The finishing tape experienced deja vu at the world triathlon series event in Auckland yesterday. Spaniard Javier Gomez and German Anne Haug, the men's and women's champions at the grand final in October, completed a replica result.
Gomez, the London Olympic silver medallist, has raced and won four times in New Zealand, starting with the under-23 world championship title at Queenstown in 2003. The 30-year-old took out the US$20,000 first prize in 1h 55m 51s. The margin over compatriot Mario Mola was 12s, enabling Gomez to high-five fans in the finishing shute. He still produced a sub-30 minute run after keeping energy in reserve on a sometimes sluggish bike leg.
The result contrasted with his sprint finish against Jonathan Brownlee last year. Neither Brownlee nor his Olympic champion brother Alistair attended the opening round of the series.
Gomez duelled with Mola on the first lap of the run: "Mario made me run fast, I tried to hang on. I felt good enough to break away on the third lap [of four].
I love racing in New Zealand, I should buy a house here.
"This doesn't mean much in terms of the world championship but a victory is good motivation for the season. However, some of the best athletes [the Brownlee brothers] haven't raced yet."
Portugal's Joao Silva was third, 31s behind Gomez. Tony Dodds was the best performed New Zealander in seventh. Clark Ellice was 11th and Ryan Sissons 14th. Dodds was third on the first lap of the run before completing what was understood to be a 15s swim-bike transitional penalty ahead of the final running lap.
"I might have chucked my goggles somewhere [illegal]. I have to figure it out but I'm pleased I was able to refocus. I was satisfied with my performance despite the pain. I enjoyed the crowd egging me on because I was close to giving up in the 2km after the penalty."
The result is reassurance Dodds is progressing after a burst appendix last August. Maintaining the New Zealand men's triathlon legacy is daunting after the short-course retirements of Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell.
"It's a new era. Hopefully we can take over soon. Next time I'd like to match those Spanish boys for 4km-5km and make steady improvements this season," he said.
The heir apparent tag bestowed upon Sissons is a work-in-progress. He had to fight back into the main bunch after slipping a chain in the lead bike group on an early lap.
The hilly terrain hardly proved a deterrent for the men, despite most being more familiar with flat European courses. Less than 20 seconds separated the front 27 athletes transitioning to the run.
Haug, as she did last year, caught up more than 40s on the bike after an ordinary swim. She broke away on the final lap of the run to win in 2h 8m 20s.
"I like the hilly course because you can't relax on the technical downhill; you can't hide around sharp corners. I knew I had to be in the first group by the end of the first lap otherwise the race would have been long. I put the hammer down and expended a lot of energy."
A lead bunch of 14 held together for much of the bike leg. Haug, Australian Felicity Abram, Dutchwoman Maaike Caelers and New Zealand's Kate McIlroy - broke away on the run.
Caelers finished 3s back in second, Abram 13s back in third and McIlroy 23s adrift in fourth.
McIlroy was satisfied with her start: "I've had a good summer of altitude training at the snow farm near Wanaka. It hasn't worked in the past but I think I've found the right way to do it."
The former Commonwealth Games steeplechaser says her running is getting better but she didn't have the leg speed in the last 4km.
Nicky Samuels finished fifth after leading into the bike-run transition. Her omission from the Triathlon New Zealand high performance squad appeared to provide motivation for a strong performance. National coach Greg Fraine says similar results would force them to reassess their thinking.
"That's what we ask. Keep backing up performances. When we make a hard call on athletes like Nicky, we want to be proven wrong. The door's definitely open if she keeps performing like that. She really improved her run today."
In a dramatic admission, Andrea Hewitt says she raced with what her doctor believes was concussion on her way to 15th, three minutes 20s back. She says her doctor only realised after the race. The world No3 cracked her helmet and bruised a thigh when thrown over the handlebars in training on Tuesday.
"I don't feel like there's anything physically wrong but I struggled to push during the race. I had hoped everything would be okay."