Returning Champions Phillips (NZL), McCauley (USA) back to defend Ironman NZ Titles


Mike Phillips returns to defend his Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand title this Saturday but does so knowing that the challengers are lining up and taking aim, with the Christchurch athlete firmly in the sights of a qualify field of domestic and international athletes.

2019 was a breakthrough performance for the Cantabrian, winning his first full IRONMAN event on his home shores despite a mechanical and heavy crash on the bike but unfortunately the rest of the year was blighted by injury and illness and he comes into 2020 light on training.

“I broke my hand in the crash at IRONMAN New Zealand but had a quick recovery and won another race a month or so later. Unfortunately, some more bad luck followed, and I picked up a gastro bug which stuck with me most of the remainder of the year, I couldn’t absorb my race nutrition and ended up walking a few IRONMAN marathons. Then a herniated disc in my back had me hobbling around and missing the early season races in New Zealand. 

“It’s been a tight timeframe to return for Taupō. I started cycling mid-December and start running mid-January. My swimming and cycling have improved but I am still very light on the run mileage.”  

Despite that rocky rest of the year, Phillips looks back fondly on his race at this time last year when he mowed the field down with a record breaking 2:40:04 marathon, a personal best by ten minutes that saw the 29-year-old overturn a 17 minute deficit off the bike.

“Last year was a great day for many reasons. To win my first full IRONMAN event at home made it all the more special. I had my share of bad luck and the race had many ups and downs but to secure the win with only a few kilometres to go made it pretty exciting. 

I had prepared a lot for the run in training. I thought I would have to run really well to have a shot at winning. After the couple of incidents on the bike I lost a bit of hope and just decided to get to the run and see if this run training worked or not. It was only midway through I realised I was back in contention and started taking splits to Starky (American Andrew Starykowicz). I think I had to make up around 30 seconds a kilometre to catch him, it was a huge relief to see him battling up one of the last hills only just in front of me.” 

Amongst the contenders will again be Braden Currie, the Wanaka athlete finished third last year behind Phillips and American Andrew Starykowicz, ending his year with a 7th place at Kona with the third fastest run split.

“Last year wasn’t the result I came for; I pretty much always shoot to win. It was phenomenal day from those boys, I didn’t have a bad day, Starky had a great day and was close at the end and Mike had an absolute blinder. We didn’t expect him to run the way he did but full credit, it was pretty amazing. Hopefully this year I can have one of those runs.”

Currie knows that anyone who lines up will be tough, with Phillips looking to defend and Joe Skipper (GBR) making the trip down under to start his season but is wary of one name in particular, and it is a familiar one.

“I think the biggest threat this year is probably Cameron Brown. If he can pull off a good race in a pro field that is perhaps smaller than usual, he will be right up there. Let’s face it, Cameron is not the athlete you would want to have a running race with at the end of an IRONMAN, no matter what happens he won’t change form, he will keep his shape and keep ploughing on.

“But it is always special to win a race in your home country, this is always high on my list of races that I want to do well at throughout the year, I will be absolutely stoked,” said Currie.

Cameron Brown (ONZM) is himself not shying away from the goal of again standing on the top step of the podium, despite turning 48 in a few months, the indefatigable Aucklander keeps coming back for more and a possible 13th title after the disappointment of a rare failure to finish last year.

“It was a little bit embarrassing pulling out, but I was just having one of those days when I was feeling the worst I have ever felt really. It was just one of those days when it wasn’t happening and I couldn’t ruin my body for a couple of months, so it was a matter of calling it a day, which is never nice. I was just drained and had nothing left to contemplate running 42k.”

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Brown of course has nothing to be embarrassed about, he has graced this stage and this event for 23 years, winning on an amazing 12 occasions and admits he is still motivated by the thought of another victory.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was trying to win it, but it gets very hard as you age, I am three months away from 48 and I have to look at things a little differently. I dream of being on top of that podium again, but it would have to be a massive day, the goal I think is to have a day I am proud of. If I can have a day when I feel good then I know I can go well again, the sessions I have been putting in are still right up there, so the form is there I just have to apply it on race day.”

