2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship Phuket Race Preview

Tomorrow in Phuket the 2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship will take place with a host of Australians chasing podium spots. Trizone spoke to a few of our leading triathletes who will be among the action at the front of the field. Anna Cleaver, Melissa Rollinson, Michelle Wu, Christie Sym, Pa

Tomorrow in Phuket the 2010 Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship will take place with a host of Australians chasing podium spots. Trizone spoke to a few of our leading triathletes who will be among the action at the front of the field. Anna Cleaver, Melissa Rollinson, Michelle Wu, Christie Sym, Paul Ambrose and non-starter Peter Schokman talk about how they are feeling, who to watch out for and in Pete’s case why he will not be on the start line.

Christie Sym is also going to be pushing it to get to the start line after crashing off a motor scooter in Phuket and doing herself a few reasonable injuries. Could Melissa Rollinson win again in what will be only her second race at this distance?

Anna Cleaver won the SiS Half Ironman in Port Macquarie just over a month ago and even though she had to pull out of the Nepean Triathlon recently due to an Achilles injury from trying something new in training she is feeling confident about her chances.

“I’m excited about racing again after the recent Port Macquarie half ironman This is a chance to race some of the best girls in the world currently at the 70.3 distance! Caroline Steffen has had an amazing year and is the likely race favourite. The course looks a challenging one and it will be interesting to see how some of us go against the more experienced athletes like Belinda Granger, Samantha McGlone and Caroline Steffen.” Also from Anna… “Congratulations to Belinda Granger for winning the Laguna Phuket triathlon only last weekend. She is an amazing competitor who is looking good for 2 podium finishes in Phuket”.

Michelle Wu has had a great season with a 2nd to Melissa Rollinson at the Gold Coast half ironman and winning the Taiwan 70.3 and Nepean Triathlon and the super sprint after the main race at Nepean. Michelle has a killer run but may struggle in the heat. After reading some of her recent tweets from Canberra the weather has not really been the best to prepare in for a race in the tropics.

“It’s going to be my toughest race this year! The field is full of big names! The one that stands out the most would be Caroline Steffen – 2nd in Hawaii IM World Champs and winner of Noosa this year, so I have no doubt she would be race favourite and the one to beat. Belinda Granger and Sam McGlone are also very tough and experienced competitors. Then there’s the super up-and-coming Mel Rollinson who will no doubt challenge for a podium spot if she can minimise losses in her swim. I wouldn’t think there’s anyone who will run quicker than her. Anna Cleaver and Rachael Paxton are the only other 2 competitors I know and they will be out there amongst the top finishers as well I would think. I do not know any of the other names but I am sure there are several there who can surprise on the day”.

Coming from Canberra the toughest thing for Michelle will be the heat and humidity. “I always tend to do better in cooler races, so I have to be really careful on Sunday and look after myself. Training has been going well though and I’m looking forward to the race. I have never been to Phuket but I’ve only heard good things about it, so it will be an amazing location to visit. The bike course is really tough by the looks of things, with some very very steep hills to negotiate, a pedestrian bridge that we have to get off our bikes and walk over, and some very technical turns and corners to be careful of. I have even debated whether to bring my road bike instead! The run is flat, but by that stage of the race, I’m sure the heat and humidity will be the major factor”.

We asked Michelle about her race strategy for this weekend. “I don’t have too much of a strategy for the race other than to race as best as I can on the day. I would love a top 5 finish, but as long as I have given it my best shot, I really don’t mind the result. It will no doubt be a fantastic experience to go head to head with some of these girls, as well as a great opportunity to see where I stand amongst some of the best in the world. I could be dealt and humbling lesson or I could really surprise myself! Either way, I can’t wait to get to the start line”. We think Michelle will perform extremely well based on her recent form.

And the final word from Michelle… “Hope to see you in Canberra for the Half in a couple of weeks”.

Someone that may struggle to get to the start line is Christie Sym. After some great performances this year in North America Christie was looking forward to finishing off the year with a strong result in Phuket. Christie placed 5th in Ironman Canada, 4th in Ironman 70.3 Austin and narrowly missed 3rd in Ironman Racine 70.3.

So what happened to Christie in Phuket? “Well where to start!? I’ve been in Phuket since the 16th November preparing for the race, everything going very well and having some great sessions. Then my world as I know it collapsed around me, I had a motorbike accident whilst out getting some groceries and ended up in quite a bad way. I got medical attention and all seemed OK other than looking like I’d been in a cage fight – I hit my head hard (lucky for the helmet!) and grazed my face quite badly, black eye swollen shut, deep grazing off most of the right side of my body, cut knee swollen like a rockmelon, and a badly grazed and bruised right shoulder that left it immobile. I was pretty shaken up but confident I would be ok and back training within a day or so”.

