It was a deep field in the heat of Southern Hemisphere Summer at Ironman 70.3 Geelong on Feb 19. But the two men firing on all cylinders were Josh Amberger and Sam Appleton. The two would eliminate all pretenders, making it a two-man battle. So who would end up on the top step?

As expected, Amberger exited with the lead swim group, threw logs on the diesel engine of the Death Metal Train and exerted his will on the early bike group, powering ahead to the race lead. “I wanted to shut the door on as many racers early to reduce the numbers,” he says. “It’s always a numbers game; the less up front, the better my chances for a win.”

But Appo knew the game.

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“Josh’s racing approach is a take-no-prisoners style of racing and he thrives on punishing the swim and bike,” Appleton says. “By the same token, I knew having Josh on the start line could play into my hands.”

For the first 20 minutes, Amberger dropped bombs. “I didn’t even want to give the guys a chance to sip their bottles,” he says. “I kept charging hard to get rid of any juicy danglers.” Instantly, hopefuls began to detonate, dropping off the torrid pace. Only two were able to stay on pace in the headwind: Sam Appo and Jake Montgomery.

The trio worked hard to keep the pace high and keep the run specialists from having a chance of making a race of it on the run. “We got a split of three minutes at the end of lap one on the two-lap course,” Amberger said. “I gave a wry smile; I wanted to turn the guys legs to ginger.” After a few surges, Montgomery had been flicked as well, leaving Appo and Amberger to set tempo.

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Each notched a blazing 2:07 bike split. With over a four-minute buffer, the two ditched their bikes, donned their race flats and knew how it was gonna go down. The two have been friends for years and, as Appo says, “we had a little discussion in T2 and gave each other some motivation for the run ahead, show each other a bit of mutual respect.” But each knew it was gonna be an hour-plus of hellish pace and lactic bath.

The two battled shoulder-to-shoulder for the first 15 minutes. Appleton pushed into a second gear, opened a small gap of about 15 seconds. “I was hoping this would open up a little more over the next few miles,” he says.

Amberger dug in like a tick. “He really kept me in check,” Appleton says.

But as the miles wore on, Appleton continued to turn the screws until 15 seconds grew to a more manageable 40 seconds of advantage, with Wattie Ink’s newest signing striding out in his new Custom Contender Speedsuit. “The new Wattie kit felt amazing,” Appleton says. “Really comfortable, and it looks incredible if I do say so myself! I had plenty of compliments on the design.”

Appleton rolled across for the win, with Amberger taking second less than a minute back. Despite missing the victory, Amberger was as pro as it gets in reflection. “I was still content, but it’s important to move on quickly, to remember it’s just another brick in the wall for a pivot from 70.3 to Ironman racing in 2017,” he says.

And when does that happen for the to-this-point 70.3 specialist?

“Watch me toe the line in Ironman South Africa on April 2,” Amberger relays.

With his Geelong 70.3 champ title, Appleton continues to focus on his 70.3 rise. “It feels great,” he says. “It’s a nice confidence booster into the rest of the year.”

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Thanks for reading – Jay Prashun, Wattie Ink. Chief Story Teller