At any other time of year, 70.3 Racine wouldn’t be a terribly big race. But less than two months from the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, talent comes oozing out of the woodwork. Any time the reigning 70.3 World Champ (Tim Reed) and Germany’s former 70.3 World Champ (Michael Raelert) pop in for a race in Wisconsin, you know things are gonna be serious.
Then Mother Nature seriously screwed things up. Thanks to cold waters and choppy conditions, Ironman officials decided to scuttle the swim at 70.3 Racine Sunday, turning the race into a time trial bike/run event. With athletes starting the bike at 30-second intervals, it presented everyone with the unenviable “flying blind” experience—not knowing where you stood in the race until all athletes had finished.
As the Aussies say, No dramas, mate. It was a full Aussie podium sweep, with Wattie Ink pros Sam Appleton taking the win and countrymate Joe Gambles taking third. The two Wattie Ink. aces bookended world champ Reed, who took second. Gambles had a tough rabbit 30 seconds up the road in Andrew Starykowicz. As his first race back after Ironman Cairns, Gambles found success keeping the renowned bike gunner in check. “Considering I was just looking to blow some rust out after Cairns, I was pretty happy that I was having a great race."
Behind, another athlete was having a banner day: Appleton. 15 miles into the 56-mile bike, Appleton passed Gambles, quickly knew his teammate would be the high water mark: “Tactically, I rode as hard as I could,” Gambles says, “But Appo came past, and he was on another level. I was 15 watts better than when I raced him at 70.3 Santa Rosa eight weeks ago, and he still rode five minutes into me today. He’s going really well.”
Maybe it was anger on Appleton’s part; losing the swim took away his ace in the hole.“Coming from a swimming background, I was particularly disappointed with the cancelled swim. But being a pro triathlete, you have to be dynamic and adjust to situations. I got my head back in the game and formulated a plan of attack for the TT start.”
The advantage of being a big-name athlete? A low athlete number. And when that number 6 was sent off as one of the last starters, it left Appleton in that enviable position: the chaser. “I felt as though I had a slight advantage on the guys ahead of me; they were the proverbial 'carrot on a stick.’” Appleton says. Not long after passing Gambles, Appleton caught and passed Starykowicz. From there, the 13.1-mile run was clinical for both Appleton and Gambles, each reeling off half marathons that helped them hold their positions through to the finish.
“It was awesome to share the podium with good mates Tim Reed and Joe for an all-Aussie domination,” Appleton says.
For both Gambles and Appleton it’s now eyes forward—toward Kona for Gambles, and Chattanooga for Appleton. Gambles weighed competing at 70.3 Worlds ahead of the Ironman World Championships, but decided to focus on one rather than spread himself too thin. “It’s too specialized, too hard to be good at both Ironman and 70.3 now, so to be competitive, I know I have to focus on Kona,” Gambles said. “I don’t want to walk away from Kona saying I didn’t do everything I could.”
For Appleton, the blade needs a slight sharpening in the next month and a half. With no more races on the docket, all his focus goes toward trying to claim that precious Ironman 70.3 World Champion title.
“I used Racine as a progress check on my training,” Appleton says. “I’m taking a week really easy to mentally recharge for the next big block of work leading into 70.3 Worlds in eight weeks. That will be my next race and I’m excited to see how I go there.”
All photos (c) Jon Behrends