Christie feels she wasn’t so lucky. It was very unfortunate but the reality is that Christie was very lucky to have got away without more serious injuries. The number of tourists severly maimed from motor scooter accidents in Phuket is high. “At this stage I am still out. I’ve hurt my lower back/right glute and couldn’t walk for 2 days. I’m back walking but with a limp, so running is out. So basically the outlook is not so optimistic, but I’m still hopeful of enough recovery to line up and be able to race the complete distance on the weekend. I’m getting physio and chiro treatment and basically just resting up and keeping my fingers crossed”.

As for the rest of the field Christie said it was hard to think about when my own condition is so poor, but her money would be on Caroline Steffen. “It’s a tough course, will most likely be quite hot and very humid. It will be as much a test of strength and resilience as speed”.

Christie will let us know before the race if she can get to the start line. “I want more than anything to race and intend on doing so, but know deep down that my body may not allow me. It will be with great disappointment that I don’t race if that’s the final decision I have to make, and would sign off the end of my season for a December break”.

The new girl on the triathlon scene who has made everyone sit up and take notice is Melissa Rollinson. Melissa stormed home on the bike and run to overtake Michelle Wu and win the 2010 Gold Coast half ironman in her first ever attempt at half ironman distance. Melissa is Queensland duathlon champion and 2008 national steeplechase champion and man! can she run. I heard from Melissa as she was waiting for her plane to Phuket.

“Just sitting at the airport now and about to fly out to Phuket. I don’t know anyone in the sport yet and instead of scaring myself finding out all their stats on only my second race over this distance and 6th triathlon in total my plan is to just focus on my own race and race it to what I am capable of. Hopefully this will bring me a good result. In running there are tactics that play a huge part of your performance and the competitors you are up against will determine how you decide to race. But in half ironman I think it’s more about racing to your capability. You need to know what pace you can handle, you want to be on the edge, going quick enough to win (hopefully) the race but not too hard that you blow up.

Nutrition is also a major factor in the half ironman and something that is new to Melissa. “This is something I’m not used too and is the main area that if something is going to go wrong it might be here. But it’s all still a learning game for me”. A couple of weeks ago Melissa raced in the Nepean Triathlon. Melissa thought she had the race in the bag when she got off the bike second only about 20 seconds behind the leader. “I then couldn’t find my shoes in transition and ended up getting out onto the run course over a minute behind 3rd. Instead of relaxing and trusting my running ability I panicked and bolted out way too fast catching everyone within 4.5km… Only problem was I still had 5.5km to go. Ouch, it hurt. But I learnt a lot from this race and hopefully that is one mistake I won’t make again”.

Melissa says her preparation has all gone to plan and she hasn’t had any setbacks. “I’ve done all the hard work. I’m fit. It’s all about freshening up and working on the mental side of things now. Fingers crossed it all comes together on the day and I have a great race”.

One of Australia’s top ironmen, Paul Ambrose won Ironman Louisville at the end of August this year and has been in great form in the second half of the year although he says his prep hasn’t been an ideal build up for this race. With a 2nd place in the Washington 70.3, a 3rd at Rhode Island 70.3 and a few other top finishes Paul certainly has the race form to take him close this weekend “I have had a few hiccups in my preparations and it has been a long year and an even longer season. I consider my race experience over the year to be a key factor for being one of the guys who can take the race out on the weekend. Looking at my competitors, there is a lot of talent in the field, and a few of the guys definitely have the ability to win the race. The people I would consider as serious threats are the guys who have proven throughout the year their ability and consistency to back up in the big races. Guys like Tim O’Donald, Massimo Cigana and I know he isn’t listed below but I believe Raelert is going to be competing. It is going to be a hot hard race, so the guys who can hang tough will have a great day”.

Another Australian who was supposed to race is Pete Schokman from Sydney. Pete has been battling and illness for about 3-4 months now. He is fairly certain that he ended up over training and has been told by doctors to rest until he feels right again. Pete won Yeppoon this year with a 1:13 half marathon. Pete’s dark horse for the race is the bike man, Massimo from Italy. Look out for him riding through the field and he is a solid runner.

Craig Alexander was also down to race but decided not to due to lack of preparation. Craig doesn’t like to go to a race under prepared and let down the organisers. This week Trizone spoke to Craig briefly and he said that right now he is enjoying spending some time with his children and resting. During the week Craig was at the Sports Performer of the Year. As the 2009 winner it was Craig’s duty to hand the award to this year’s winner.