Tasmania’s Jake Birtwhistle and Queensland’s Ellie Salthouse have claimed the men’s and women’s professional titles at the first ever Ironman 70.3 Tasmania. For birtwhistle it was his first 70.3 race ever. Birtwhistle and Salthouse headed into the event as two of the favourites and lived up to the pre-race hype, impressing on their way to victory.
Local hero Birtwhistle put his Olympic and Commonwealth Games experience to good use, pushing through on the run to cross the finish line on the Princes Wharf No 1 forecourt in 3:49:21, 15 seconds clear of Mitch Kibby with Caleb Noble just behind in third.
Birtwhistle’s win was all the more impressive as it was his first ever Ironman 70.3 race, doubling the distance he normally competes across.
“I’m stoked, that was a really cool race and to win on debut is pretty special and to do it at home in Tasmania is something even cooler, the first event of Ironman in Tassie so I’m really stoked to put my name first on that list of winners and hope to come back in the future years,” said Birtwhistle. “It was really cool to race here in Tassie, I don’t get the chance to do that often and especially at an event of this level it’s really cool, to be here in Tassie and to race like that and to have all the support out on course was really special as well. It was a tough day and they definitely helped get me through.”
Birtwhistle came out of the water alongside Brisbane’s Josh Amberger, with the pair pushing hard early to put a gap on the chasing pack as they made their way through the 90km bike course.
“I’m stoked, I really had no idea what was going to happen out there today, my plan was to follow and see what happened and I found myself out the front with Josh (Amberger) for a while there and the rest course us about 80km into the bike and I thought we had done it all for nothing for a while,” said Birtwhistle. “I just tried to stay cool on the run for that first lap, just stick to my pace and hope that I would be able to bring Caleb back on the last lap and thankfully I was able to get there and do that.
“I was really looking forward to the bike, I love getting on the TT bike and trying to hold a consistent power through 90km and I’m really happy with what I was able to do today, just keep it cool, not going too hard too early which was a bit of a concern having not done this kind of race before, I didn’t want to spend all of my bikkies too soon, but I’m really happy that I was to execute the whole race.”
The top seven all returned to transition within 30 seconds of each other, with Perth’s Matt Burton the first off the bike and Birtwhistle third. Caleb Noble got the early jump on the 21.1km run around the Hobart waterfront, opening up an almost minute gap at the front before Birtwhistle chipped away at it, eventually take the lead with five kilometres to go.
“My first time racing this distance I didn’t want to go too early, even when I hit the lead I wanted to turn the screws a bit and all of a sudden started cramping instantly so went from trying to get away with a lead to battling myself for a while, Mitch (Kibby) was then coming in real hot in the last kilometre so I had to keep pushing through, it was a really hard race and I’m stoked.”
Ellie Salthouse was at the front of the field all day, showing the form that has taken her to multiple Ironman 70.3 victories across the world, taking the win in 4:25:08, less than a minute ahead of Grace Thek, with Penny Slater third.
“The plan was to go from the gun and be on my own all day but I had some company which was a surprise but I just stuck to my plan and I knew my run legs were really good, I’ve been training well on the run so I had to back myself when all four girls came together and luckily it paid off,” said Salthouse. “It wasn’t my best day performance wise, I was a bit sick earlier in the week, I was questioning whether I was even going to come down but I came good and ended up coming down, I was just lacking a little bit of power today and a little bit of a lack in energy but to take the win is really special, my parents are here and my boyfriend is here, it’s really nice to be able to race in Australia.”
The day kicked off with a 1.9km swim from the back of the Brooke St Pier, with athletes working their way around Battery Point before returning to shore to begin the ride.
“It was actually warmer than I expected, coming from Queensland I’ve been cold all week so I was expecting the worse but it was a little warmer than expected which was a pleasant surprise,” said Salthouse. “The bike course was a lot harder than on paper, obviously quite hilly and lots of technical parts so you had to be attentive the whole course but it made it go quickly and kept you on your toes.”
Salthouse and Chloe Hartnett pushed ahead early on the bike, trading positions at the front before Penny Slater and Grace Thek caught them towards the end of the 90km, with the top four starting the run within 30 seconds of each other. Salthouse hit the lead within the first kilometre and didn’t look back from there, going on to win her 14th Ironman 70.3 race win.
“I tried to go from the start and when I got a little gap that was when I knew I might have had better legs today, you don’t want to be running with Grace (Thek) breathing down your neck, she’s quite a fast runner typically so I had to have a bit of a gap, I couldn’t slack off at all,” she said. “To finish last year with a win and to start this year with a win means that the Aussie campaign is off to a great start and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”