“You see some of the same faces race in the Philippines like Cam, PJ, Bree and myself because the Filipino hospitality is second to none. The people here are so friendly and the race organisers do such a good job that it is an easy decision to return and I’ll want to keep coming back to Cebu until I hang my racing shoes up.” The was the opening response from Australian Hall of Fame Triathlete Belinda Granger when she was asked what brought her back to race Philippines 70.3 in Cebu this year. For the Suisse star, Caroline Steffen, “the long trip from Europe to do this race is already worth it as I arrived to such a warm welcome and the venue is just stunning.” said Steffen. Not surprisingly the big crowd at the press conference today in Cebu were pleased to hear this response from not just Granger and Steffen but similar responses from other pro’s.
But the cynic in us says that the pro’s are bound to say nice things right? They are paid to be here after all. So Trizone asked some of the age groupers that are here to race this weekend. We spoke with locals, Asian based expats and even an athlete who traveled from Ireland to join in the race here in Cebu. The responses were fairly consistent, the Philippines races are well put together, big local support and the race organisers are “athlete focused”. One of the athletes we spoke with told us “You come here and you immediately relax, not just because of the venue but everyone is all smiles and nothing is a problem. Some of the races just don’t have the same feel, these guys really get it right.”
With over 1,600 competitors signed up to race in this tropical paradise, the event is already set to be a winner for the local organisers who have made a habit of putting on successful races under the WTC brand the past few years. It is fair to say that WTC branded events have struggled gaining traction in Asia for the Ironman brand, but the Philippines experience is the exception. Sure enough, the head of WTC subsidiary, USM events arrived in Cebu, no doubt to get a feel for how the Philippines organisers receive such strong support each year. With the issues around ironman branded events such as China, the demise of ironman races in Malaysia, Japan and Korea, WTC needs to get some traction in the world’s fastest growing regional economies. So it will be interesting to see what USM take from this weekend in the Philippines and where the Asian strategy for WTC is headed. More on that in the future.
Back to the press conference. Fred Uytsengu, who heads up the organising committee and one of the event sponsors Alaska Milk, welcomed all attendees as he talked through the reasoning behind the move from the previous venue of Cam Sur to Cebu. He recognised the success of the former venue, well known for the water ski park adventures post race each year, though the lure of a coastal setting in the place of his birth was too good of an opportunity to miss. The open water swim will no doubt become a popular attraction with a deep water start in a marine reserve off a private beach at the Shangri La Mactan resort in Cebu. Thanks to the support of the local governor and the mayors a closed course on the regions roads will have athletes enjoying a typical Asian race experience with its unique sights, sounds and smells. Cebu’s popularity as one of the more prominent Asian tourist resort locations provides attendees with a broad range of resorts, dining, activities and sightseeing around the venue.
Two time defending champion Pete Jacobs is a popular pro amongst the Philippines locals. He was later asked what it would take for him to win on the weekend and told the audience. “I’ll definitely need to be on my game with Cam here. He is always dangerous and when you look at his performance in Melbourne it’s a reminder what a superb talent he is. For me I’ll be hoping I can set myself up with a solid swim and then come off this windy bike course in a good position to test my legs out on the run. It would be great to win again this year, especially in this great new location. I have to say a big thank you to the race organisers for inviting myself and the other pro athletes back, it will be a great day for sure.” Before racing on Sunday though it seems Jacobs will be kept busy at the ironkids race as he and some of his fellow pro’s help cheer the stars of the future on.
Keep an eye out for more Cebu action from the Trizone crew here at the Shangri La Mactan Resort.