Australia’s triathletes will continue their early season pilgrimage across the Tasman for tomorrow’s OTU Triathlon Oceania Championships in Wellington.
After most began their season proper in Geelong at the Australian Sprint Championship and followed it up swiftly in Devonport for the Oceania Sprint title, the season moves to New Zealand for the Elites/Under 23s and the Australian Juniors facing their final round in the Scody Junior Series.
The Juniors will also line up in the much sought-after Annual Trans-Tasman Triathlon Challenge which will feature Australian Junior State teams against New Zealand.
The Elite men will again see Victoria’s “man of the moment” Peter Kerr leading the new generation of Australian males after his Australian and Oceania Sprint titles in Geelong and Devonport respectively.
But tomorrow it’s the start of the serious campaign in the lead in to the ITU World Championship Series with the first Olympic distance race (1.5; 40km; 10km) of the season with Kerr’s fellow Australians, ITU World Under 23 champion Aaron Royle, his Wollongong-based training partner Ryan Bailie, who was a deserved silver medalist in Devonport and the improving Queensland Beijing Olympic 1500m runner Mitch Kealey.
Exciting youngsters Marcel Walkington (VIS) and Kenji Nenner (QAS) will also keep their older opponents honest as they step up to the Olympic distance and try and forge their way into the Elite rankings
The Kiwis will again have a talented team led by the popular Tony Dodds, second to Frenchman Gregory Rouault in a frantic final dash in Geelong; Martin Van Barneveld; emerging star and 2012 Olympian Ryan Sissons, who was 33rd in London; as well as the ever present Clark Ellice and Bryce McMaster.
Mooloolaba will be the next stop for the ITU World Cup and Continental Cup next weekend
ELITE WOMEN’S FIELD
The Elite women, although a small but select field, will see the first appearance of one of Australia’s most celebrated ITU athletes in Felicity Abram, the best of Australia’s athletes in last year’s ITU World Championship Grand Final, where she finished 18th.
Abram, 26, is the elder stateswoman of the field and will be joined by emerging youngsters Charlotte McShane, fourth in Devonport but the first Australian home who took the Oceania Sprint title, and her fellow Jamie Turner squad member and Australian Sprint Champion Grace Musgrove.
McShane said she knows she has “a lot more left in me” after Devonport as she heads to Wellington “chasing the perfect race, where all three disciplines go according to plan.”
Throw in dominant biker Gillian Backhouse (Under 23), Chloe Turner, Ellie Salthouse and outstanding swim-biker Maddy Allen and the future of Australia’s triathlon ranks will again be on display.
JUNIOR MEN’S FIELD
The Junior Men will see some of the most exciting young talent line up again in what is certain to be another cracking race, featuring Tasmania’s tiger, Australian Youth Olympic Festival gold medallist and Australian Junior Sprint Champion Jacob Birtwhistle, who stormed home with a blistering run leg to show his home crowd in Devonport that he is very much the real deal.
It is the final race, worth double points in what has been a highly successful Scody Junior Series, which started on the Gold Coast in December, continued in the searing heat of Penrith and the testing surf of Devonport.
After the first three rounds Birtwhistle, who will represent Australia in the World Junior Cross Country Championships in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz next weekend, leads the Series on 41 points from Matt Baker (NSW) and Luke Willian (QLD) both on 33, Christian Wilson (QLD) 23 and Sam Ward (NZL) 16.
Birtwhistle showed all his class to take the gold medal at Penrith in a steaming day at the AYOF and came from behind again to run down the brave Matt Baker in Devonport after Willian had won the second round at Penrith with a stunning run.
But it was probably his blistering finish down a long finish shoot in Geelong that caught the eye of many keen judges as Birtwhistle dug deep after looking every bit “gone” on the final run lap.
The return of Victorian Joel Tobin-White from injury will add a further element to what is sure be another thrilling race.
JUNIOR WOMEN’S FIELD
The women’s race will again feature AYOF golden girl Jaz Hedgeland from WA, who like Birtwhistle backed up to win in Devonport and leads the girls pointscore on 37 points from Holly Grice (QLD) 28 points and newly elevated National Talent Academy athlete Jodie Duff (QLD) on 22, with former ITU World Junior Champion Mikayla Nielsen (NZL) 18, Stephanie Boehm (WA) and Brittany Forster (QLD) 16 points respectively.
Hedgeland admitted she even surprised herself in Devonport, coming from the second bike pack to run down early leader Grice, who hung on for third with Nielsen second.
And she also knows that Penrith winner Duff, who was forced out of the Devonport race with a flat tyre, will also be ready to set the record straight in Wellington.