Race preview: women’s race Ironman 70.3 Taupo

Title defender Hannah Berry (Picture: press release Ironman)

Leading New Zealand triathletes and up-and-coming Australian challengers are set to do battle for the Ironman 70.3 Taupō title in the women’s professional race this Saturday 9 December. Ironman 70.3 Taupō returns for the first time in four years, with the last race in 2019 won by Tauranga’s Hannah Berry.

Berry also finished second at Ironman 70.3 New Zealand this time last year, after the 2022 edition of that event, alongside Ironman New Zealand, was postponed to December. “Preparations have gone well,” said Berry. “I enjoyed a bit of a break after the Ironman World Championship in Kona, and so have really only done a couple of solid weeks of training since then but have been feeling good so I’m confident I can put together a good race for me.

“It feels like such a treat to be back home and racing here in New Zealand. I had a great winter away training and racing overseas but nothing beats coming home and racing here,” she said.

Whilst taking out the win is the ultimate goal, Berry will be able to relax into the race knowing she has already qualified for the 2024 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, to be held in Taupō in just over 12 months’ time, courtesy of her victory at Ironman 70.3 Cozumel in September.

“I’m really stoked to have my spot already secure for the World Champs in Taupō next year,” she said. “This event will be huge for us, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to race a World Champs at home here in Taupō for the first time in history.

“Having my spot secured already also means that if I finish in the higher positions at this event on Saturday, the spots will roll down to some other local athletes hopefully, and the more Kiwis we can have qualified for the 2024 World Champs the better,” said Berry.

Auckland’s Rebecca Clarke, who finished third last December at Ironman 70.3 New Zealand, is excited to line up in Taupō for a home race after a big season of overseas racing. “I’m feeling pretty relaxed and excited to finish off the year in one of my favourite places in New Zealand,” said Clarke. “With an off season break post IRONMAN World Championship in Kona and having downtime at home, preparation has been quite short, but sessions have gone well in the last couple of weeks which gives me confidence and excitement to race.

“I always love lining up at races at home, it’s been nine months since the last race here, IRONMAN New Zealand, and while racing overseas is amazing, it makes you appreciate how awesome the races we have here are and especially the ease of racing in towns such as Taupō. Race logistics can be challenging at times overseas, so going to a familiar location where it is easy to swim in the lake, ride and run just makes preparation less stressful,” she said.

Having claimed her first Ironman 70.3 title on the Sunshine Coast in September, Clarke has her sights set on a first victory in Taupō to cap off a strong year of racing.

“I’ve never won in Taupō, I’ve had second and third places so to win in Taupō would be very special. The aim is to always execute the race the best I can and hopefully the result will follow. There is a strong Oceania women’s field and athletes at various stages of in season or early season, so it should be an exciting dynamic,” she said.

Like Berry, Clarke also heads into the race on Saturday knowing her place on the 2024 Ironman 70.3 World Championship start line is secure.

“It’s great to already have my spot locked in for Taupō Ironman 70.3 Worlds, it means I can plan my season to perform well there, and it will be amazing to have a World Champs in New Zealand and have lots of family and friends supporting me. I’ve never raced an Ironman 70.3 World Championship before so it will be really special to race my first at home and it will be a big focus for me next year,” said Clarke.

A host of young and talented Oceania triathletes, many coming from short course backgrounds, will be hoping to make their mark on Ironman 70.3 racing this Saturday, including Kiwis Angharad Llewellyn, Hannah Knighton, Deborah Fuller, Kiri Atkin, Samantha Kingsford and Heather Neil.

Amongst the women’s professional start list Sunshine-Coast based Dutch athlete Lotte Wilms, four Australians, Aleisha Wesley, Chloe Hartnett, Sophie Perry and Emily Donker, and Canadian Jenny Fletcher, will be hoping to spoil New Zealand’s party.

Wilms heads into Ironman 70.3 Taupō off the back of finishing third at last weekend’s Ironman Western Australia and will be hoping the body recovers well in time to put together another strong performance on Saturday.

“The mind is very good, I always love to be on an Ironman podium. The body of course worked hard last weekend, but I have a great recovery nutrition plan and had some ice baths, spas and massages that helps to get the body recover quicker than normal,” said Wilms.

“I’m really fortunate that I already have my qualification slot for Taupō 2024 and don’t have to worry about that. A successful race would be to get a good feel for the course to prepare myself as best as I can for the World Championship next year,” she said. “I love to see the environment and the community. I have heard very good stories about the local people in Taupō. The lake looks amazing. I have heard the town and local people really go above and beyond to make you feel welcome.”  

Aleisha Wesley made her Ironman 70.3 debut in Melbourne last month after focusing on short course racing for most of her career to date, with the 24-year-old impressing on her way to a fifth place finish.

“I have been really motivated to build on my performance since my Ironman70.3 debut last month,” said Wesley. “I hadn’t planned on racing an Ironman 70.3 until much later on in my triathlon career, but I started lacking a bit of motivation in short course racing this season, so I felt like I needed a change and wanted to set myself a different goal to strive towards.

“I honestly didn’t expect to come fifth in my debut Ironman 70.3, I was maybe hoping to just scrape in the top 10. I went into the race with absolutely no expectations on myself and just wanted to see how I’d go. I’m definitely one to take risks and am not afraid to push the pace which is exactly what I did on the bike leg with it being such a fast course. In saying that I did suffer a bit on the run from the excitement on the bike but now I have learnt from that, and I know what I need to do differently next time,” she said.

The Perth-based triathlete says she is excited to race in Taupō and test herself against some of the more seasoned professionals. Mainly though, she has her eyes on a 2024 Ironman 70.3 World Championship slot – there are two available in both the women’s and men’s professional races.

“I am most excited to be racing and making myself suffer again but my eyes are now set on qualifying for the World Champs next year after my debut Ironman 70.3. I’ve had the fun, now it’s time to get serious,” said Wesley.