Old bike brings home new Ironwoman champion
UPDATED: Kiwi Teresa Adam has won the Ironman NZ crown in Taupo, smashing the course record by over 12 minutes, having led the field throughout her 8h 40m race.
Her first victory at Taupo - in her third attempt - came just three weeks after she won the national time trial cycling title.
Read about her unorthodox lead-up to the race here:
As Teresa Adam comes towards the end of her 42km run – after a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike ride – her body will be screaming at her to stop.
The Ironwoman will want to listen to the pain and exhaustion and lie down on the side of the road. But then she will see a familiar face, yelling at her to keep going. And so she will.
The voice belongs to Adam’s boyfriend, Dan Furminger – a bike fitter by trade and a champion cyclist in his own right.
“I’ll have my brave face on,” Furminger says. “It’s so hard for me to say ‘You’re doing great’, when all I want her to do is stop. Because that’s my best friend getting munted out there.”
But as elite Kiwi athletes, they both know that Adam can carry on – and win.
Last year, Adam took out the Ironman Asia Pacific championships in Cairns for the second year running, stripping almost five minutes off the course record she already held. She also won the Ironman Western Australia title, in another record time.
For the second year, she finished runner-up in Ironman NZ, the world's longest-running Ironman race. But she wants to go one better this weekend, and finally snatch victory in Taupō.
Adam will be looking for Furminger along the route, especially during that marathon run along the lakefront. “During the race he’s everywhere. I rely on him heavily to keep me going,” she says.
In the build-up to a race, he also has a role to play in her success. Not only does he fine-tune her bike – known as Lil B – but he’s taught Adam how to ride faster and more efficiently. And that focus on cycling is paying off, big time.
Last year, Adam pedalled to the fastest bike split of the year across all Ironman women’s races around the globe, her speed ranking third best of all time.
And then on a whim, Adam decided to enter last month’s New Zealand road cycling championships. She won the national time trial and finished third in the road race.
“We thought we’d give it a crack. And I loved it,” says Adam, who turned 30 this week.
Cycling wasn’t always her strongest suit. Adam was a powerful swimmer – she played water polo for the New Zealand women's team when she was still at Massey High School.
At 19, she delved into triathlon, and was soon wearing the silver fern in the ITU world series. But repeated, painful injuries from intense training prematurely ended her career.
In 2015, she met Furminger, who helped her learn to train again. “He has national titles in cycling, so he knows what to do. He’s taught me so much about training. I’d definitely overdo it if I didn’t have him,” Adam admits.
Adam returned to swim-cycle-run racing but through longer endurance events. In her first Ironman, in Taupō in 2018, she finished second, and knew she’d found her sport.
Six months ago, Adam decided to try to boost her running, which she knew was her weakest discipline. But her legs – which needed surgery in 2011 for compartment syndrome – just couldn’t handle the increase in running.
“So we started to focus on doing more on the bike to make me a lot stronger,” she says. Furminger had her out riding time trials on quiet roads northwest of Auckland, “and I just kept improving, and my numbers kept going up, and we were like ‘Wow!’" Adam says.
“We thought we’d have a shot at the road nationals. It was a couple of weeks out from Ironman NZ, so it didn’t affect my build-up too much.”
On a fast, flat course in Cambridge, Adam concentrated on doing what she does every day in training, put her head down, stuck to her plan and became the national time trial champion.
“It means I can wear the national champion’s kit if I decide to do more cycling races,” she says. “I’d like to, but my sport is still Ironman. I have the engine for the longer stuff.”
In this weekend’s race in Taupō, Adam has a clear goal. “I just want to go faster than I have before.”
Incredibly, Adam finished both of her Ironman NZ races in 9h 5m – she was just three seconds faster around the challenging course last year.
“It’s an all-day time trial and there’s not really much you can do in terms of controlling anyone else’s race. I like that because your placing is based on how you execute it,” she says.
“This time I just want to go quicker and have a really solid race.”
It could all come down to Lil B. Adam has had the bike since she and Furminger first got together, when he bought it second-hand and set it up for her, adding faster components over time.
The bike is set up to international cycling regulations, which ensure the safety of riders and fairness of competition. It’s meant she’s been able to ride the same bike in a road cycling race and in an Ironman.
“When I do an Ironman, I just add my bits and pieces. She ends up with a lot more on her,” Adam says.
This will probably be the swansong for the bike originally named Lil Blue, for its blue markings. A new racing bike in the livery of Pewag Racing, Adam’s new professional team, is slowly making its way to New Zealand (its journey held up the coronavirus outbreak).
Being part of a team, sponsored by Austrian chain manufacturer Pewag, has opened up a whole new world of racing to Adam.
“I didn’t have much financial support, and it’s quite difficult to compete without it. I was limited to racing in New Zealand and Australia, where I could afford to go,” she says.
“Now I will race Ironman Austria in July, then go on to Kona.”
Kona is, of course, the Ironman world championship. Adam has been once before but doesn’t harbour good memories of the 2018 event.
“Last time I tried to do a heat camp there first, and I was away from home for too long. I got injured and I was a bit behind in fitness,” admits Adam, who finished 18th overall. She earned a spot in last year’s race in Hawaii, but turned it down.
“Kona is insane. I’m not even sure how to tackle it again this year, but I learned a lot from last time. I’ll just do my best.”
To win Ironman NZ, she will have to battle two of her toughest rivals – Americans Jocelyn McCauley, who set a new course record (8hr 53.10m) in winning last year, and five-time race winner Meredith Kessler, known as “The Queen of Taupō”.
Two other Kiwi women, Melanie Burke and Julia Grant, will also line up in the pro women’s race.
Among the thousands of spectators lining the Taupō course, Adam will have a full support crew cheering her on, including her parents, two brothers and a sister. It's important to have them there, she says.
And then of course, there will be Dan, encouraging her to go when she wants to stop.
“I don’t think I’d be racing at this level without him. We’ve built up together,” Adam says.
“This is our life. We just have fun.”
* Live race coverage of Saturday's race will be available via the IRONMAN Now Facebook Page www.facebook.com/IRONMANnow.