Photos: Sean Beale + Ironman

By Kent Gray/

Ironman Pro Series debuts for Hannah Berry and Rebecca Clarke and unprecedented tactical decisions set to confront Braden Currie make this weekend’s Ironman Texas an intriguing prospect for Kiwi triathlon fans.

The 226km test in The Woodlands, Houston will play triple duty from 11:25pm on Saturday NZT given its additional status as Ironman’s 2024 North American Championship and the second round of the exciting new IM Pro Series, the first over the full distance.

For Currie, it’s a chance to consolidate his solid, albeit stressful, start to the series at 70.3 Oceanside earlier this month. The Wanaka 37-year-old was DQ’d for speeding in a controlled decent zone only to have his original 6th placing reinstated on appeal.

Canadian Lionel Sanders won in Oceanside to collect the maximum 2500 points available in 70.3 races. Points at IMPS races are then awarded on a diminishing scale, at the rate of a point per second, to the winner’s time, meaning Currie opened his campaign with 2067 points.

Full distance races carry 5000 points for the winner so Currie knows he can seriously put himself in the overall series conversation with a good race in Houston. Athletes can use points from up to five races – a maximum of three of them over the full distance – in the race for a share of the Pro Series’ US$1.7million bonus prize pool.

Heat (quite literally in Texas) of the moment tactics will be a feature throughout the Pro Series, especially for those in contention for the $200k first place booty. Currie knows there could be a decision to make at any stage, whether to go for glory or even the podium, or if easing off to accumulate points might be a more prudent long-term strategy.

“It’s always hard because obviously we want a race to win, but I think with the Ironman Pro Series there’s races that you can probably take more of a risk on but with this one, I don’t know the course, I think it’s going to be very hot and it’s still early-ish in the year so this one is probably the one where I just race it to be consistent, to race strong, and hope for a good result,” said Currie.

“My approach to Texas will probably be different compared to something like Ironman Cairns where I know the race and I know the course. Also, if you look at later in the year with the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Taupō or Ironman 70.3 Western Australia, then you’ve got a fair idea of where you’re sitting and what points you need to chase, so it might make a difference to how I race those last few races too.”

While he’s won five full and four 70.3 titles, consistency would well be the key in 2024. In Houston, he’ll face stiff competition from the likes of two-time Ironman World Champion Patrick Lange (DEU), American’s Matthew Marquardt and Matt Hanson (USA), Brit Joe Skipper (GBR) and Robert Wilkowiecki of Poland.

“… there’s actually a really good reward for chasing the series and being consistent in the racing. I like to think that normally I’m a pretty consistent athlete over the years and if I can put together my four or five consistent good races, that should leave me in a pretty good spot overall,” Currie said.

“Things have gone pretty smoothly ahead of Texas,”

“I’ve been up in Boulder for two weeks and it’s been going well, training at altitude and the body’s feeling good, settled into time zone and America way of living. Now I’m just looking forward to these last few days and getting into the heat and doing some racing.”

Berry hasn’t raced over the full-distance since her impressive 11th place finish at the VinFast Ironman World Championship in October last year, choosing to skip IM New Zealand in March to focus on the Pro Series.

In addition to Ironman Texas’ US$175,000 in prizemoney, there are six qualifying slots per gender for this year’s VinFast Ironman World Championships – the men in Kona and the women in Nice.

Qualifying for the latter is a priority for Clarke who is coming off a tough 16th place at T100 Singapore.

“My main focus is firstly Nice IRONMAN World Champs qualification,” said Clarke who will race her first full of the year after a positive COVID test ruled her out of Ironman NZ in March.

“I missed out on racing there in 2019 for the IRONMAN 70.3 Worlds and I’ve really wanted to race there ever since, so securing a slot for Nice is the first goal. There are six spots for pro females so a top six would guarantee a slot.

“Banking good points for the Ironman Pro Series is also important, each race really counts with having five races for your total points. The last two years I’ve raced three Ironmans a year pretty consistently which will be rewarded in this series if you can race consistently all year and across three Ironmans.”

The 2023 Ironman Texas women’s podium – Kat Matthews (GBR), Maja Stage Nielsen (DNK), and Jocelyn McCauley (USA) – are all returning, underscoring the challenge ahead for Clarke and Berry.

“It’s a big field with 40 women racing and I would say I’ve probably raced against about a third of the athletes on the start list,” said Clarke.

“I would say about 10 girls have a chance of the podium so it’s going to be a very competitive race. There are a couple of very strong swimmers so I expect there will be three or four of us coming out of the water together. The bike course is predominantly flat but could be windy which may break up bike groups. It’s hard to predict from there, strong cyclists further back may bridge up and the humid conditions may play a part. I expect athletes like Kat Matthews to be the ones making the moves going into the marathon.

“It is early in the season and with the championship races not until September and December, I wouldn’t say I’m in peak performance shape, but I am in good shape. Having COVID seven weeks ago, my coach and I were cautious at first and we wanted to make sure I firstly turned up on the start line healthy,” she said. “It hasn’t been a massive Ironman block with the timeframes we were working with, but I have done sessions which make me confident for a good performance.”

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