Triathlon: Graham O'Grady has to work to keep title

By Ben Guild

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Rebecca Gifford of Christchurch completes the Tinman.
Rebecca Gifford of Christchurch completes the Tinman.

Hundreds of the country's finest triathletes have shown plenty of ticker at the Craigs Investment Partners Tinman Triathlon.

Graham O'Grady (Kinloch) defended his title in fine fashion yesterday morning, while Leah Stanley was equally impressive in taking out the women's race.

O'Grady was in control from the start in preparation for the Taupo Half and then the defence of his Port of Tauranga Half title in January.

"That was my first race of the season and it is a good gauge. It's good to come back and defend the title," O'Grady said.

"Conditions were tough. I flew out on the bike but coming back it was a bit of a slog.

"I had to work hard into the wind to put some time into them on the ride. I then settled into a comfortable pace and finished off well today.

"I am racing Taupo next weekend but the Port of Tauranga Half is the big one. I would love to go back and repeat that result and will assess things after that as to what races I will do."

Former rower Stanley was less of a well-known commodity coming into the day, but had turned a number of heads by the time it was over.

"I am at the end of my first year in the sport - I was in the rowing programme prior to this - and I am excited to be back racing again after a long winter," Stanley said.

A strong field stacked with national representatives converged on Pilot Bay to battle it out in testing conditions, with local athletes putting in quality showings on home turf.

Most impressive was the performance of Sarah Backler, who finished in 2:22:57 for an encouraging second-place in the standard distance trophy behind Stanley.

She said the race, now in its 25th year, was a steep learning curve.

"I'm from an Xterra background, so with the mountain biking you don't have the issue of drafting," Backler said. "It's all about learning what to do when you get into a group and keep distances and tactics of when to pass.

"Unfortunately, Sam Warriner was injured and so I think that's why I was able to catch and pass her and finish in second instead of third."

Warriner pulled out of the run leg with a hamstring complaint, leaving Backler to go through unopposed.

It was the first time she had competed in the full event and said she would continue to pursue more traditional triathlon events due to the sheer number of races available.

She planned to race in the King and Queen of the Mountain on Boxing Day and also had the Port of Tauranga Half on the agenda.

Papamoa athlete Andrew Lloyd, who recently returned from a semi-professional stint with German club ALZ, was the first local man home.

He was not overly happy with his seventh-placed finish, but it was to be expected considering his relatively limited preparation.

He was followed home in quick succession by fellow Bay of Plenty competitors Aiden Dunster and Matt Backler.

"They were just behind and a little bit too close for comfort," Lloyd said. "Matt caught me towards the end of the bike after a really good ride but I managed to run away from him.

"I didn't see Aiden all day but with that run he was motoring me down. If the run was 500 metres longer he probably would have caught me."

He believed racing in the cut-throat world of European competition allowed for more rapid development and a keener sense of race tactics.

"I wouldn't say that the front of the field is any quicker, but the depth is so much greater. Any race in New Zealand you can come between first and tenth, but in Europe, first to fiftieth could be within that same time margin."

Lloyd plans to head back to Europe in April or May after completing a number of ITU events in New Zealand and Australia over the summer, with the "awesome" support of Marra Construction and the Avanti shop in Mt Maunganui where he works.

The sprint races were earlier dominated by two of the young stars of the sport.

Teenagers Tayler Reid (Gisborne) and Jaimee Leader (Palmerston North) took out the honours.

The .kiwi Tri Series moves to Whangamata on January 3.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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