Urban Hotel Group Ironman Australia 2011: The Preview

Excitement is building as a stacked mens field gets ready for action in Port Macquarie. Can Patrick go 5 in a row, will Crowie take his first Australian title, has Jacobs got enough miles under his belt to reproduce his Kona form, will the 12 meter rule help Ogden get away on the bike, or will the S

Excitement is starting to build as Port Macquarie gears up for a double dose of Ironman, with the 2011 Urban Hotel Group Ironman Australia and Urban Hotel Group Ironman 70.3 Port Macquarie to be held together for the first time, on Sunday 1 May 2011.

This is also the first year that the events have been held under the management of WTC, and the organisers have introduced significant amendments to the course and the re-location of the finish line to the Town Green precinct.

1,100 competitors will take on Ironman Australia, while the Ironman 70.3 has also attracted a capacity field of 500. In previous years 1,800 competitors took on the Iron distance race, so the total number of competitors racing on the day is similar.

The men’s field is strongly stacked with two-time Ironman World Champion, Craig Alexander, and four-time Ironman Australia Champion, Patrick Vernay the favourites for line honours. Alexander finished third in this race behind Patrick Vernay in 2007, in his first ever attempt at the Ironman distance, and will most certainly be aiming to go one better this time. If Vernay can hold off Alexander and win his fifth-consecutive Ironman Australia this would equal Chris McCormack’s all-time record.

Speaking with Trizone Alexander said that “My training has been good for Port, I am not in Kona shape, but that is by design. I think you can only attain that level of fitness once a year”. Asked who he would be keeping an eye on during the race he responded “I really don’t spend too much time concentrating on anybody else. It is a hard enough job preparing yourself for an Ironman. I think the main threats will come from Patrick, Courtney (who had a blinder in WA), Pete Jacobs, Shorto and Scott Neyedli. I am not sure how the race will play out but it is a fairly tough bike course so I think you will need to save some petrol for the run.”

Scott Neyedli (who just to make things hard for journo’s is a Scot) was runner up at the event last year, 2nd at Ironman WA in 2009, and set a Marathon record in winning the notoriously tough Ironman UK in 2007, so the boy is fit and can run a bit. The Scot, Scott has been preparing in Perth Australia, where the weather is much more conducive than Perth Scotland (stay with me here). He reports that “I have pretty much banked all the training sessions I had planned with little down time so I’m excited heading to the Port Mac starting line.”

In terms of race day he believes “a good swim can set-up a good race & with no uber biker in the starting list, I think the guys with the strongest marathons will come out on top.” This could play into Scotts hands, though we do know Crowie, Patrick and Pete Jacobs can all run a bit, so things could get very exciting on the last lap of the run!

Pete will be hoping to reproduce the scintillating run he exposed at Kona, however he has really only got into consistent training in the last 6 weeks. In terms of confidence Pete is “confident of my swim, which although I’ve only been training in the pool since March has improved quickly with an improved technique. I’m also confident in my bike, which only recently is getting towards its first peak of the year and feeling very comfortable on my new Boardman bike. And my run is going to be ok.” As for a race day strategy “I’ll be swimming hard from the start to get early distance from the majority of the field and try to maintain that over most competitors on the bike.”

An outside chance for the win on the day is Perth’s Courtney Ogden. Ogden also reports that his training has been going well, with minimal disruption and he expects to be close to his best on race day. He hopes that the bike leg will play a bit more of a factor in the race than some of the other pros. Courtey said “Personally, I am hoping the 12 metre rule is policed as well as it was in Busselton. If it is, the race will evolve differently to previous years and the cycle leg will have a larger impact on the end result. Of course, the run will be vitally important too, but some athletes should be eliminated in the cycle leg this year. In previous years, athletes have been able to sit in on the bike and save energy for the run, but with the 12 metre rule, this should no longer be possible.”

Finally up and coming athletes to keep an eye on include Adam Holborow, who reports that he hasn’t missed a session and is feeling the fittest he has ever been and Chris Dmitrieff.

Unfortunately the womans field is not as stacked this year, and bar illlness or mechanical failure it should be a comfortable win for Caroline Steffen who had a remarkable year in 2010, winning four Ironman 70.3 events and finishing second to Mirinda Carfrae in Hawaii, however she is yet to win a full Ironman race. Her recent second placing in the searing heat and wind of Abu Dhabi showed that she is back in top form and ready to take that final step on the podium. Caroline told Trizone that after the Abu Dhabi race she flew back to Thailand for a 5 week boot camp with her team TBB and coach Brett Sutton. She reports that “I’m healthy and have remained injury free. My preparation could not be better”

If there is any chink in the Steffan armour then Australia’s Nicole Ward will be waiting to pounce. The popular Sydney sider has had some recent changes in her training which she beliieves will serve her well “I have had an excellent prep for this race, under my new coaches Christina and Bruce Thomas, who have really taken me under their wing and given quite a different prep to what I have done previously. I am really looking forward to getting out there and seeing what I can do.  My last ironman was in the US in June last year and I had a great day but I decided with the heavy demands of work to take a bit of a break from ironman racing.  I think this has done me the world of good as it’s been great racing lots of half ironmans to work on my speed and I feel more refreshed.”

Let the games begin!