Phillips has Target on His Back as Defender IRONMAN New Zealand

Thursday 05 March 2020

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 Taupo. 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.”
 
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 Taupo.
 
“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.

2020 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand Pro Men Start List

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)

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