Hundreds of triathlon lovers will flock to Kinloch this weekend for this year's Sovereign Tri Series event, which takes place on Valentines Day, Sunday February 14, with racing for all abilities and age groups, from elite to beginner with the chance to see world class action in the Oceania Triathlon Continental Cup race for the elites.
The Kinloch Sovereign Tri Series event is set in a beautiful location with a sheltered Lake Taupo swim and a scenic bike ride and run. It's a long-standing race and also one of the most popular over the summer.
The Kinloch event attracts some of the biggest elite names in the sport from New Zealand and around the world because it doubles as an OTU Oceania Continental Cup race. The sprint distance race is also the New Zealand Sprint Distance Triathlon Championships for all age groups (and elites) and it also includes the Elite Under 23 Sprint distance championships. Put simply, Sovereign Tri Kinloch is one of the biggest triathlon events in the country.
As well as being the National Sprint Distance Championships, the race also provides the opportunity for athletes aged 16-85+ to qualify for the ITU Sprint Triathlon World Champs in Cozumel, Mexico later this year.
Event director Stuart Dwight says it's an event that is hugely supported by the local community.
"Each year we get a massive amount of support from Kinloch and Taupo locals who really get behind the day. There are plenty of active people in and around the area who love taking part in Tri Kinloch.
The Standard Distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) is also known as the Erin Baker standard distance race. It's been raced since 1984 and back then it was known as the Taupo Triathlon, so that's a pretty special race."
Dwight also says there's no better way to spend Valentines Day.
"Why wouldn't you want to do a triathlon on Valentines Day, and if you're not doing it then get out and support loved ones who are taking part. We'll make sure to have some Valentines Day treats on the day."
Top Kiwi triathletes like Ryan Sissons (Auckland), Sam Ward (Auckland) and Simone Ackermann (Auckland) will all be on the start line at Kinloch. They'll be joined by an array of other elite's from around the world, including triathletes from Australia, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands.
Triathlon New Zealand High Performance manager Graeme Maw says Kinloch is one of the highlights in the elite domestic season.
"It's always a race where newcomers can cut their teeth against the best, and this year it's the perfect warm up for those challenging for Rio Olympics selection.
"Keep an eye out for Sissons, Yuichi Hosoda (Japan) and Australian Ryan Fisher in the men's race and Ai Ueda (Japan), Yurie Kato (Japan), Ackermann and Maaike Caelers (Netherlands) in the women's. But also look out for the new National Junior Champions - Liam Ward (Auckland) and Katherine Badham (Auckland) and don't forget Sam Osborne (Rotorua) who raced so well for the men's win last year.
"It's great to have seven countries represented across the fields. This is testament to the quality of training and standing of New Zealand in the triathlon world. Japan are also bringing over a very strong team, so it's great to see our special relationship with the JTU continuing."
And for longevity and loyalty to an event, Taupo's Steve Currie and Rotorua's Ray Lichtwark will be a duo to watch in the Erin Baker Standard Distance. 63-year old Currie and 70-year old Lichtwark will both be competing in their 33rd Kinloch triathlon, having done their first one back in 1984 when it was known as the Taupo triathlon.
Lichtwark says he can't get enough of the Kinloch event.
"Over the years it has become one of the most accurately marked out courses in New Zealand. It has always been a challenging course with lots of hills on the bike and a variety of run courses. Swimming in fresh water is harder than the sea, so it is very tough but enjoyable at the same time."
Currie loves the event because it is his home race. He enjoys the venue, the fresh water swim and the quiet roads. And he has a couple of goals for Kinloch triathlon number 33.
"I don't want to get lapped by Ray in the 4th lap. I also want to finish in under three hours. I have never been worse than 2 hours and 55 minutes."