PHILLIPS AND VISSER CLAIM NUTRI-GRAIN IRONMAN NEW ZEALAND TITLES
Mike Phillips and Els Visser are the 2023 IRONMAN New Zealand champions, with both athletes impressing on their way to victory in Taupō.
Phillips crossed the line in 7:56:05 to claim his second IRONMAN New Zealand title, with Visser taking the win in the women’s race on her first visit to the iconic race in 9:05:44.
Phillips, from Christchurch, took the win three minutes ahead of fellow Kiwi Braden Currie with Switzerland’s Jan Van Berkel a further 10 minutes behind in third.
The top two hit the run course just minutes apart with Currie hot on the heels of Phillips, making a move for the lead just as they passed the halfway mark. Currie pushed ahead before suffering from cramping in the final stages, allowing Phillips to retake the lead and claim the victory.
“It was a very hard day, I just tried to hang tough for as long as I could and sure enough it opened up in that last lap and I was able to take back the lead, but it was a really hard day out,” said Phillips. “I pushed pretty hard on the last part of the bike so I could have a bit of a head start on the run and I knew that if he started quite fast it might level us out at the back end, we were pretty similar pace and once he caught me he got a wee gap and then sure enough he started cramping and it came back the other way, it’s not often something like that happens, it was an awesome race.”
Phillips enjoyed going head-to-head with Currie across the day, with the two almost always within sight of each other over the 226km.
“We’ve always had a bit of banter throughout our years, I won in 2019 and then he’s had the better of me the last couple of times so it’s nice to get one back, I think it just raises the level of the racing here in New Zealand when you have a few guys going hammer and tong with each other, it was an awesome day,” said Phillips. “I was fighting off cramps in my quads and my calves and my stomach so I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other and it wasn’t until one and a half k to go that I could enjoy it. I won in 2019 so to come back and do it again, it’s easy to do it once but to do it twice is hard so it’s cool.”
Dutch athlete Els Visser claimed victory in the women’s race, just ahead of defending champion Hannah Berry, with Rebecca Clarke third.
Visser, who was on debut at IRONMAN New Zealand, finished in 9:05:44, with Berry nearly three minutes behind.
Clarke was the fastest female out of the water and led the way onto the bike, sitting about a minute ahead of Berry over the first half of the course, with Berry slowly chipping away until taking the lead with around 80km remaining.
From there the top two swapped positions on a number of occasions, but the big mover was Visser who rode her way up from sixth at the start of the bike to take the lead on one of the final climbs heading back into town, a lead she would hold onto throughout the 42.2km to the finish line.
“I really had to make some time up after the swim and before I had a chat with my coach and he said ok start steady on the bike and really try to ride super-fast on the last 40 kilometres, and he said when the others are ahead of you on the road really ride hard and try to catch up to them and go fast,” said Visser. “I was super happy that I was able to catch up with them on the last 10 kilometres and even to have a little lead, and it was great to come into T2 as first.
“I was actually pretty confident with my running, I was happy with my fitness but it was so tough today. I didn’t expect that, I had to go so deep and I’m so happy that I finished, that last lap was terrible but I was quite happy with lead I had,” she said. “I had five or four minutes from lap number two so I thought ok just hang in there and keep running and just make it to the finish line, kilometre for kilometre and every step for step, and yes I’m just so happy that I’ve finished and of course super stoked for the win.”
Visser’s last IRONMAN win came in 2018 at IRONMAN Netherlands, but was feeling confident about her race heading into Taupō off the back of a second place finish at the 2022 GWM IRONMAN Western Australia in December.
“That was really amazing, on the run there were so many spectators and everyone was cheering ‘you go girl’ and ‘hang in there’ and they were all cheering for me and I even heard someone said about Gaylene, I swam with her and I visit her tomorrow, and they said ‘Gaylene says go’ and I thought ok now I can’t really let her down, I can’t give up I really have to stay in there and make it to the finish line. I just really tried to stay mentally there and focus on my own race until the finish line.
“This means a lot to me, my last win was in 2018 so it’s been five years. This is my second win, I’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of setbacks and now I’m so happy to be back,” she said.
Fourth place in both the men’s and women’s professional races went to legends of the sport, Sebastian Kienle (DEU) and Meredith Kessler (USA).
12-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion said his farewell to the event as a professional with an impressive seventh position.
IRONMAN NEW ZEALAND – FINAL RESULTS
- Mike Phillips – 7:56:05
- Braden Currie – 7:59:17
- Jan Van Berkel – 8:10:22
- Sebastian Kienle – 8:14:04
- Matt Kerr – 8:27:58
- Simon Cochrane – 8:30:14
- Cameron Brown – 8:42:15
- Lucas Duross – 8:52:05
- Levi Hauwert – 9:04:44
- Jason Christie – 9:13:48
- Mike Tong – 9:28:41
- Matt Burton – 10:01:43
- Els Visser – 9:05:44
- Hannah Berry – 9:08:33
- Rebecca Clarke – 9:10:11
- Meredith Kessler – 9:30:51
- Ai Ueda – 9:42:51
- Laura Armstrong – 10:11:00
- Laura Wood – 10:22:30
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