Nicholas Free and Lotte Wilms have claimed victory at IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast, with both athletes standing on the top step of the podium in their first ever IRONMAN 70.3 events.
Brisbane triathlete Free crossed the line in 3:39:44, just over a minute ahead of Josh Amberger, with Caleb Noble 30 seconds further behind in third position.
“It’s one of those days you dream of, that’s why you wake up and do all the training,” said Free. “Triathlon is such a hard sport, so many hours of training, so many long hours in the saddle, running those last 3km with everyone cheering for you makes it all worth it.
“It was definitely a tough day, definitely a long four hours, the second 45km of the bike was probably one of the toughest hours of my life, but as soon as I went out onto the run it was one of those days where I thought this feels amazing, I’m really happy and I’m really ready to go,” he said. “I dropped one of my gells at the start of the run and was a bit nervous about not having all of the nutrition that I had planned for, but I just made sure to grab water at every aid station and was pouring it over my head, those last 5km it was definitely heating up.
“I was fairly happy with my swim, coming out where I did, being in the lead group was a goal of mine, sitting in the bike it felt ok and then going out onto the run I thought I’m a chance here, I feel really, really, good and saw that the time gap was coming down fast,” said Free. “Until about 3km to go I didn’t really believe, I made sure that basically every person I passed on course gave me a time gap and they were letting me know if they could see Josh coming from behind but luckily I was able to hold them off.”
Amberger was first out of the water, 20 seconds clear of the chasing pack, with the top 10 males regularly swapping positions over the first half of the 90km bike course. Amberger, Lachlan Kerin and Steve McKenna then pushed ahead, with the leading three opening up an almost two minute gap heading onto the run.
Free started the run leg in eighth position, more than two minutes off the lead, but quickly ate into the gap, making his way up to third 7km in, and then taking the lead at the halfway mark.
Dutch born athlete Lotte Wilms claimed the women’s title in 4:11:34, almost four minutes ahead of Queensland’s Kirralee Seidel, with New Zealander Hannah Wells third.
Wilms has been based in Sydney since 2014, with the former professional swimmer only taking up triathlon in 2017.
“It was a little bit of a shock because I decided with my coach to get out there for the next 12 months and focus on IRONMAN 70.3 and learn and have a good experience and then see later whatever I could do,” said Wilms “I didn’t expect a podium and I just tried to have a good swim and focus on being aero on the bike and to be sure that I didn’t start too fast on the run, I think I just stayed cool in my head.
“The swim was pretty good, I was just focused on being as efficient as I could be, I wanted to get out of the water and still have energy, not with exhausted legs and that went really well,” she said. “I was just on my road bike because I couldn’t get my TT bike up from Sydney so I just did my best to be as aero as I could. I came off the bike and my heart rate was really low so my head felt really good but my legs felt really heavy, but my coach had already said to take it easy on the run so I thought if someone catches me that’s ok because I did really well on the swim and the bike but after every 5km I was still in the front, I could relax a little towards the end, this is the strangest thing ever because I just came here to learn and to see how I would go.”
Wilms has been in Queensland for the past few months as she pushed for selection in the Dutch triathlon team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“Three months ago I went to Port Douglas for some ITU racing, and then I stayed in Cairns to prepare for the Olympics, I was the reserve for the Netherlands,” said Wilms. “In the end I didn’t have to go over so I stayed in Cairns and Lauren Parker from the Paralympics came up and I trained with her for three weeks, it was a really good life experience. Lauren and I know each other from professional swimming back in 2003, we are long old friends, and when she left I had another three weeks in Cairns and I just did long swims, long bikes, long runs. I had a little bit of bad luck in Cairns because I came off my bike when my front wheel slipped on train tracks in the wet, and I couldn’t run for three weeks, I wasn’t really worried because I could still swim and ride.”
Current travel restrictions have been tough on Wilms, with her family in Holland and her partner in Sydney.
“My family is in Holland and sadly my Grandfather passed away three days ago, that was really upsetting because it was really unexpected, and my sister got married last night, COVID makes things tough but I’m not the only person in the world, we all have to deal with this and we just do our best,” she said. “My partner and I live in Sydney so we’ve been apart for three months, luckily there is Facetime these days and phone calls and it feels like we are all a little bit closer, I think after today I can let go of my emotions a little bit.”
Wilms led from start to finish, coming back onto Mooloolaba Beach following the 1.9km swim almost a minute ahead of Gillian Backhouse, with Hannah Wells another minute behind. Wilms powered ahead on the bike, opening up a four minute gap over Wells by the end of the 90km, with Kirralee Seidel finishing the leg in third. Over the course of the run Wilms maintained her lead, with Seidel overtaking Wells for second midway through the run.
For more information on IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast visit https://www.ironman.com/im703-sunshine-coast