Photo: Graeme Murray
By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Kiwi quality is set to mask the lack of quantity in Saturday’s Nutri-Grain Ironman 70.3 New Zealand women’s pro race as Hannah Berry (née Wells) and Rebecca Clarke resume their friendly long-distance rivalry in Taupō.
Berry and Clark headline a field of just seven pro women for the 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run alongside fellow Kiwis Laura Armstrong and Rebecca Kingsford, Australians Kirralee Seidel and Chloe Hartnett and Swede Anna Bergsten.
As reigning Ironman NZ and Ironman 70.3 Taupō champion, Berry will sport the No.1 bib on Saturday. After an injury-plagued start to 2022, the Tauranga 31-year-old has slowly built her fitness, encouraged along the way by podiums at Ironman 70.3 races in Boulder and the Sunshine Coast.
A tough day on the bike at last month’s Ironman 70.3 Melbourne saw her finish a frustrating sixth but Berry is amped for Taupō despite a recent bout of the sniffles.
“I had a little bit of sickness last week, just a head cold which has passed, but other than that my training has been super consistent recently and fitness has been trending well over the last while, so I’m feeling in a good place to finish the year off with a great race,” said Berry.
“2022 hasn’t been the smoothest or easiest year for me, and while I have had some success overseas in the later parts of the year, the year has felt like a lot of hard work and patience to get back to the fitness I am at now. If I was able to finish the year off with a win I would be incredibly happy.”
Clarke, meanwhile, will race for the first time since her encouraging top 20 on debut at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship, having qualified for Kona with a runner-up finish at Ironman Australia in May.
Since returning from Hawaii, the 33-year-old Aucklander has shifted to Wanaka to begin her summer training block and no doubt plot the downfall of Berry. The last time the pair raced in Taupō, Berry edged Clarke for the full Ironman NZ title.
“I’ve been on the podium but never won in Taupō so of course winning would be a great way to end the year,” Clarke said.
“There are always a few strategies you look at going into a race, but you also have to be reactive and make in-race decisions depending on how it plays out. With a field of around nine females, it will likely be a solo day for most of us or some small packs forming.
“A successful race is having the best performance across all three disciplines, if that gets me the win great, but if I’ve done a performance I’m proud of then I would still deem it a success.”
Clarke is keen to put her Ironman Worlds and PTO successes (including 8th at the U.S. Open) into practice in what will be her first home race since January’s Tauranga half.
“It’s definitely been my best year of long course racing over half and full IRONMAN races, my fastest IRONMAN and 17th at the World Champs, I was very pleased with that. The experience of racing the best in the world helps lift your game and I’m excited to use what I have learnt for future races,” said Clarke.
“I had a break post Kona, so it’s been a short block of training into this race, but the body has bounced back well so look forward to testing where I’m at.”
Nutri-Grain IRONMAN 70.3 New Zealand – Women’s Professional Field
1 – Hannah Berry (NZL)
2 – Rebecca Clarke (NZL)
4 – Kirralee Seidel (AUS)
6 – Anna Bergsten (SWE)
7 – Laura Armstrong (NZL)
8 – Chloe Hartnett (AUS)
10 – Rebecca Kingsford (NZL)