Kiwi's lining up for the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns


New Zealand’s leading triathletes will take on Australia’s best at this weekend’s Cairns Airport IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns.


Four of the country’s top IRONMAN athletes will feature on the start line at Sunday’s event, the 10th anniversary of the iconic IRONMAN Cairns.


Making the trip across to Australia are Mike Phillips, Rebecca Clarke, Cameron Brown and Ben Phillips, with all four ready to take on their trans-Tasman rivals.


Mike Phillips heads into the event following his second-place finish at March’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand, and is looking forward to swapping early winter in Christchurch for Tropical North Queensland.


“I had a wee break after IRONMAN New Zealand and then just looking at the calendar Cairns was the obvious option to line up for the next race,” said Phillips. “The training has been going well, it’s been a bit dicey with the weather here, so I’ve been doing a bit more indoor training and a few shut in days but I’m looking forward to getting over there and racing.


“The last 18 months have meant that it’s been hard to make plans, I’ve just been going race by race at the moment, it’s hard to know what will happen with COVID and how the situation is evolving so I’m just making the most of every opportunity,” he said. “The bubble opened up and we could get across to Cairns, it’s good to come over and race, especially against the strong Aussie guys.”


Phillips has raced at IRONMAN Cairns on a number of occasions and is keen to return in 2021.


“It’s a good honest course, it reminds me a bit of the IRONMAN New Zealand course, quite a lot of undulations on the bike and a rough road, and it’s pretty cool along the coastline there as well,” said Phillips. “The environmental conditions means that it’s a good test for Kona as well with the warmer weather, the Aussies might be used to it but it’s about 20 degrees warmer than here at the moment.”


Rebecca Clarke also finished second at this year’s IRONMAN New Zealand, her career best IRONMAN result, and will be racing in Cairns for the first time.


“I was really pleased with the IRONMAN New Zealand result, it was a personal best across each discipline, I know I swim well going into each race but I took a lot out of the run,” she said. “You never do those distances before race day so you don’t know how the body is going to cope but I was happy how I felt strong throughout the marathon, I never hit the wall.


“It’s come around quickly from IRONMAN New Zealand, it’s been a shorter build than what I had for that event, I had to have some recovery after that race and get back into another IRONMAN block, it was quite good knowing it was a shortened time heading into Cairns,” said Clarke. “I had a good race at IRONMAN New Zealand so I’ve got the confidence that my preparation for that was good so I didn’t have to change anything for this race, just tick off those key sessions, I haven’t raced two IRONMAN races so close together before so it will be interesting to see how the body goes doing another one.


“I’m looking forward to the bike course the most, I’ve driven up to Port Douglas to go out to the Great Barrier Reef, Palm Cove is a spectacular swim course and the run is spectator friendly, I’ve had lots of positive feedback from friends who have raced there,” she said. “The whole season in the last year has been races in New Zealand, races that I love and know well, but I’m excited to be racing overseas. It’s a little bit surreal that we get to race overseas and fly internationally, to be able to go to a different country and experience a new course and see competitors from other countries and have that interaction.”


Joining Clarke in the women’s race is Amelia Watkinson, with the New Zealander now based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Watkinson claimed victory at IRONMAN Cairns in 2020, and heads into Sunday’s race as the number one seed.


Cameron Brown knows what it takes to win at IRONMAN Cairns, having stood on the top step of the podium in 2014. The 48-year-old has also finished second at the event on two occasions.


“As soon as the borders were open, seven or eight weeks ago, I thought we’ve got a race on now so let’s prepare for Cairns and do another IRONMAN,” said Brown. “It’s a great place, it’s not just about swim, bike and run you can do a lot up there, some incredible experiences going out to the reef, into the mountains.


“It’s great for me, IRONMAN New Zealand was so promising to start with but a few malfunctions on the day and I wasn’t able to finish, at that stage we didn’t know if we were going to have another opportunity to race,” he said. “This one has come up and I’m looking forward to that and then hopefully I’ll be on the start line for IRONMAN Australia in September as well.”


Brown is looking forward to taking on Australia’s top triathletes, with previous winners including Max Neumann, Josh Amberger and Tim Van Berkel in the field.


“It’s a fantastic group of Aussies that are turning up, it’s going to be very tough for a 48-year-old to match it with those boys, but I’ll be doing my best,” he said. “I’m just looking for good performances now and trying to make the most out of an ageing body, but a body that on its days is still capable of going alright.”


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