One of the strongest fields ever assembled will take on the 29th Noosa Triathlon on Sunday. Courtney Atkinson will be aiming for an historic fourth consecutive win, but will have to overcome world champ Chris McCormack and Paul Matthews, as well as other quality athletes such as Luke McKenzie, Peter Kerr, Paul Ambrose, Clayton Fettell, Joey Lampe and Mitch Robins to achieve this goal.
For the record we are picking a dual between Atkinson and Matthews but in this field there will be a large bunch of guys only marginally behind with any number of them pouncing if the conditions and the race goes their way. Macca should be with the leaders by midway on the bike if he doesn’t swim his heart out and get out of the water with them.
Atkinson and McCormack have been racing ITU this season which will stand them in good stead for the Noosa course. Peter Kerr has also been racing short course finishing 26th at the ITU World championships in Beijing and could be worth keeping an eye on. The other athletes, who have had more of a long course focus, will no doubt be wishing they could go on for a second round of the course. It will be interesting to see how Mitch Robins goes after his stint in the US. He pushed Sexton this time last year at Nepean but ended up with a penalty on the bike. Mitch won the Holten ITU Premium European Cup this year and also won Moolooaba ITU Oceania Cup in March. Joshua Amberger should be an early leader. Amberger picked up $20,000 at Hy-Vee recently after winning the swim premes and he almost took out the first bike preme at the 10km mark but got pipped by Ben Colins.
Paul Matthews is one who could take the race out if he has been focusing on Olympic distance training. Matthews won Kansas 70.3 in June, collected $25,000 for finishing 4th overall at Hy-Vee in September and also won Washington 51-50. Matthews was spotted enjoying himself last weekend at Byron Bay and should be roaring to go by this Sunday.
Another elite who hasn’t been on the radar much this year but was 4th last year is Sam Betten. Betten finished less than two minutes behind Atkinson and is bullish about his chances this year.in 2010 Betten finished the season as the 4th ranked ITU Under 23 triathlete and has the talent to go on with it. A stress fracture in his foot has meant that a large part of this season’s racing has been missed but Sam is very keen to improve on his 4th.
New Zealand’s Ryan Sissons should also be up there as well as our own James Seear. Both of these young guys had a solid year on the ITU circuit. Ryan was 14th in the grand final in Beijing and 11th in Sydney in April. James had a year high of 9th at Geneva and was 3rd in Mooloolaba last year.
In the woman’s race Emma Snowsill and Emma Moffatt are late withdrawals, setting the stage for a battle between Emma Jackson, Rebekah Keat, Felicity Sheedy-Ryan, Felicty Abrams, Ellie Salthouse, Lisa Marangon, Matilda Reynolds, Mellisa Rollison and Belinda Granger, with Tara Prowse being an outside contender.
As with the boys you would expect Emma Jackson the ITU short course specialist to be victorious, with the other athletes all being more focussed on the long course events, however Rollison in particular is a chance with her blistering run leg, if she can limit her losses on the swim. Rollison made the mistake at Nepean this time last year of going out to hard to early on the run. She was run down by Michelle Wu in the end. Don’t expect to see a repeat of this.
With this race being a non drafting race with a decent hill the strong swim / bikers like Lisa Marangon should benefit. Rollison will eat the hill up as well and her bike / run combo will be hard to beat. Matilda was 1:38 behind Lisa over 2kms two weeks ago at Forster. Her strong bike will help over this course and then it will come down to her 10km run.
Atkinson thrives on this non-drafting course, it is one that demands strength across all disciplines and a reason the course record has stood since 1997, when six time Noosa champion Craig Walton set a blistering 1:44:13.
“I think the record will stay with Waldo for many more years to come. The race is different to back then. But I also think that is a fitting honour as he seems to be the last of the true Australian swim/bikers to be able to dominate races from the front.” said Atkinson.
The biggest threat to Atkinson’s dream is fellow Australian team mate Chris McCormack, who is no stranger to Noosa and enjoyed success there in 2005.
“I will tell you that I won’t lie down without a fight, I have drawn on all my years of training experiences to find every little thing I could out of a short four week build up for the race,” said Atkinson.
Despite racing on the world stage during the international season Atkinson admits Noosa is always a high priority for him and about why he does this sport.
“Noosa is always a high priority to me, it is the sole race in Australia that as an Olympic triathlete I can come back to race the way I grew up loving the sport of Triathlon.
