American Meredith Kessler will return to her home away from home to chase her fifth straight win at the KelloggÂ’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in TaupÃ´ next month.
The Californian, who along with husband Aaron, has formed a close affinity with TaupÃ´, has four wins at IRONMAN New Zealand as she zeros in on the record of six titles of Kiwi legend Jo Lawn.
Kessler has understandably been awarded the top seeding for the race to be staged on Saturday 5 March which has attracted arguably the strongest and deepest womenÂ’s field in the eventÂ’s 32-year-old history.
Â“The course just makes my heart sing,Â” said Kessler, the women’s course record holder. Â“A cool, clear fresh water swim in gorgeous Lake TaupÃ´, rolling bike terrain on a tougher chip seal and a run along the shoreline to streaming fans of people.
Â“It would genuinely mean a great deal to me personally to win again at one of my favourite races and towns in the world.Â”
Last yearÂ’s podium placegetters have retained those seedings with New ZealandÂ’s best IRONMAN triathlete Gina Crawford ranked second ahead of remarkable Aucklander Melanie Burke.
Crawford has 13 iron distance wins in her career including IRONMAN New Zealand in 2009, with runner-up in each of the last three years and never off the podium at TaupÃ´.
Â“IRONMAN New Zealand has proved a bit of a heartbreak race for me in the past. The course doesnÂ’t particularly suit me. I will prepare well and not put too much pressure on myself to perform.Â”
Burke mixes a fulltime corporate career with the sport. She is a former national rowing representative, who turned to duathlon, winning the famed Zofingen long distance world crown. She raced for New Zealand at the elite world road cycling championships and is now achieving in IRONMAN three podiums last year at Cairns, Port Macquarie and TaupÃ´.
American doctor Amanda Stevens, an outstanding swimmer, has won IRONMAN Brazil and had three podiums at the distance last year, to earn the fourth seeding.
Australian-based New Zealander Michelle Bremer is seeded fifth, back to top form after a long term injury to win IRONMAN Australia last year along with third in Cairns.
Â“IÂ’m a Kiwi at heart and I like racing at TaupÃ´, it is such a beautiful location,Â” said Bremer who hails originally from Mount Maunganui. Â“I have so many friends in the race and so many friends and family who will watch the race, so that is why I have decided to compete there.Â”
At sixth seed is German Mareen Hufe, who has five IRONMAN podiums to her credit including runner-up three times in Western Australia.
Australian Carrie Lester, who won IRONMAN Australia in pro debut year in 2010 and added her second at Chattanooga last year, is seeded seventh.
BritainÂ’s Lucy Gossage is eighth seed, a qualified oncologist, who has three IRONMAN wins and two podiums to her credit and a top 10 on debut at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii in just four years in the sport.
American Mackenzie Madison is ninth seed, on the back of two podiums and a fourth in last two years, with popular Australian Kate Bevilaqua rounding out the top-10 on the back of three IRONMAN victories, her last coming in Louisville two years ago.
The race on March 5 has drawn powerful professional field chasing nearly NZ$115,000 in prize purse while more than 1300 age groupers will chase 55 qualifying spots for the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii.
The womenÂ’s field is:
- Meredith Kessler (USA)
- Gina Crawford (NZL
- Melanie Burke (NZL
- Amanda Stevens (USA)
- Michelle Bremer (NZL)
- Mareen Hufe (GER)
- Carrie Lester (AUS)
- Lucy Gossage (GBR)
- Mackenzie Madison (USA)
- Kate Bevilaqua (AUS)
- Anna Cleaver (NZL)
- Candice Hammond (NZL)
- Caroline Martineau (CAN)
- Jennie Hansen (USA)
- Jocelyn McCauley (USA)
- Kaito Tohara (JPN)
- Keiko Tanaka (JPN)
- Kristy Hallett (AUS)
- Larisa Cochrane (NZL)
- Laura Siddal (GBR)
- Lauren Brandon (USA)
- Lisa Marangon (AUS)
- Marina Jurjevic (AUS)
- Tracy Morrison(AUS)
- Vanessa Murray NZL).