Race Preview: Ironman Cairns

Ironman Cairns celebrates its 10th edition by hosting the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships and putting $100,000 on the line for pro athletes.

The championship races continue to pile up in 2021 with the Ironman Cairns Asia-Pacific Championship this weekend. The full-distance event, held in northeast Queensland, Australia will give Team Internationals hopefuls the chance to earn Collins Cup ranking points along with their share of the $100,000 prize purse.

The field is packed with Aussie talent but the highest-ranked athletes in both the men’s and women’s races are Kiwis. Mike Phillips (PTO #29) and Amelia Watkinson (PTO #21) both sit in sixth place on the Team Internationals Collins Cup rankings and only need a handful of points to squeeze into the top four and the automatic qualification zone.

WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN?

Date: 6 June 2021
Location: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Time: 20:35 UTC (Friday)
Prize Money: $100,000 – pays 10 deep $15,000 to $1,000
Course: Sea swim, rolling bike, flat run

Key World Ranked Athletes

INTERNATIONALS

Mike Phillips (INT #6 / PTO #29) / Matt Burton (PTO #40) / Tim Reed (PTO #52)
Amelia Watkinson (INT #6 / PTO #21) / Rebecca Clarke (PTO #68) / Renee Kiley (PTO #79)

Men’s Race

New Zealand’s Mike Phillips (INT #6 / PTO #29) put in a complete performance at Ironman New Zealand in March, going sub-eight to take second place and showing he’s got serious form this year. As sixth on the Team International rankings, a win at this championship race would certainly boost his chances of automatic qualification for the Collins Cup.

Although he’s not next in terms of PTO World Rankings, Phillips’ biggest rival in Cairns is likely to be defending champ, Max Neumann (PTO #53). A great swimmer who can back it up on the bike and run, not only did Neumann take down many of this year’s Cairns field to win in 2020, he did it again in April to stand atop the podium at Challenge Shepparton.

Tim Reed (PTO #52) has had a great 2021 season so far, making the podium at every race he’s toed the line at including third at Hell of the West, second at the PTO-supported Husky Australian champs and third at 70.3 Geelong. He was also fourth in Cairns last year, so knows how to race well on this hot course.

Tim Van Berkel (PTO #62) is a consistent performer who’s always a podium threat. He also came second in Cairns last year – his run split only bested by Neumann – so he’s bound to have the drive to go up one step and take his second Cairns victory, five years after his first.

One of the sport’s star swimmers, Josh Amberger (PTO #71) is the last podium getter from Cairns 2020 and recently came second to Neumann at Challenge Shepparton. Having won this race in 2017, he knows what it takes to grab victory. If he can create a significant gap after the swim and race his own race up front, he could certainly take the top spot.

Based on his rankings, Matt Burton (PTO #40) could be a dark horse for in Cairns. He came fourth here in 2019 and showed real class to take second behind Alistair Brownlee (PTO #2) in IM Western Australia the same year, going 7:55 in the process. In early May, Burton won the Western Australia State Long Course Championships, showing solid form in 2021.

Women’s Race

There’s no doubt that Amelia Watkinson (INT #6 / PTO #21) will be the one to beat in Cairns. The defending Cairns champs followed up a strong fifth at the 2020 PTO Championship in Daytona last December with three second place finishes in Australia at Hell of the West, Husky Long Course and 70.3 Geelong. She’s only a handful of points away from leapfrogging up the leader board to snatch Sarah Crowley’s fourth-place spot on Team Internationals, too.

Rebecca Clarke (PTO #68) will be determined to reach the finish before fellow Kiwi Watkinson. Clarke already has three podiums in the bag this season: third at the Port of Tauranga Half, second at Challenge Wanaka and second at Ironman New Zealand, showing her long-course legs are in good form. She’ll need to bike off the front to a strong lead if she wants to hold off Watkinson on the run.

Renee Kiley (PTO #79) was third in Cairns last year, her best full-distance result to date and will surely want to go better this year and earn her first M-dot title. Fourth in Challenge Shepparton in April showed improving form, so she could be in with a shot. She had the fastest bike split here in 2020, so could be a big factor in how the race plays out on the way to T2.

Kylie Simpson might not be ranked yet, but fourth in Cairns last year shows real promise, especially considering it was the Australian’s neo-pro year. Despite the hot and humid weather in 2020, she ran an incredible 2:57:06, over 20 minutes faster than the rest of the field, so expect her to run-up the rankings again this year.

What the Pros Say

Amelia Watkinson on coming to Cairns as defending champion: “I like a little bit of pressure, I know how use it to my advantage. I’m not the best in any of the three disciplines but I don’t have a weakness, and that’s hard to beat.”

Renee Kiley on gunning for the win in Cairns:
“I’ve had a really solid four months of training and am the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been. I love racing the full distance and I am here in Cairns believing that if I focus on myself and have the day I am capable of, I can win”

Rebecca Clarke on what her second at IM New Zealand means for her race in Cairns:
“I can build on the confidence it gave me in that I can put together a strong swim, bike and finish strongly on the run in the Ironman distance. Also, any small mistakes made in Taupo I can rectify and improve on in Cairns.”

Mike Phillips on risk and reward in Cairns: “There’s a large Australian contingent racing here in Cairns, I have raced most of the contenders a lot over the years. With my Kona qualification sorted, it allows me take some risks with pacing, and that might be what’s needed to give me a chance of coming out on top!”

TEST