New Zealand’s Top Triathletes Back In Action For Nutri-grain Ironman New Zealand
New Zealand’s leading IRONMAN athletes are preparing to return to Taupō next week for the 37th Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand, with racing set to take place on Saturday 6 March.
Previous winners, rising stars and IRONMAN debuts highlight the professional field, with athletes set to go head-to-head across a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42km run.
The continued closure of international borders means that the 2021 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand will have a distinct Kiwi feel with 13 professional IRONMAN athletes lining up for the event.
The men’s field includes previous winners Mike Phillips, Braden Currie and Cameron Brown, with the former Champions lining up alongside up and coming stars including Kyle Smith and Jack Moody.
Phillips has been on the IRONMAN New Zealand podium for the last two years, with a second place finish in 2020 and a win the year before.
“I was lucky to get on the start line last year, I had a bit of an injury so was actually pushing it to just start the race,” said Phillips. “I was pretty fortunate that I did because there was nothing on after that for quite some time. We had some virtual races for the first few months which was pretty cool, a good way to stay motivated and race with the other Pros, after that no one knew when the next event was going to be, or what you were training for which made it tough.
“It’s a long day and a tough course, I know what I’ve done in the last two years there and I think I should be able to go a wee bit faster so I’ll try and pace myself on that and if those guys beat me they’re having a good day,” he said. “You can’t get into too much racing against the others with such a long day on the cards, it’s going to be interesting. Cameron’s been doing some crazy training and Kyle is going well but hasn’t done an IRONMAN yet, it’s going to be an exciting race.”
Currie finished just behind Phillips last year, and claimed victory at the event in 2017, and is looking forward to being on the start line of an IRONMAN race for the first time in a year.
“IRONMAN New Zealand has always been a very special race to me,” said Currie. “I have probably thought in the last few years about not competing at IRONMAN New Zealand because it's a really long year of racing, but it's a race that I've never been able to say no to. To be able to race in New Zealand with the New Zealand crowd is special.
“The course is beautiful, it's tough and it’s unforgiving and even without an international field you know that all those key athletes that are on that start line are really solid athletes and really conditioned to this event,” he said. “It's always a good opportunity to test myself early on in the year and set a benchmark. I won this race on my IRONMAN debut, but I haven't been able to pull off a good race since at IRONMAN New Zealand. It would mean a lot to me to go back there and put down what I see has been a really solid race and having a great performance.”
Cameron Brown knows what it takes to win in Taupō, with the 48-year-old standing on the top step of the podium at IRONMAN New Zealand an incredible 12 times, and he’s keen to be back in action next weekend.
“I wouldn’t know what to do over a Kiwi summer if I didn’t train for IRONMAN New Zealand,” said Brown. “Part of the last 24 years has been preparing for it, the love for the sport, the joy that the journey to March every year brings, it’s just a normal summer. If I wasn’t doing IRONMAN New Zealand I’d be twiddling my thumbs and pretty bored I think, the motivation is still pretty high at the moment.
“There’s a lot of talent here, Braden Currie and Mike Phillips are past champions, and we’ve got some great young talent coming through with Kyle Smith and Jack Moody, it’ll be exciting to see how they go as well, it’s going to be a very competitive field,” he said.
The women’s professional race will see multiple IRONMAN 70.3 winner Hannah Wells line up for her first IRONMAN, racing against Rebecca Clarke, Melanie Burke and Emily McNaughtan.
Wells claimed victory at her last four IRONMAN 70.3 events, including IRONMAN 70.3 Taupō in 2019, and she’s looking forward to stepping up to IRONMAN distance.
“It’s been a bit of an unknown for me being my first IRONMAN, new training for me and the big miles are pretty new, I’m not usually a huge volume athlete, we’ve had to manage the load pretty carefully,” said Wells. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job, I have a number of big sessions under the belt now, hopefully all the hard work is done and I’m ready to go.
“I think IRONMAN New Zealand has such a cool atmosphere, I’ve been there a number of times watching, it’s such a cool event and the community gets behind it, it has a huge history and with the Maori welcome there’s a lot of feeling,” she said. “To be a part of it as my first IRONMAN is going to be very special. I’ll know a lot of people out there on the course being a New Zealand race, it’s going to be a pretty special day and I feel very lucky being a part of it.”
Emily McNaughtan is also set to contest her first IRONMAN next weekend, with the Wellington based athlete having had a taste of the course at IRONMAN 70.3 Taupō.
“I’m really excited, I’m just getting more and more excited now that it’s getting close,” said McNaughtan. “I love the atmosphere in Taupō, it’s my favourite race, I’m really excited to get out there. There are so many supporters down the run course and they give you a real boost when you’re tired and I think I’m going to need that on the run.”
For more information on Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand click here.