Leading the way in a stacked men’s racing is current world number 1 Javier Gomez (Spain) and the hottest triathlete on the planet at the moment in his countryman and world number 2 Mario Mola. Mola won the opening ITU World Cup in Mooloolaba last weekend, running a quite stunning 13:55 for the 5km run in the process.
Despite that great form on the back of an impressive 2013, year old Mola is quick to suggest his great friend Gomez is the man to beat.
“I am really looking forward to racing here on Sunday; it is a great field with a lot of amazing athletes in a tough race. It is great to have people like Javi racing here it always give a good name to the race and makes it more challenging but at the same time, makes it better.
“I am proud of my race in Mooloolaba but the pressure is just one I put on myself, I am happy to be here and have a good performance in Mooloolaba, I will try to do a similar race but with Javi in the race, he is the man to beat. I consider this with his career, how he is going and how he has gone the last few years, when he is racing he is going to be on the top but it is good that he is here.”
Leading the New Zealand charge in the men’s race is world number 15 Ryan Sissons, who is delighted at the chance to begin his 2014 campaign at home.
“It is always good to open the season at home, it is great to have New Plymouth back in action, it is a few years since the last big event here and it is a privilege to be back and another amazing field is going to make it even better.
“This is the first big race for me, I am looking for a decent result and I have been training well. If I put myself in a good situation from the start I am a good chance at top five and hopefully on the podium, that is the goal.
Jodie Stimpson (Great Britain) will go in as favourite in another strong field in the elite women’s race on Sunday at midday. The world number 2 is primed for a strong start to the season after some solid training in the South Island.
“Things have gone really well to be honest; I have had the most consistent winter of training so that is good. I have just got back from Wanaka, I have been training there at the Snow Farm, that is a stunning location to train in New Zealand and then I arrive here at another one in New Plymouth, so I am lucky to be here and looking forward to the race on the weekend.”
Stimpson is not one to get caught up in talk of results, for her and coach Darren Smith it is about performance.
“One thing about training with Darren is we never look at results, it is all about performance in the race. To have a good race, you have a check list and if you do all the things on the check list you will have a good race. That might mean winning; it might mean 3rd it might mean top ten or top fifteen but you are there to do a good job. The first race of the season is nerve wracking because you don’t exactly know where you are, you can have a consistent block of training but everyone else might have done a better job so it will be good to know where you are at and what you need to improve on for the next one.”
American world number 9 Sarah Groff has just the one race memory from New Plymouth but it was not one she wanted to recall.
“Let’s call that a mulligan, I don’t think I made it beyond the bike so we will move on quickly from that one! This race is so early in the season like most athletes here we are just looking for a good tune up race for Auckland; obviously everyone is gunning for the podium and a good result. It is a good gauge of fitness and the process for sure.”
Groff admits that after dabbling in a variety of race options last year, her focus is renewed in 2014.
“It is a four year process leading into Olympics, last year was a relaxed year, I got to ‘play’ triathlon a bit and do some different things. This year I am a little more focused and outcome orientated maybe, but really it is now about building towards 2016 and having my best result there.”
Andrea Hewitt finished 5th in Mooloolaba last weekend and like Sissons, is looking forward to racing at home.
“It is easier at home for sure, the home support makes it easier, I have the crowd behind me and I don’t have to travel as far. The travel is something you have to deal with but given it is the start of the season all my training has been in New Zealand I haven’t had to go far for this one, later in the season it can be difficult but this is great.”
Hewitt says that while the opening World Series event in Auckland in a fortnight might be at the back of everyone’s mind, Sunday will be a great race in its own right.