Race preview: strong men’s battle expected at Ironman Western Australia

Ironman Western Australia prepares for a strong field of pro athletes (Picture: press release)

A strong field of male professional triathletes are preparing to go head-to-head for the Ironman Western Australia title this Sunday in Busselton.

Headlining the men’s race this year’s race is Denmark’s Daniel Bækkegård, who will make his IM Western Australia debut. Bækkegård heads to Western Australia following a first win on Australian soil at Challenge Canberra last weekend and is looking forward to taking on the iconic Busselton event.

“I feel good, the whole experience training and staying Down Under has been incredible and that’s the energy I’m going to bring into the race,” said Bækkegård. “I’m just looking forward to experiencing Western Australia to be honest. I’ve heard it’s an amazing place with incredible backing from the local community.”

While this year’s trip is the Dane’s first taste of training and racing in Australia it’s clearly already had an impact on the 27-year-old.

“I’m definitely going to come back, no matter what,” he said, “I feel like Danes and Australians are quite similar when you throw in the nature, excitement for outdoor activities and the food scene here makes the perfect combo for me.”

Bækkegård is known as being a strong cyclist and heads to Busselton with a number of victories across IM and IM 70.3 races under his belt. “People say you have to crack all competitors early, but I’ve only had a couple of weeks training and a race last weekend so I’m not really sure I’m in shape for that. It’s all about the Kona slot and enjoying a good hit out with the boys, I can’t wait.”

A strong field of Australians are out to make sure their Danish competitor doesn’t have it all his own way, with Adelaide’s Steve McKenna at the top of that list.

McKenna has had a strong 12 months of racing at home, finishing second at IM Western Australia last year, and more recently claiming his first Ironman victory at IM Australia in Port Macquarie in May and backing that up with a second at June’s IM Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns.

“I’m confident with where I’m at fitness and strength wise for sure, my training has been mostly IM specific this year and all that way recently,” said McKenna. “We’ve had a few viruses at home lately to dodge and I tore a ligament in my foot during IM 70.3 Melbourne, so there’s been the usual Ironman coming up stress, but nothing I haven’t raced well with before. 

McKenna is looking forward to taking on some of the best triathletes from home and abroad this Sunday. “It’s a tough course in the TT position for 180km, this is a strength of mine so I hope to see some athletes start to suffer late in the bike if they haven’t put their bodies through enough TT time,” he said. “I’ll be hunting on the run, the other guys will likely hope to have some time on me starting that run. My plan is to swim and bike at or near the front, so if that slows my run down, so be it, but it’s a race where some seriously strong swim-bikers are going to be giving it a crack so I’ll expect to go with the race and not my perfect or ideal plan.”

Sam Appleton returns to Western Australia for the first time since his IM debut in Busselton in 2019 where he finished fourth.

Appleton, who is based in Boulder, Colorado, these days was second behind McKenna at Ironman Australia earlier this year and is looking forward to lining up on Sunday.

“I’m feeling really good, I’ve put together a really good training block, and the motivation is still high even though we are at the end of the season,” said Appleton. “I have had a great prep, the weather has been really good in Boulder. I got lucky as it has been the warmest start to Autumn in the last 40 years in Boulder. I still choose to do a lot of indoor riding though as I think time on the trainer prepares the body really well for the demands on the Ironman Western Australia course.”

Appleton has fond memories of his first Ironman in Busselton and is keen for another strong race this year. “2019 was my first IM and I loved it,” he said. “I always wanted to make it back to Busso since doing that race in 2019. The swim is so picturesque and the run along Geographe Bay is something special. The crowd support is always great out on the run course as well.

“I’ve put in a really good training block and I think that will put me in a good spot for Sunday. However, the IM is an unforgiving beast and sometimes best intentions don’t always play out,” he said.

Perth’s Matt Burton is the only athlete in the men’s field who has stood on the top step of the podium in Busselton, claiming victory at the event in 2022.

“It’s my favourite day of the year and with the event back to sold out numbers it’s great for the sport and for WA triathlon,” said Burton. “It’s home, everyone and everything about this race is why I love the sport. Busso is very much a team effort at home so it’s much bigger than just me.”

Burton heads into his home race having most recently finished fourth at IM 70.3 Melbourne at the start of the month. “Melbourne was good though it’s all been focused to being great this weekend,” he said. “The bookie wouldn’t back me based on my year though when I fronted up to Melbourne it wasn’t a race to flex at and respect the current phase of training. Melbourne’s result was a surprise to be honest though the output was the personal success for me.

“It’s important to put ego aside, especially when I shifted all my focus to Busso mid-year after a trip to Asia knocked me flat for a period,” said Burton. “It’s great to be feeling myself and Melbourne was great conditioning toward Busso.”

Sunday’s event is set to be the largest ever IM Western Australia, with more than 3,000 athletes taking on either the IM or IM 70.3 and Burton says the interest in the event is positive for all involved.

“It’s fantastic for the sport, for the region and for WA triathlon and multisport. The weather also looks to be a lovely week in the South West which captures the essence of the region and why so many West Australians favour Busso and surrounds as their preferred holiday and relaxation destination,” said Burton. “Busselton’s general population has also seen dramatic growth in recent times, all due to the attractive way of life in the area.

“The City of Busselton have been great supporters of triathlon and endurance sport for years and continue to give back to the great endurance community in WA,” he said. “The updated finish line area will be a highlight to so many from home and abroad with a special feel on the great foreshore precinct that Busselton town now offers.”