German Anne Haug produced a stunning run to claim the triathlon world series grand final in Auckland today, with the Kiwis off the podium but Andrea Hewitt finishing third in the series.
Hewitt needed to win the Barfoot & Thompson-sponsored event to have any chance of being crowned world champion, but her seventh place saw her in the minor placings for the second year in a row.
That honour instead went to Lisa Norden of Sweden after series leader and favourite Erin Densham of Australia dropped out in the cycle leg.
Hewitt, who claimed second in last year's world championship, was followed to the line by compatriot Kate McIlroy, with the Kiwis 20 seconds behind Haug.
"That is a good finish to the year,'' Hewitt said. "I stuck to the race plan and tried to conserve energy, so I could have a better run.
"That last lap was the toughest, and I put everything into it, but I didn't get the result I'd hoped for.
The crowd really pushed me home, though.''
It could have been better for Hewitt were it not for a huge effort from Haug. The German had to ride solo on the bike to catch the leading group, but evidently had enough energy to kick one final time on the run and race away for line honours.
Her win pushed her from fifth to second in the championship, with Densham being hit by the flu at the worst possible time to finish off the podium.
Auckland turned on some sun to help the competitors in the cool conditions at Queens Wharf, but the water would have still taken a few athletes' breath away as they set out shortly after midday.
Densham with Hewitt were near the front of the field after 3km swim, with fellow Kiwis McIlroy and Nicky Samuels also enjoying the home waters and swimming at the front of the pack. With some strong cyclists among the first out of the water, a group of 16 quickly broke away.
Densham almost immediately slipped behind but the Kiwis were having no such problems, and Hewitt was joined by McIlroy, Samuels and Debbie Tanner in a lead group receiving plenty of cheers.
With the world championship in sight, Densham seemed to be struggling on the hilly bike course and was soon dropped from the first chase pack. The Australian then fell further behind and, after a period of riding solo, dropped out of the race looking distraught.
With one rival down, Hewitt must have started dreaming about victory but she still needed Norden to blow up, as the Swede - safely ensconced in the lead group - needed only to finish sixth or higher to claim the overall crown.
As the riders entered the last three laps McIlroy decided to try her luck and established a small buffer at the front of the course, but she was soon hauled back into the lead group.
"I tried to make the ride honest,'' McIlroy explained about her move. "I figured I hadn't put a big enough gap on the girls so I sat up, which was really frustrating.''
With the 19 front-runners marking one another heading into the final transition, Hewitt knew she needed a superb run and a bit of luck to win the series. She and McIlroy found themselves in a lead group of 12 but, unfortunately for Hewitt, Norden was still there.
A slow-paced run saw the dozen leaders seemingly set for a late sprint, and that looked even more likely heading into the final lap.
Then Haug pulled away and put some distance between herself and the field, with her burst of speed proving enough.
1. Lisa Norden, Sweden, 4531 points
2. Anne Haug, Germany, 4340
3. Andrea Hewitt, New Zealand, 3893
4. Barbara Riveros Diaz, Chile, 3707
5. Erin Densham, Australia, 3611
6. Nicola Spirig, Switzerland, 3264
7. Sarah Groff, United States, 3232
8. Ainhoa Murua, Spain, 3065
9. Gwen Jorgensen, United States, 3048
10. Kate McIlroy, New Zealand, 3044