also let the right attacks go. I expect some will make a move early and some later on in the race, either way, it’s going to be hard to decide in the moment what risks are worth taking. But, all I’ve known is that being ultra fit and strong will allow all moves to take less out of me or become less of a risk to follow.”
You can add McKenna’s countryman Tim Van Berkel, who was a close runner-up at Ironman Australia, to the mix, too. He’s finished here in Cairns seven times and won here in 2016. Then there’s Nick Kastelein, who spends much of his time in Girona and won Ironman Vitoria-Gasteiz last year, along with the 2021 Ironman Western Australia champion Mat Burton.
Crowley vs Simpson for the women’s title?
As you will see from the story above, it’s a miracle Sarah Crowley is even in Cairns racing, let alone arriving as the pre-race favourite. The defending champion takes on fellow Australian Kylee Simpson, the winner of Ironman Australia last month. The two have won the last six Ironman events in Australia.
Despite the fact that she’s recovering from two broken ribs and a “cracked” sternum, Crowley feels she’s fitter than ever and ready to compete for another win. So, too, is Simpson.
“I’m feeling great, my preparation for Cairns has been smooth sailing with progression across swim, bike and run, so I am excited to be able to put this all together on race day,” said Simpson. “My win at Ironman Australia last month was special, as I have now won all three Ironman races in Australia. It was my first-time racing in Port Macquarie, and I really enjoyed it. Taking the bike course record was also fun.”
“Cairns is my favourite race, it was the first Ironman that I did, as well as my first IRONMAN win, so it will always be a special place for me,” Simpson continued. “The scenery is spectacular, along with crowd support that I have not experienced anywhere else in the world.”
Czech Olympian Radka Kahlefeldt finished second here last year in her Ironman debut, so you can’t count her out for the win, either. Penny Slater finished fourth here last year and recently took third at Ironman South Africa, the African championship.
So, while the field isn’t deep, it is likely to be very competitive. Add that to the spectacular venue, and you have the makings for some interesting triathlon viewing.