Australia versus New Zealand at the Challenge Wanaka Triathlon

Next weekend will see a small band of Australian's travel across the ditch to try and burgle the Challenge Wanaka Triathlon in one of the first iron distance races of 2012. This will be no easy task with a talented group of Kiwi's determined to prove themselves on home soil over a notor

Next weekend will see a small band of Australian’s travel across the ditch to try and burgle the Challenge Wanaka Triathlon in one of the first iron distance races of 2012. This will be no easy task with a talented  group of Kiwi’s determined to prove themselves on home soil over a notoriously tough course, where the reliably expected winds add to the challenge of the scenic and hilly 180k bike leg.

The event trumpets it’s self as New Zealand’s largest triathlon festival featuring over 2,000 participants from juniors to sprint athletes to endurance triathletes running from 15-21 January in Lake Wanaka. The flagship event, Challenge Wanaka takes place on 21 January featuring 1,300 athletes from 30 nations and throughout New Zealand racing over the both the half and full iron distance.

Heading the Kiwi’s hoping to grab a share of the $80,000 prize money (New Zealand’s largest iron distance prize purse) will be defending champion Jamie Whyte, who will be hoping he can keep ahead of multiple ironman winners Kieran Doe and Bryan Rhodes, as well as the talented Keegan Williams. Leading the Aussie assault will be UK Ironman champion Aaron Farlow and Courtney Ogden who also has several ironman titles to his name. Hoping to spoil the Anzac party will be Dane Jimmy Johnsen, Marc Pschebizin from Germany and Czech Petr Vabrousek.

Jamie reported to Trizone that his preparation for the race has been perfect, nailing all his key training session and ‘ticking all the right boxes’ for putting himself into the best possible shape on the starting line. An injury free lead into the race has allowed Jamie to approach it with confidence “I feel like I am swimming, biking and running faster than I ever have, and I am chomping at the bit to lay it on” he said. Jamie is hoping for a Kiwi clean sweep of the podium, with Kieran and Keegan being his picks for the other two places. Jamie expects Doe, being   one of the best swimmers in our sport, to lead out of the swim with it then being a question of the rest of the field chasing him down.  Jamie hopes his recent upgrade to the Cervelo P4 will help him get there as quickly as possible!

Aaron Farlow who is coming off a string of good recent form from Ironman Wales and Ironman WA agrees that Doe will lead on the swim and hopes to be in the second group with fellow Australian Courtney Odgen who he sees as a strong bike/runner. While the event is really just a lead into the European season and hopefully Kona for Aaron, he stated that his preparation has been great, “…after Busso I took a while to recover physically and mentally.

I have been in a training camp at Thredbo since late December and got myself into some good shape, I feel a lot more confident than I did leading into IMWA.”

Ogden has been struggling with a niggling calf injury recently, and impressed many at Ironman WA when he refused to pull out of the event despite being forced to walk the marathon leg. “My calf took a little longer to settle down than I would have liked, but I  feel I have been  able to accumulate enough running volume to be competitive” he said. His plan is to try and limit the time lost to the faster swimmers, and then take it to them all on the bike. Not known as a rider who likes to sit in a pack it will be interesting to see how he goes on the tough course.

Bryan Rhodes is determined to prove he is not “the washed up athlete in the mix” as he feels he has been cast by some in the media. While he admits that the race is a bit early in the season for him he is not just turning up for a training session. “To be honest I think my experience will pay off and I’m going to give it a good dig and make these  boys work  hard if they want to beat me on my home soil in NZ!”   he said.

In the women’s race Kiwi Gina Crawford “eight times iron distance champion and New Zealand iron distance record holder should, despite this being her comeback race after giving birth 6 months ago, still be favourite to take out the race ahead of fellow Kiwi Simone Maier. Local athlete Maier was second at last years event and will be challenged by Tamsyn Hayes, who is racing at the iron distance for the first time after   a very respectable third place finish at the Tauranga Half. Heading the Aussie challenge is Christie Sym and Nicole Ward. Ward  has hit a rich vein of form recently  with podium finishes at Forster and Shepperton.

Sym started to show her potential in 2011 when she overcame long term injury and nutrition issues to take out Racine and Cancun, but it remains to be seen whether she has been able to put enough training time in post her gallbladder operation late in 2011. In fact it is by no means certain that she will make the start line, or the  finish line if she does start. Sym told Trizone “I’m no where near where I would like to be right now.  I had pretty much made the decision not  to race Wanaka and instead support Bryan to a victory, although 3 weeks  back into training things are progressing well and  all I’ll say is don’t be surprised if you see me on the start line next Saturday.”

While any iron distance race is hard to pick you would have to expect to see Crawford on top, with Simone favourite for second. A fully fit Sym  you would  have expected to see on the podium, but really any of the female pro’s could get up there depending on the day.