While there was no finishing-chute duel to spice up the victory this year, Callum Millward was as chuffed as he was puffed crossing the line at yesterday's Tinman in Mount Maunganui.
Only seconds behind fellow Aucklander Michael Poole through the event's bike section and trailing by 10sec going into the 10km run, the defending champ seized the lead as Poole dropped to a walk soon afterward, and breezed ahead to win by 2min 46sec.
Millward's comfortable buffer was in stark contrast to last year's finish, where the 28-year-old edged two-time winner Kieran Doe by 6sec in a dramatic sprint for the line.
Millward and Poole were neck-and-neck coming out of the water on the 1500m swim leg, clearing out by 90sec on the main bunch of elite competitors. Reducing the pressure up front was the absence of '09 Tinman victor Mark Bowstead, the Glenbrook triathlete withdrawing late last week after suffering bruising during a training-ride crash.
"I'm happy, my race went pretty much according to plan, though with Michael and Jamie [Whyte] there it was always going to be tough," Millward said.
"Michael and I both started out strongly, I went hard on the bike and put in a pretty solid ride.
"I felt confident I could match him as we started the run. I passed him when he'd dropped to a walk, just beyond the Main Beach heading out along Marine Parade. As soon as I went past him he started running again.
"Going round the Mount I had a good lead and tried to button off a bit, because I've got to run against Cameron Brown [at the Taupo Half] next Sunday."
Port of Tauranga Half champion in 2010, Poole was constrained by a broken jaw sustained a few weeks ago, also during a bike crash.
"I broke my jaw, it's still wired up. After the start of the run I was struggling to get enough air, and got diaphragm cramps. I had to walk for a bit and Callum passed me," the 20-year-old said.
"I'm not too worried. I'm building up to the Port of Tauranga Half, which will be my last big race before I head to Florida for university studies."
Yesterday's win makes Millward the first to claim back-to-back men's titles in the event since Cameron Brown's five consecutive victories from 1995-2000, with Olympic gold medallist Hamish Carter the only other male to win twice in a row.
In the elite women's division, former ITU world champ Sam Warriner took the honours, putting an emphatic 5min gap between herself and recent mum Gina Crawford.
Tackling her first Tinman - and first event since a gruelling debut at October's Kona ironman world titles, where she finished 17th in the women's field - Warriner didn't find the going easy.
"It was a tough course, with the wind and the up-and-down sections going around the Mount," the Whangarei-based 40-year-old said.
"I knew the swim would be Gina's strongest part. I was glad to get two minutes up on her in the first bike lap then another two on the second. I had a strong run, but dropped the pace towards the end."
Still on the rebound from her Hawaiian experience, Warriner got a good feel for the Mount environment. "I have no big goals right now. I felt so low after Kona, I just want to get fit again. But I'll definitely be back for the Tauranga Half next month," she said.
For eight-time ironman distance champion Crawford, yesterday was a return to competition after a year off as an expectant and young mum, and a step towards next month's Challenge Wanaka ironman, which she has won twice.
"I didn't feel too good on the first part of the bike, but going under 2hrs 15 isn't too bad after having had a baby," the Wanganui resident said. "My time today is probably my best for this distance."
Warriner and Crawford's showing scuttled Maddy Brunton's hopes of a threepeat victory.
"I'm not too happy with my performance, I would've preferred a smaller gap between the first three finishers" the Hamilton triathlete said.
Tauranga's Owen Miller was the best local performer, the 20-year-old equalling last year's sixth placing among the men but in a time 41sec slower.
Men: Callum Millward (Auckland) 1hr 56m 30s 1, Michael Poole (Auckland) 1h 59m 16s 2, Jamie Whyte (Auckland) 2h 46s 3, Matt Taylor (Auckland) 2h 2m 45s 4, Daniel Plews 2h 3m 26s 5, Owen Miller (Tauranga) 2h 4m 9s 6, Josh Harrison (Auckland) 2h 5m 26s 7, Josh Kenyon (Taupo) 2h 5m 51s 8, Hayden Moorhouse (Tauranga) 2h 7m 45s 9, Chris Rathbone (Taupo) 2h 11m 25s 10.
Women: Sam Warriner (Whangarei) 2h 7m 15s 1, Gina Crawford (Wanganui) 2h 12m 28s 2, Maddy Brunton (Hamilton) 2h 19m 47s 3, Fiona Eagles (Auckland) 2h 22m 59s 4, Samara Sheppard (Rotorua) 2h 24m 58s 5.