Tasmania’s Tokyo Olympian Jake Birtwhistle has timed his run home to perfection to win today’s Oceania Triathlon Cup and Sprint Championship in Devonport, sealing a thrilling home-coming double.
Just last month the boy from Launceston won his debut IRONMAN 70.3 title in Hobart and today it was his running pedigree that made him a cut above the rest after they completed four assents of the steep Mersey Bluff hill climb on the 20km bike course.
Birtwhistle kicked inside the final 400m run home to the Devonport Surf Club finish arch to lead home an all-Australian podium from the ACT’s Callum McClusky with Kingscliff’s Gold Coast based Brandon Copeland a strong finishing third.
While in the women’s race WA’s Gold Coast-based Kira Hedgeland fought on strongly to take the silver and SA’s Gold Coast-based Charlotte Derbyshire the bronze behind New Zealand’s in-form Nicole Van der Kaay – with Derbyshire first home in the Under 23s.
But in the Elite men’s race, 28-year-old three-time Commonwealth Games medallist and former Under 23 World champion Birtwhistle had to keep his head on the run after McClusky took off out of the T2 bike-to-run transition.
McClusky, a winner in New Zealand last month when he took out the opening Oceania Cup in Wanaka, wanted to test the legs of the rest of the field and even Birtwhistle, with his running experience and expertise on the world stage, thought the lead may have been “a bridge too far.”
“I wasn’t too happy to see Callum take off at the start of the run,” said Birtwhistle.
“He opened up a bit of a gap and I thought that was probably going to be it; in fact I thought for a while I’d be running for second.
“But coming around three-quarters of the way through the first lap I thought I was still in touch and I could maybe claw my way back to him.
“I caught up with about a kilometre-and-a-half to go (of the five kilometre run leg) and sat on him for a while and tried to lower the heart rate a bit and just relax for a while before making an attack. I just held my pace and was able to, in the end, come across the line in first.”
“The bike was quite tactical too with a few attacks off the front and it was kind of on and off the whole way and when we came in to T2 with a bit of a gap to Kye (Wylde) I thought it too may have been a bit of a difficult one to catch.”
Launceston born and bred Birtwhistle had been the talk of the town in the lead up to his home-coming race return saying it was nice to be back for a home State race.
“I was really happy to get the opportunity again here this year...it’s been a while since I’ve been able to compete on this course in Devonport,” said Birtwhistle (who first raced in Devonport at the age of 12).
“It was exciting and it was a tough race out there today so I’m really quite pleased with how the race panned out.”
McClusky said he wanted to get a good gap from the start of the run to see what everyone else’s run legs were like.
“Jake unfortunately had the better run legs and maybe I went out a little bit too hard and he had a really good kick at the end,” said McClusky.
Copeland admitted it was a tough day in the office.
“It was a tough day alright,” said Copeland.
“That swim was pretty physical; I got pretty beaten up and I had to work my way back and I was super lucky to jag an awesome wave so someone was helping me out there and I got back to where I needed to be,” said Copeland.
“On the bike I’ve never seen a group that big here at Devonport. It was massive; no one wanted to be at the front until the hill and then everyone wanted to be at the front
“So there was a lot of navigating going on and I managed to stay safe and out of trouble...and then on the run, Callum went out super quick...and Jake just had the bit between his teeth and he went, after it.”
Kiwi flyer Van der Kaay, ran away with the women’s race – adding a third victory to her wins in the opening two races in New Zealand in Wanaka and Taupo, leaving Hedgeland and Derbyshire to fight out for the minor placings.
In the end it was Hedgeland who won the tactical running game to take home second, with Derbyshire surprised with her performance to also take home the Under 23 title.
“Unfortunately I didn’t have the best swim so I knew I had some work to do on the bike.... and I had a new bike today so that was amazing...and I felt nice and strong on the bike,” said Hedgeland.
“I felt pretty strong on the run too and had to play some games to get away from Charlotte who was running really well, but really happy with second.”
Derbyshire said: “I’m really stoked, I know I have been training really well but I wasn’t expecting that so I’m really, really excited and happy with my race."
The Aussies will wrap up a huge weekend of racing in Devonport on Sunday, lining up again for the Australian Mixed Relay Championships.
Devonport 2023 Oceania Cup & Sprint Championship Results
1. Jake Birtwhistle (AUS)
2. Callum McClusky (AUS)
3. Brandon Copeland (AUS)
1. Nicole van der Kaay (NZ)
2. Kira Hedgeland (AUS)
3. Charlotte Derbyshire (AUS)