If the world's best women triathletes are to be believed, the International Triathlon Union can learn a two-word lesson from the Auckland world championship grand final: Embrace hills.
The 24 climbs on the cycle leg brought variety and intrigue to yesterday's women's elite race while testing heart rates as the athletes pedalled to 40-50m above sea level on the corner of Princes St and Bowen Ave and later on Mayoral Drive and Wakefield St. It made a refreshing change to the monotony of flat courses elsewhere in the world, like at the London Olympics in Hyde Park.
Yet it wasn't all pedalling pain; the downhills along Bowen Ave and Queen and Albert Sts offered welcome relief.
The athletes who suffered the most adversity from the course still had respect for the hills. Erin Densham, the championship leader going into the race, suffered the effects of flu and missed the chance to win the season title.
"I hadn't done the work for this course. If it'd been flat, I might've been able to hide."
Likewise, Swede Lisa Norden, who eventually won the overall title, had a daunting task on her bike after returning from hospital with food poisoning yesterday morning. She stopped vomiting less than four hours before the start.
"Those hills were tough today, any other day I would've enjoyed it but that was probably the worst possible scenario," Norden said, summoning a weak chuckle as she recovered in a seat post-race.
Race winner Anne Haug welcomed the return of inclines to race courses: "The harder the better. It made for a tough bike course but I really liked it. I wanted to make others hurt a bit more."
New Zealand's Andrea Hewitt is also an advocate: "Hills and courses are good. I raced here last year and knew what I was getting into. That's why I didn't push as much at the front of my group because I knew they'd take a lot out of my legs. The hills suit me as an all-round athlete."
The sight of athletes going into lower gears also brought a gleam to the eye of former Olympic gold medallist Hamish Carter, who achieved his finest sporting feat on the hills around Athens.
"I thought there might've been more attacks on the bike," he said, "but, at the same time, you can't under-estimate 40km around that loop. It is tough and the athletes were quite cautious."