Others to keep an eye on include the well performed British Athlete Joe Skipper, the 31-year-old is renowned for his biking ability and was second in Taupo in 2016, and is a former medalist at the ITU Long Distance World Championship

Of the other locals keep an eye out for Dougal Allan, fresh of his runner-up finish at the famed Coast to Coast, Allan says that disappointment is motivating him to line up in Taupō.

“While it is true my love for multisport is tops, I do find IRONMAN is the great test I have found as an athlete. It is a truly global sport and offers a much deeper level of competition and requires a much greater performance for success,” said Allan.

“I committed a huge amount to my Coast to Coast campaign this summer and the disappointment of my second place left me wanting to find another opportunity to use the fitness I have built over the past few months. In my mind Coast to Coast and IMNZ are New Zealand’s flagship endurance events, so it was an easy decision to choose IRONMAN New Zealand as the second test of my fitness for the New Zealand summer.”

2020 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand Pro Men Start List

(bib number, name, nationality)

1 Mike Phillips (NEW ZEALAND)

2 Braden Currie (NEW ZEALAND)

3 Cameron Brown (NEW ZEALAND)

4 Joe Skipper (UNITED KINGDOM)

5 Mark Bowstead (NEW ZEALAND)

6 Dougal Allan (NEW ZEALAND)

7 Chris Schroeder USA (UNITED STATES)

8 Dylan McNeice (NEW ZEALAND)

9 Mathias Lyngsø Petersen (DENMARK)

10 Simon Cochrane (NEW ZEALAND)

11 George Gwynn (NEW ZEALAND)

12 Philipp Koutny (SWITZERLAND)

14 Ben Phillips (NEW ZEALAND)

15 Fabian Rahn (GERMANY)

16 Olly Shaw (NEW ZEALAND)

17 Nathan Shearer (AUSTRALIA)

18 Justin Wendemuth (AUSTRALIA)


American IRONMAN athlete Jocelyn McCauley is returning to her happy place as she prepares to defend her title at Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in Taupõ on Saturday, in a country that holds a very special place in her heart.

McCauley was an impressive winner in race record time in 2019, setting a new mark of 8:53:10 on the back of a 2:58:06 course record for the marathon as she held off Teresa Adam (New Zealand) and five time winner Meredith Kessler (USA), both of whom are returning in 2020.

While McCauley clearly loves the course and success here, it is her love for the town and New Zealand in a broader sense that sees her return year after year to start her season.

“While I do enjoy this course, my love is more centered on the country, the town, and the people. I visited New Zealand when I was 12 and fell in love with it. Every time I come back to this amazing country I feel at home. Everyone involved in this race, from the Race Director and management team to the volunteers, is exceptional. That is the secret behind what makes this race amazing.”

McCauley takes a very pragmatic approach to her racing, coming into 2020 without any undue pressure on herself to repeat last year’s result.

“The approach to 2020 is like any other year. When I race, I always race to win, so there isn’t any more pressure this year than in years past. I only can go out there and give what my body has. That’s how I always race.”

The main competition to McCauley is both daunting and familiar, with the podium returning from 2019. Teresa Adam (New Zealand) has finished runner-up twice (2018 and 2019) and has mixed up her training in preparation for Taupõ , winning the Time Trial title at the recent New Zealand Road Cycling Championships in Cambridge.

And it is the roads that are top of mind for Adam as the Asia-Pacific IRONMAN champion contemplates another tilt at a first New Zealand title.

“The course in Taupõ is always a huge challenge. The roads on the bike are the classic New Zealand surface, good ol’ heavy rough chip, so you always start to feel it coming into T2! The run is also quite tricky, as the rolling terrain out the back half of the lap starts to bite in the last part of the marathon. However, this challenging terrain, along with the incredible crowd support, is what makes me love racing in Taupõ!

