As the 31st Speight's Coast to Coast gets under way this morning, race organiser Robin Judkins is picking two Whakatane athletes to feature in the top 10.
Judkins has spent more than three decades organising New Zealand's favourite race. The Coast to Coast created adventure sports and most of the world's best have cut their teeth on the 243km world multisport championship race across New Zealand's South Island.
Judkins has watched them all and his annual Top 10 predictions have become something of a bookmaker's must-have come race day.
Whakatane's Sam Clark has made Judkins' top 10 in the men's division and former Whakatane resident Sophie Hart is picked to take out the women's division.
"Richard Ussher is the favourite," Judkins said.
"He's the five-time champion and he's the most experienced contender."
Judkins is right. If Richard Ussher can recapture the form that won him the event in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012, he will be hard to beat. But Judkins also warns against Coast to Coast complacency, saying: "Richard learned that the hard way in 2007.
"He had won the two previous years, but in 2007 Gordon Walker from Auckland turned the race upside down by attacking right from the start. That's something we could see again this year."
Certainly Wanaka's Dougal Allan will be looking to shake things up. The 27-year-old has been runner-up to Richard Ussher for the last three years and his strongest discipline is cycling.
"Last year Dougal and Richard really broke the race open on the first cycle," Judkins said.
"Richard then broke Dougal on the run, so perhaps Dougal feels he'll need to push the opening cycle even harder this year."
Others expected to challenge include Braden Currie, also from Wanaka, who was third last year and even finished ahead of Ussher at the Xterra Off Road Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii late last year.
Watch out, too, for Nelson's Trevor Voyce (2nd in 2009, 6th in 2010), Queenstown's Bernard Robinson (7th in 2012), Christchurch's JJ Wilson (8th in 2012) and Auckland's James Kuegler (8th in 2011). Cantabrians Nathan Jones and Nathan Bell, who finished first and second in last year's Two Day race, are stepping up to the feature One Day race this year, where Jones has previously finished in the top 10.
Picton's Dan Moore, who finished second in the 2011 Two Day race, will also be keen after a DNF last year with an eye infection.
Australian surf Ironman legend Guy Andrews, who finished 4th back in 2004, is now aged 42 but still a contender in every race he enters. Judkins, however, warns to watch for dark horses Luke Vaughan of Christchurch and Whakatane's Sam Clark.
"Sam is one of the young guns," Judkins said.
"He didn't race last year, but he won the Two Day race in 2009 when he was just 19 and was fifth in the One Day in 2011. So you'd expect him to be even stronger this time.
"Luke, on the other hand, is making something of a comeback. He was a young gun almost 10 years ago when he won the Two Day race in 2005 at age 20.
"He hasn't raced the One Day race since 2009 when he finished fourth, but he won the teams race in 2010 and 2011 so he's still right on top of his form and even at age 28 is one of the most experienced guys around."
Judkins is delighted with the onslaught of up-and-coming youngsters.
"It's great that the champions like Richard Ussher cannot sit on their laurels and it shows that multisport isn't just the domain of old mountain goats.
"Competitively, the Speight's Coast to Coast is moving into a new era," Judkins said.
"Richard Ussher is the last guy standing from the era when people like Steve Gurney were winning.
"We saw it in the 2011 women's race too, where Elina Ussher was the favourite but was beaten by Sophie Hart. Sophie didn't enter in 2012 when Elina won but they're both back this year, so their rematch could be the race of the day."
In contrast to the men, the women's race is a case of veterans wanting to prove a point against the youngsters. Of the contenders, only Sophie Hart and Brazilian Camila Nicolau (6th in 2012, 8th in 2011) are under 30.
As well as Elina Ussher (36), they will face Auckland's Louise Mark (35, 2nd in 2010 and 4th in 2011), Taumarunui's Rachel Cashin (41, 3rd in five of the last eight years), Christchurch-based Dane Sia Svendsen (35, two-time winner of the teams event) and Hokitika's Tanya Maitland (34, 7th in 2012, 9th in 2011).
"Elina and Sophie are definitely the favourites," Judkins said.
"Elina will have the motivation of repeating the husband-and-wife with Richard. But Sophie will be wanting to show that her win in 2011 wasn't a fluke. It's going to be a cracker."
The 31st Speight's Coast to Coast is scheduled to get under way this morning, the race starting on Kumara Beach, midway between Hokitika and Greymouth, and finishing 243km away on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.
Robin Judkins' Top 10 Predictions
1 Richard Ussher, Nelson
2 Dougal Allan, Wanaka
3 Braden Currie, Wanaka
4 Sam Clark, Whakatane
5 Luke Vaughan, Christchurch
6 Trevor Voyce, Nelson
7 James Kuegler, Auckland
8 Guy Andrews, Australia
9 Dan Moore, Picton
10 Nathan Jones, Christchurch
1 Sophie Hart, Nelson
2 Elina Ussher, Nelson/Finland
3 Louise Mark, Auckland
4 Rachel Cashin, Taumarunui
5 Sia Svendsen, ChCh/Denmark
6 Camila Nicolau, Brazil
7 Danielle Roberts, Australia
8 Tanya Maitland, Hokitika
9 Nikki Mackintosh, Australia
10 Ruth Tramscheck, Scotland