Ironman: Kiwis Braden Currie, Mike Phillips take rivalry to Cairns in world championship build-up

Kiwi Ironman stars Braden Currie and Mike Phillips will have one eye on the looming world championship and the other on each other, when they line up at Cairns on Sunday.

Raced over the full 3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run distance, the event provides an ideal stepping stone for the NZ rivals, as they build towards their respective tilts at the world crown at Nice in September.

With their domestic racing programmes now complete, Currie and Phillips are transitioning to their European bases, with this North Queensland stopover a chance to step up in competition along the way.

While the opportunity to battle some Aussies is appealing to both, neither are under any illusion where the real challenge will likely come from somewhere out there on the road.

"There's always good rivalry between the Aussies and the Kiwis," insists Currie, who is no stranger to the event, after winning in 2018 and 2019. "If we can get away and go 1-2, we'll be pretty happy to leave the battle to ourselves on the run course somewhere.

"I know Mike won't be playing around - he's always a bit of a Houdini or a trickster, when it comes to racing. He's always got something up his sleeve.

"He plays a bit of a quiet, dull face, until he throws down something on you, sneakily out of nowhere. We'll have some fun out there for sure and I'll be on high alert for one of his moves."

Most recently, the pair battled to a standstill during the NZ Ironman in March, when Currie took the lead during the marathon, but suffered cramp and handed it back, eventually finishing three minutes behind Phillips.

"In New Zealand, it was clearly a race between the two of us early on, so that changed the race dynamic a bit," said Phillips, who claimed his second national crown. "When it's us with all these Aussies, I'm sure we'll probably work together a bit to make it a two-horse race, before we start attacking each other." 

Currie turned up at Cairns last year without any particular preparation, hoping his world championship conditioning would help him through - but it didn't. This year is a very different story.

Mike Phillips is flanked by Andrew Starykowicz. left, and Braden Currie at NZ Ironman 2019.
Mike Phillips is flanked by Andrew Starykowicz. left, and Braden Currie at NZ Ironman 2019. Photo credit: Photosport

"Definitely, this is the start of the build-up towards Nice," he said. "It's a chance to set a benchmark and I think the course will offer some pretty similar environmental conditions - a bit of heat and a few hills.

"It's a good way to test myself and have a good training day."

Phillips is tracking that same course.

"This is the last race in the Oceania region and also the biggest one," he said. "After this, I'm off to Spain... this is the next progression, before we start preparing for the big one.

"Nice will be quite a hilly one, but this is more about having some world class competitors to race against. Braden has done well at the world champs before, so any chance to race him across the full distance is a good experience and test.

"A Kiwi 1-2 would be pretty cool. I'm sure it would stir a few people up and that's what we love doing."