Triathletes from across Triathlon New Zealand's High Performance Pathway return to happy hunting grounds this weekend, with races in Stockholm (WTS), Holten (Premium European Cup), and Osaka (athletes depart Sunday for a race on Sunday week), all venues and events that have delivered medals to the Kiwis over the past two years.
The elite team, including Rio-bound Andrea Hewitt and Nicky Samuels, along with Simone Ackermann, take on the next round of the ITU World Triathlon Series in Stockholm, where Hewitt has medalled for the past two years and where memorably Samuels joined her in a silver-bronze combination in 2014.
The New Zealand women will line up in Stockholm on Saturday afternoon (4:04pm local time, 2:04am Sunday NZT) on a course that offers genuine challenge to the strength based athletes with a demanding 40km bike ride and 10km run through the old town, finishing next to the Royal Palace.
For Ackermann it is a first chance to race since the disappointment of missing out on the team for Rio, while for Samuels and Hewitt the race continues their preparation towards the Olympic Games on a course both know and enjoy.
"I am looking forward to breaking up a very solid training block here in Font Romeu, France", said Samuels. "I have been in France for three and a half weeks now and have a good block of training under my belt, obviously there are six more weeks of solid training to come to build towards Rio but it has been a good start.
"This race isn't so much about the result, it's more about a hard training day as it is the last WTS Olympic Distance race prior to Rio and there is no time for me to slow down in training to prepare for it. I like racing in Stockholm as it is a challenging course with some technical parts and cobble stones to ride and run on. After the race it will be straight back up to altitude for a further four weeks with a quick stop in the middle for the Hamburg WTS race in July."
Hewitt goes into the weekend in fourth place on the World Series rankings, on the back of a string of typically consistent results this season, including her recent 6th place finish at the Leeds WTS event, with all four of her races this season seeing her finish inside the top six and twice being on the podium.
The elite men are not racing this weekend, with Rio bound Ryan Sissons and Tony Dodds continuing their training towards Rio at the team base at altitude in France.
Elsewhere New Zealand athletes will also be in action at the Holten Premium European Cup, a race that also doubles as a Tri NZ selection event for the U23 team to the 2016 World Championships. Sam Ward, Tayler Reid, Cooper Rand, Maddie Dillon and Kiri Atkin are all in that mix, while Deb Lynch and Thys Huber are also racing (but not U23 athletes).
Tri NZ HP Coach Tim Brazier is with the team in the Netherlands for a race that again New Zealand featured prominently in last year when Ryan Sissons won silver last year.
"Holten is a fantastic, long standing event on the ITU calendar, avidly supported by the locals it has a lot of atmosphere and vibe. The course is over a split transition, a small lake swim, then on to a bike course with a small cobbled climb and descent each lap, then a twisty run on trails and road around the quaint town; plus it can be very hot, with the age group race called off last year due to the extreme conditions.
"For the younger athletes, U23 selection is on the line and we are confident that the ones competing will put their hands up for selection with the performances they are looking to deliver. For Deb I know that she will be looking to keep improving on her performances as she steps towards being competitive in World Cups."
Racing is at 10:30am (women) and 1:00pm (men) on Saturday local time, with both events over the sprint distance.
And finally in a busy time for the Tri NZ HP Programme, a group from the National Talent Squad is travelling away to Japan for an Asian Cup race in Osaka on Sunday week. This continues the partnership with the Japanese Triathlon Association and the group includes National Junior Champions Liam Ward and Katherine Badham, plus Youth Olympians Dan Hoy and Lizzie Stannard.
Ward in particular is looking to press for inclusion in that U23 team at the World Championships in Cozumel in September, on a course where Hoy and Tayler Reid both medalled in 2014 and no less than three junior men wearing the silver fern finishing in the top ten last year.
They will train at Shiba National Training Centre in Tokyo for the week. They are joined by HP and wider training group athletes Nicole van der Kaay, Fynn Thompson and Ashleigh Williams. The goal for these athletes is to achieve a top ten finish (four did so last year at this event) with a podia the ultimate, as achieved by Hoy and Reid in 2014).