Australian triathletes have gathered in force, heading across the Tasman to contest the IRONMAN 70.3 Auckland triathlon, and pose a serious threat for the inaugural title.
The new race on Sunday 20 January is the official Asia Pacific Championship, carrying a professional prize purse of approximately NZ$90,000 as well as crucial qualifying points for both professionals and age group participants for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas and the IRONMAN World championships in Hawaii.
IRONMAN 70.3 Auckland, which is based at the Viaduct Events Centre and includes a cycle over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, comprises a 1.9km swim from the Maritime Museum to the Viaduct Harbour, 90km bike and 21.1km run.
World champion Melissa Hauschildt, has targeted the Auckland race as an important step in her 2013 programme after a foot injury interrupted her 2012 season.
Hauschildt is aiming to defend her Asia Pacific title in Auckland on her way to a return to the top of the sport next year.
“The big aim for 2013 will be Las Vegas (IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship) and Auckland will be an important way to start next year. ”;
The 29-year-old returned to form at the back end of the year registering wins over the IRONMAN 70.3 distance in Augusta, USA, the Australian championship in Mandurah, Western Australia and Phuket.
Hauschildt won the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in her first full year in the sport last year along with the Asia Pacific Championship.
“Auckland is a big one for me because it is the Asia Pacific Championships, ” Hauschildt said.
“I won the Asia Pacific Champs last year and I would like to defend it. It is good to be able to win the title races and I expect it will be a really tough field in New Zealand like it was in Phuket last year.
“I had an ankle injury for most of the year which has been a pain but it has still been a reasonable year. It has been disappointing not to have been able to run more but I managed to spend more time on improving my bike and swim.
“I set some bike course records this year so hopefully with my running coming back next year should be really good. ”;
Australia ’s Annabel Luxford, winner of IRONMAN 70.3 Shepparton and Rebecca Hoschke who took third at IRONMAN Western Australia will join Hauschildt as contenders for the title.
Two-time world champion Caroline Steffen will also line up in Auckland.
The 34-year-old Swiss star has amassed a remarkable record over the last three years with nine major international victories including two world championships along with twice runner-up in the IRONMAN World Championships in Hawaii.
Steffen said that she wants to regain the Asia Pacific IRONMAN 70.3 title that she lost to Hauschildt last year.
Steffen said she was excited to begin her campaign in the new Auckland race as she prepares to defend her IRONMAN Asia Pacific Melbourne title in March.
“I ’ve come off a 2012 year that was very good for me. I had five weeks off and I ’m now back into training, ” Steffen said.
“The Auckland race is more than just a build-up for the big IRONMAN races next year. It is the Asia Pacific Championship for IRONMAN 70.3 so that is important and it also carries important qualifying points as well.
“I have won this title before and would like to win it again. ”;
The glamour men ’s field is headed by a trio of super-talented New Zealanders in 10-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion Cameron Brown, the two-time Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty and 2008 IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Terenzo Bozzone.
However Tim Berkel, the Australian IRONMAN 70.3 champion, leads a brilliant group from across the Tasman to challenge the Kiwis including IRONMAN New Zealand runner-up Tim Reed, the current IRONMAN Australian champion Paul Ambrose, super-talented “Smokin Joe ” Gambles and the much vaunted Luke Bell, who has 19 victories around the world in IRONMAN 70.3 races.
“This is a stunning field of world class, ” said IRONMAN New Zealand manager, Janette Blyth. “To be honest is has exceeded our expectations. It will be arguably the strongest triathlon field seen in this country.
“The five Australians who have confirmed their entries this week have more than 50 wins between them over this distance and the full IRONMAN distance around the world. ”;
Berkel leads the way, coming to Auckland on the back of his recent victory in the IRONMAN 70.3 Australia Championships in Mandurah, Western Australia. The win turned around a disappointing season for Berkel who was laid low with illness mid-year.
“I got this virus and was wiped out for six weeks. I made the mistake of doing a race in Copenhagen which was a bad idea and that wrecked me even more, ” Berkel said.
He went back to the future, moving to the oceanside town of Lennox Head in southern Queensland to be with his coach and squad, getting back to a solid training block which has seen a turnaround in his fortunes.
He won the Australian 70.3 title and was second at Port Macquarie recently, which has given him confidence for a big 2013 year starting with Auckland.
“The goal is to have a good race in Auckland and continue my good form, ” Berkel said. “The big goal is to have a first crack at IRONMAN in Hawaii if I can qualify. I ’ve got some points from Mandurah and Port and hopefully I can do well at Auckland which carries big qualifying points.
“I want to do really well there because I love racing in New Zealand, it has the good points and I think the course will suit me. ”;
He has been working on his swimming, which is his acknowledged Achilles Heel, to boost his chances in 2013.
Ambrose has come off a superb 2012 year with victory in IRONMAN Australia and plenty of 70.3 success in America with a win at Rhode Island and podiums in Kansas, Syracuse, Raccine and Cozumel.
Reed, like Ambrose a brilliant runner, is the current Australian long distance champion and showed his class with a course record win at IRONMAN 70.3 Yeppoon. He was second in IRONMAN NZ and in the Australian 70.3 title behind Berkel and comes to Auckland fresh from victory in IRONMAN 70.3 Canberra.
Gambles is one of the superstars of IRONMAN 70.3 racing, winning in Syracuse this year with two other podiums. He has been a top-five finisher at the IRONMAN 70.3 world championships on three occasions and has a numerous wins and records around the globe.
Bell is one of Australia ’s most accomplished IRONMAN athletes, twice a top-10 finisher in Hawaii and many will remember his epic dual in finishing a close second to Brown at IRONMAN New Zealand in 2007. The likeable 33 year old has 19 wins in IRONMAN 70.3 races mostly in USA and will pose a serious threat in the race.