The King of Taupo Cameron Brown faces his sternest test to retain his crown in next month's Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand.
Brown has been awarded the No1 seeding for the 29th anniversary of the race on March 2 in Taupo, courtesy of his 10 victories and the only triathlete in the world to win the same Ironman event 10 times.
However, the 40-year-old will have to overcome a stellar field with two major Kiwi hurdles in Terenzo Bozzone and Bevan Docherty as well as a group of well-performed internationals.
Brown, who is racing his 15th Ironman New Zealand and chasing his 28th podium finish in a remarkable career, believes he still has the drive.
"I love Ironman. I'm still passionate about it and you have to be, otherwise it's too hard to get out there and train 35 to 40 hours a week," Brown said.
"My passion and desire to win still drives me daily and it's my job at the moment so it's important to do well and put food on the table for the family.
"I have experience on the course so I know what to eat and when to drink and that is an advantage over someone who's coming into it for the first time."
Bozzone, a four-time junior world champion and the 2008 Ironman Wold Champion 70.3, has finished runner-up to Brown three times.
He has been seeded No 2 and after his freak accident that cost him a start in last month's Ironman 70.3 Auckland, he has a different approach to Taupo.
"The recovery from the crash took a little longer than I was expecting. I've taken the time to recover and I'm probably going into Taupo slightly fresher than I have in the past and hopefully that will pay dividends come the second half of the run," Bozzone said.
"I think I have what it takes now. Ironman is all about experience and how you handle those bad patches and everybody is going to go through those bad patches. Whoever handles those bad patches the best is going to be victorious on the day.
The unknown comes from the No5 seed Docherty, a two-time Olympic medallist in his debut at the Ironman distance. He has ventured with success into the Ironman 70.3 distance - in his four starts he has won and come second at Panama, second at Auckland and third in the world championships last year.
Docherty has the advantage of racing in his hometown.
"I always wanted Taupo to be my first Ironman, so it will be very special. I'm excited; I think it's going to be an awesome day and I have nothing to lose so I'm not nervous," Docherty said. "The race has had such an impact on Taupo. I've watched it from near and far over the years. To be able to come home and start this part of my career in front of my family is fantastic.
"Ironman has always been on my bucket list. It's the cornerstone of our sport and really where it all started. It will be a learning curve. I've always been a racer so I need to learn about managing the speed and the intensity especially in training. But it is something I am looking forward to."
The other seeds come from near and far with two-time Olympian Marko Albert (Estonia) ranked No3 ahead of well-performed Australian Courtney Ogden, an Ironman winner and seven times on the podium.
American Scott DeFilippis is ranked sixth on the back of his superb running ability with Cambridge-based Keegan Williams, who has been twice fourth in Taupo. American Kevin Taddonio is ranked seventh ahead of Glenbrook's James Bowstead, who has his young career developing strongly, while Austria's Ernst Moser is the final men's seed.
The race starts at 6.45am on Saturday, March 2, with the winner of the 3.8km swim 180km bike and 42.4km marathon run expected around 3pm.
The men's seeds:
1 Cameron Brown (NZL, Auckland), 2 Terenzo Bozzone (NZL, North Harbour), 3 Marko Albert (Estonia), 4 Courtney Ogden (Australia), 5 Bevan Docherty (NZL, Taupo), 6 Scott DeFilippis (United States), 7 Keegan Williams (NZL, Cambridge), 8 Kevin Taddonio (United States), 9 James Bowstead (NZL, Auckland), 10 Ernst Moser (Austria).