“I feed off the fact that I am just another one of thousands out there on the same course at the same time with the same goal; simply to race the race to the best of their ability and enjoy it,” added Atkinson.
Atkinson admits that 2011 has been the most challenging of his career.
“If I take one thing, and one thing only from this year it is I found where the upper limits of my training lie.
“Do I have regrets? No, I don’t want to just make the Olympic Team for a second time, I want to go to London with the ability to win a Gold Medal and that means taking risks sometimes.”
“I have shown for a decade, year in year out I am capable to train myself to race the best in the world. You just don’t lose that overnight,” he added.
Atkinson is hoping that Noosa will be a positive start to his Olympic campaign; the 32-year-old knows what is required to achieve his dream.
“I have to go out and perform. Just show that I am still capable of running against the top in the world. I am still the only Australian over the past few years who has been able run a race to the line with a chance to win against the likes of the Brownlee’s or a Gomez.
“My focus is not on making the Australian Olympic Team. My focus is to get back to racing with a fighting chance to win against the best in the world and the rest will look after itself.”
For the past five months Ironman champion McCormack has switched his focus to Olympic distance racing in pursuit of his own dream “a spot on the start line in London 2012.
“I wasn’t sure at the start but I feel I can make it to the Olympics now in whatever role is required,” said McCormack
The 38-year-old father of three from Cronulla, NSW believes he has made the right decision and is enjoying being back in the Olympic distance arena.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far, I can feel the speed coming back and while it hasn’t all gone according to the script I’m positive I still have a lot to offer.
“I can’t wait to get up to Noosa; it’s been way too long since I was last there. I love this race and the non-drafting course suits me. I’ll be giving it a red hot go and maybe spoiling Courtney’s party,” added McCormack.
Jackson has the chance to cap off an outstanding season after finishing fourth in this year’s ITU World Championship Series including two second place finishes in the Hamburg round of the series and the Sprint World Championships in Lausanne.
For 20-year-old Jackson the season came as a surprise to her, initially hoping to finish top ten in the world.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season than I’ve had, to put in all the hard work and have it pay off was so rewarding.
“I’m really looking forward to racing Noosa; it’s a great weekend and a lot of fun.
“I certainly hope to improve on my fourth place last year, it would be a great way to finish the season in front of a home crowd,” said Jackson.
Melissa Rollison did her first triathlon just 18 months ago and earlier this month she defeated a great field on a tough course to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.(Read Mel’s Noosa Preview on her blog)
In 2010 it was while cross training on the bike that Rollison had a revelation and made the decision to change focus from running to triathlon. In the months that followed, she enjoyed an unprecedented start to her triathlon career with victory in her first three triathlons, setting a handful of course records including the Gold Coast Half Ironman. A top five finish at the Noosa triathlon was followed by a stunning second place in the Asia Pacific 70.3 Championships.At Gold Coast Rollison was almost unknown but some of her competitors knew about her steeplechase background but did not think that her bike was also a weapon.
New Zealand’s Anna Cleaver (winner of the 2010 Port Half), who was also racing the Gold Coast half ironman, said it was unbelievable running away from a turnaround on the run course to see Rollison steaming towards her and realising that the inevitable was about to happen. “I had never seen someone run so aggressively and knew that it was a matter of time before Mel was going to catch me. She didn’t factor in the swim but made up a lot of time on the bike. Just amazing”. Kiwi ironman legend Jo Lawn was also blown away when she first raced against Rollison at Port Macquarie in May this year. Speaking to Jo after the race she said Mel came past her on the bike like she was standing still.
Rollison has worked hard on her weakest leg – the swim, joining up with swim coaches Brendan Capell earlier this year and now Zane King.
“Zane has paid a lot of attention to my stroke. When he first saw me swim he was amazed at how terrible my stroke was but how I somehow managed to still move through the water at a reasonable pace. It wasn’t long till he realized it was just my fitness and determination that got me anywhere.”
“I’m looking forward to racing Noosa, I’m confident I can improve on last year’s 5th place,” said Rollison.
With $60,000 in prize money up for grabs for the elite field there is added incentive to endure two hours of racing.
For more than 7,500 triathlon competitors making the annual pilgrimage to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the Noosa Tri is more than just a triathlon and more than tradition, it is the place to be and the ‘must do’ event of the year.