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“Obviously being a proud Kiwi, I would really love to win my ‘home’ race in Taupõ. However, at the end of the day, all I try to focus on is my own race plan and performance, and whatever happens, happens!”  

Also, on the start line is five-time New Zealand champion Meredith Kessler (USA), her third-place finish last year all the more remarkable with 15 month old son Mak watching on from the sidelines. Like McCauley, Kessler considers Taupõ her spiritual home.

“It is so special and enriching every time we come to New Zealand yet last year was especially gratifying to share it all with Mak and my husband, Aaron. Two years prior, Mak was a budding baby boy in my body at IRONMAN New Zealand in March, unbeknownst to us! So, in some respects, this makes New Zealand more meaningful to us and a kindred spirit for Mak!

“We value and appreciate being able to show him our haven of Taupõ. It’s been a whirlwind tour these past nine years coming to IRONMAN New Zealand and ones we hold very dear to our hearts. Even though we only spend two to three out of 52 weeks in a year in Taupõ, when we come back, we love catching up with old Kiwi friends that have become like family and being embraced by the town as we walk through the streets. As we have always said, it is truly like our second home.”

Kessler says she is stronger and has banked more endurance training into her legs another year on from Mak’s arrival.

“Last year, in particular, it was clear that I had ‘newer mom’ 70.3 legs, and it showed in my results. I did not have the resilience I needed to be able to conquer the distance at that time and three quarters through the bike and run, my body was wishing the race was indeed a 70.3!

“Coming into 2020, the objective has been to gear training towards IRONMAN numbers and be able to sustain this throughout the entire race, not just for half of it! The focus also has been on efficiency rather than an abundance of volume. As you get older too, it is imperative to train smarter, not necessarily longer.

“Over the many years in this sport, and IRONMAN New Zealand being my near 70th IRONMAN distance, these ol’ legs have banked thousands of miles, and the muscle memory is there. The goal has also been to get my bike and run to its happy place, so fine-tuning has been the forefront of the preparation.”

The returning 2019 podium will not have it all their own way on Saturday however, with plenty of other candidates lurking in one of the deepest women’s fields seen for some years in Taupõ. Amongst those athletes the one to watch might well be Radka Khalefeldt as the Czech athlete debuts over the full IRONMAN distance.

The 70.3 expert and mother of toddler Ruby may be an unknown quantity at the full IRONMAN race but has knowledge of the course following her dominant victory at Taupõ 70.3 in late 2018. The form of the Australian based athlete (married to former Australian ITU star Brad Kahlefeldt) has been superb, with seven wins and 11 podiums from 13 starts in 2019.

Lisa Roberts (USA) is a six-time champion around the globe and one of the top-five women with the most sub three-hour race-day marathons, meaning she will always be lurking in the minds of the other athletes on Saturday.

One of the more fascinating characters lining up on Saturday is Rachel (Rach) McBride. The colourful Canadian (literally adorned with significant body art) is a renowned cyclist in the sport, holding numerous bike course records at 70.3 and IRONMAN race distance around the world.

2020 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand Pro Women Start List

(bib number, name, nationality)

21 Jocelyn McCauley (UNITED STATES)

22 Teresa Adam (NEW ZEALAND)

23 Meredith Kessler (UNITED STATES)

24 Lisa Roberts (UNITED STATES)

25 Rachel McBride (CANADA)

26 Radka Kahlefeldt (CZECH REPUBLIC)

27 Kelsey Withrow (UNITED STATES)

29 Judith Corachan Vaquera (SPAIN)

30 Melanie Burke (NEW ZEALAND)

31 Julia Grant (NEW ZEALAND)

32 Federica De Nicola (ITALY)

33 Laura Dennis (AUSTRALIA)

34 Alyssa Godesky (UNITED STATES)

35 Jennifer Lentzke (CANADA)

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