Champions galore, led by three-time world champion Miranda Carfrae, will line up in a remarkable women’s field for Sunday’s IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne.
It is arguably the strongest professional women’s field outside of the world championship in Hawaii for the first of the five global regional championships which carry a US$150,000 prize purse with the winners gaining direct qualification to Hawaii.
The men’s field, while not boasting the same titled quality, is the most open for several years with some of Australia’s best up against a strong European contingent.
Most focus goes on the women’s battle with US-based Queenslander Carfrae competing at home for the first time in three years, as she takes on defending Asia-Pacific champion Caroline Steffen, two-time IRONMAN 70.3 world champion Melissa Hauschildt, four-time IRONMAN winner Yvonne van Vlerken (NED) and former ITU stars Annabel Luxford (AUS) and Laura Bennett (USA).
Carfrae, now based in the triathlon mecca of Boulder, Colorado, has been the dominant female on the planet over the last six years, including world championship victories in 2010, 2013 and 2014, runner-up in 2009 and 2011 and third in 2012.
“I’m looking forward to racing again at home. Winning an Australian IRONMAN title is not something I’ve done yet, so I’d love to add one to my resume,” Carfrae said.
Steffen, the Sunshine Coast-based Swiss triathlete, dominated this race last year to follow on from her win in Melbourne in 2012 when she beat Carfrae. However the world champion edged Steffen to second at Hawaii later that year.
“I just think that course suits me so well. I love the rough swim, the fast ride on the Highway and the "point to point" Marathon. Back in my cycling days, I spend a lot of time in Black Rock (Melbourne) riding up and down the Beach Road with my PRO team. Coming back after all this year and run a marathon at the same road feels like coming home,” Steffen said.
“Every pro likes to pick one race to call their own. I do that with IRONMAN Melbourne. I love the city, love the support I always get from all the spectators and I love the coffee you get in Melbourne. As a huge coffee lover that’s very important.”
Hauschildt, for former Australian track star, has made an enormous impact in IRONMAN, claiming the 70.3 world title in 2011 and 2013 before moving to the full distance, and winning on debut at IRONMAN Australia last year.
”I'm starting to get really excited about racing Melbourne,” Hauschildt says. “It will only be my second full IRONMAN but it almost feels like my first. When I raced at Port Macquarie last year I only decided to do it three weeks out from the race and had just come off a small break. This time I hope to be ready,” she said.
Luxford is a former ITU world championship podium finisher who made an emphatic move to IRONMAN with several victories and podiums in 70.3 including the 2013 Asia-Pacific title and makes her much-awaited move to IRONMAN.
Bennett, married to Australian star Greg Bennett, is a two-time Olympian, finishing fourth at Beijing before moving to the IRONMAN distances in 2013. She has one IRONMAN 70.3 victory to her credit and finished runner-up at IRONMAN Boulder last year.
The men’s contest will see a bunch of talented Australians do battle including Tim Berkel, Luke Bell, Peter Robertson and Brad Kahlefeldt.
Berkel, a former winner at IRONMAN Western Australia, had a career-best eighth at Hawaii last year; Bell is a two-time IRONMAN winner in 2013 and is coming back from an injury-plagued last year; Robertson is a three-time Olympic-distance world champion while double Olympian Kahlefeldt, is a Commonwealth Games gold medallist with several 70.3 wins to his credit, makes his full IRONMAN debut.
The major European charge will come from German top seed Nils Frommhold who was seventh in Hawaii and has IRONMAN wins in South Africa and Arizona, and Estonian Marco Albert who won IRONMAN New Zealand last year.
“It's been a long time since I have won an Ironman in Australia and I'm very hunger for another title,” Berkel says. “I took a lot of confidence from Kona last year. I feel I can mix it with the best athletes in the sport on the world stage when things are going well,” Berkel said.
Local boy Luke Bell has put the knee injury that curtailed the early part of his 2014 season behind him and is looking for a strong performance in front of a hometown crowd.
“I have been able to nail all my sessions and stay healthy and uninjured which is half of the battle. Training wise I have been able to complete more than I have for a long time,” he said.
There are more than 2500 participants from 45 countries coming to Melbourne for the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship on Sunday 22 March, comprising a 3.8km swim in Frankston, 180km two-lap bike on the Eastlink Freeway back to Frankston and 42.2km marathon run to the finish at St Kilda.
The professional men start at 7.20am, the professional women three minutes later and the age group competitors from 7.40am with the winner expected by approximately 3.20pm.
Courtesy: Ironman Asia-Pacific