Cairns Airport Challenge Cairns Men’s Race Preview

The withdrawal of ten time Ironman New Zealand winner Cameron Brown has taken one potential winner out of the running. However this has not made the race an easier one to win for anyone.

Possibly the most disappointed at Browns withdrawal is his family who are now missing out on a holiday in Cairns. Least disappointed will be O’Grady, McCormack, Berkel, White and Whyte.

The smart money is on a two horse race between Chris (Macca) McCormack and Tim Berkel. Based on recent race form Tim Berkel would have to be the favourite but without being able to see Macca race long distance recently it is impossible to gauge how he is going. He will be there to win and will have done the work to put himself in a position to do so.

I mentioned to Tim that he is definitely the runner to beat in the race. Is the running getting stronger? “I like to think so! I’m very happy on my running form at the moment. I have not done many long runs but I have kept the speed stuff up which I have not done in the past. So hopefully I can nail a good marathron.”

Berkel has not had the perfect lead up with the flu hitting him. “After doing the double Port 70.3 / Busso 70.3 it knocked me around a few bit. I picked up the flu and missed some key days but looking back at it now I think it may have been a blessing. It gave me a good chance to freshen up.” Luckily though there have been no injury issues.

Tim has no plans after Port. He will wait until after the race before he decides what to do next.

Who does Tim think will be the big threat in Cairns? “I thought the guy who would be very hard to beat was Cam Brown but with him pulling out you can’t write off a world champ like Macca. He will always be a guy that is a big threat. The field is pretty small but there are some very good athletes there.

Focusing on Macca and Berkel would do an injustice to Matty White and New Zealand’s Graham O’Grady and Jamie Whyte. Whyte won Challenge Wanaka in January this year ahead of Ironman WA winner Courtney Ogden. By all accounts Whyte is pumped for this race and wants to take it to the tough competition he will be facing. The other White, Matty, is in some top form with a recent 2nd at Busselton 70.3 finishing just over a minute behind Tim Berkel. White battled a virus the week before Busselton when racing Port Macquarie 70.3 but has managed to shake it off and has been tearing up the cycling and running circuit in South Australia.

White and current training partner Josh Rix completed a 1-2 at the recent South Australia State half marathon championship winning the race in 1:09. Rix finished 2nd in 1:12.

We spoke to Matty this week about his lead up to Challenge Cairns and how he thinks he will go. “Training has been going great. I have logged some huge kms after coming down with a virus before Port Mac 70.3. I managed to salvage some form by not doing anything in between the two 70.3s and got that great result in Busselton.”

White has benefitted from the recent arrival in SA of fellow pro Josh Rix. “I have been training with Josh Rix down here which has been great to have someone of similar ability to hit the quality sessions with, Josh is good to train with and is in top form.”

White has had no real injury worries recently apart from some Achilles soreness which has been around for a while. “I have increased my mileage which has seemed to have helped it and the soreness is nearly all gone. There is a lot to be said about training through injuries as sometimes it actually works!”

After Cairns White will be having a well deserved rest as it has been a huge 12 months for him. “I will start preparing for the US as I leave in late July. I am hoping to go full tilt at Kona and do a solid 2 months in Boulder with the guys in preparation. I also hope to do the 70.3 worlds but with the new point system I won’t really know until the last minute.”

Who does Matty think will be his toughtest competition on Sunday? “I think the man to watch will be Tim ‘Ol Greg’ Berkel who is running like Haile Gebrselassie. As for Macca I am sure he will be carrying a supply of pens to sign his new book (Ed Note: I’m here to Win. Available now at all good book sellers) while laying the hammer down as you can never discount the world champ. Overall though it looks like a big Aussie VS NZ shoot out. The course looks tough, hot and possibly windy which can play havoc over an ironman distance race. I can’t wait to get out there and amongst it.”

Apart from Jamie Whyte the other Kiwi racing will be Graham O’Grady. O’Grady had some great results in 70.3 in the USA last year and won the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman in January this year. This title was stripped from him though after a positive test for morphine. In a highly unusual case the findings cleared O’Grady of any wrong doing with the blame for the slightly elevated levels of morphine being placed squarely on shoulders of Poppy Seed bread consumed by O’Grady in the lead up to the race. The stripping of the title stands however under the rules governing such a breach (link to article).

This has caused O’Grady an immense amount of stress this year and thrown his season in to disarray. With this all behind him now O’Grady must have some anger to get rid of this weekend. “I guess I am not really out there to prove anything to anyone, more to myself if anything… that I can and have moved on from the troubles I had to go through, that I still can compete at the highest level and most of all enjoy the sport. It has felt like a long road getting back to racing but I am glad to be back and I can’t wait to race this weekend in my debut Ironman!”

O’Grady feels like he has been training forever since January. “It feels like I have been training forever for this race, since Tauranga I have only raced once (Noumea) so I can’t wait till race day. Ironman is unknown territory for me, I have a great coach Keegan Williams who has had me training consistent and with purpose, so I am feeling good right now and am sure I will have a good day next week.”

Have there been any injury worries? ”No things have been fine all year apart from the few stressful weeks I had in February, which I think is just as hard as having and injury.”

All the guys you mentioned are fantastic athletes and off current form any one of us could win if we have that ‘perfect’ day. It’s a field that you have to watch everyone, but in saying that Ironman is a long day and you have to look after yourself, do what you can, so that you can get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ as fast as possible.

After Cairns O’Grady is heading to America for 6 weeks in July for three 70.3 events and the Alcatraz triathlon.

Cairns Airport Challenge Cairns Race Website

Karl Hayes

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.