“I’ve been preparing purely for this race over the past 5 to 6 weeks and I’ve been extremely focused day and night on finishing this year on a high with a good win.” so said 2 time World 70.3 champion, Germany’s Michael Raelert at the pre-race press conference for the Asia Pacific 70.3 championships here in Phuket. “I arrived here on Tuesday and since then I’ve been so relaxed whilst enjoying life here at the Banyan Tree Villas by the beach in Phuket. I know that I need to get that focus back tomorrow morning but when I stand on the start line I will be 100% focused and ready to try and win this race.” The German will toe the start line as the hot favourite but he knows that he will not have it all his own way with the likes of Chris Lieto, Faris al Sultan, Matty Reed and of course the Aussie contenders such as Richie Cunningham, Paul Ambrose and Paul Matthews. It is Matthews in fact that both Raelert and Lieto singled out as the one to watch here in Phuket. “Matthews showed very good form during the year and I won’t be surprised at all to see him challenging us.” Lieto stated during the pre-race press conference.
With all the talk about these few guys there is the possibility that Tim Reed could upset things. If Raelert and Lieto are concerned about Matthews then Reed should also be one they watch out for. Reed raced with Matthews in the 5150 series and with Reed being ever so slightly of the pace in the swim the longer the race the better for him. He is one of the fastest runners up to 70.3 in the game.
Faris al Sultan has raced in Phuket before when he raced the famous Laguna Phuket Triathlon over 1.8/55/12kms. He told the crowd “Well I have told Michael to take his time and enjoy the scenery as it is very beautiful here. Hopefully he listens to that as it will give us more of a chance to beat him. In all seriousness, for me this is early in the season after my post Kona break so I am not expecting to have a lot of high end speed in my legs but this race has a very challenging course and will play into the hands of athletes with good endurance and strength so hopefully it will be a tough, hot day and I will be happier as I enjoy challenging conditions. But there are a lot of fast guys here so we will see what happens.” America’s Chris Lieto noted “This is my first time in Phuket and I’ve wanted to come here for years. My wife could come and join me this year so we didn’t hesitate to come over. It has been amazing so far and the hospitality has been wonderful at the Banyan Tree resort. I rode the course the other day and it is fantastic with some challenging climbs and technical descents. I was very happy to have been able to ride the course prior to the race as an awareness of not only those climbs but the descents will be a key factor as there will be some great opportunities to attack. So I’ll be looking forward to tomorrow and going as hard as I can.
The women’s raging hot favourite is Australia’s newly crowned 70.3 World Champion, Melissa Rollison. The blonde Australian is enjoying a different experience than her debut in Phuket last year “As it was my second 70.3 and first triathlon outside of Australia it was all pretty new to me so I was really happy with my second place. This year I feel a lot more prepared and am also enjoying how well the race organisers are treating me. I feel pretty spoilt actually. Race wise though I feel like I’m ready to have a good day and the experience of last year will help. It is a shame that Caroline Steffen isn’t here to defend her title as I would have loved to have competed against her, but there are some experienced athletes here that I need to be careful of. This year has been a fantastic one for me and I definitely performed better than I had expected so it would be great to finish on a high.” When asked if she was surprised by her success in such a short period Rollison said “Coming from a running background I always had plenty of confidence but I really needed a lot of work on my swim and bike which I’ve managed to do in the last year or so. I didn’t expect a clean sweep in the USA and winning all my races but I’ll take it. I still need to work on my swim/bike and ensure that I stay injury free as historically it has been an issue for me with running related injuries but in 2011 I’ve stayed healthy which has been helpful to my season.”
Australian Michelle Wu will be one of the top contenders along with Amanda Stevens from the USA and possibly Radka Vodickova who won the Laguna Phuket triathlon last weekend. Vodickova has been racing ITU this year with a couple of solid placings. Belinda Granger will also be up there pushing the girls along with newcomer Matilda Raynolds. Raynolds will has a strong bike and is slowly building her run speed under coach Spot Anderson and you can be guaranteed that her swim is up and there getting stronger by the month.
This will be the second running of the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championships, hosted by the team at Laguna Phuket. Over 1,000 athletes will be racing the demanding course that takes athletes through Phuket’s villages, coastline and challenging hills. The race has drawn a lot of attention from leading age groupers in the region given the opportunity to not only qualify for Vegas 2012 but also qualifying slots for the 2012 Ironman World Championships in Kona.