Tauranga multisport athlete Sarah Blacker finished an impressive second in the Xterra pro women's long course race at Rotorua's Blue Lake on Saturday to Auckland's Lizzie Orchard.
Raced over a 1km swim, 26km mountain bike and 11km two-lap offroad run, Backler was third out of the water behind last year's runner-up Orchard (Auckland) and Rachel Challis. Storming through the mountain bike leg, Backler had built up a two-minute lead over Orchard, who was third behind Challis by the start of the run.
By the end of the first lap Orchard had overhauled Challis, eventually passing Backler on the climb at the back of the lake.
"I knew both of them were going to beat me out of the swim, and I knew that Lizzie is an amazing runner, so the bike was where I needed to make my gap," said Backler.
"I caught them in the single track between Taura [trail] and going into the Roller Coaster and thought I have to get in front of them before that. I did and managed to make a gap and then it was just a matter of how much of a gap did I get on them and how it would pan out from there."
Orchard caught her on the second run lap.
"I could hear [from commentary] when I came through on my second lap that she was just behind, so it was 'OK Lizzie's got that' - and I've just got to keep running as best I can and keep in front of Rachel - and I had a good run."
Like many of the athletes at Saturday's race, Backler is heading to Australia for the Xterra Asia Pacific Championships next weekend but hasn't decided if she will take up the offer of a place at the Xterra Worlds in Maui, having been twice before.
"I don't think I perform well in the heat, so I'm not too sure if I will go."
Orchard was delighted with the victory and says it was a long time coming.
"I'm super pleased to have won XTERRA in Rotorua. It's the hometown race and you always want to do well here. I've actually been coming here for over 10 years, starting as a teenager before eventually trying the full triathlon. It's always great, loads of support and so many people cheering you on."
Top Kiwi multisport athlete Braden Currie (Wanaka) successfully defended his pro men's title, crossing the line ahead of Rotorua's Sam Osborne and South Africa's Bradley Weiss.
The 29-year old was neck-and-neck with Osborne out of the swim and into the mountain bike but managed to pull away towards the end of the bike leg.