Triathlon: Spence making big progress

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

The elite women's race at the ITU World Triathlon Championships on Sunday morning will feature Andrea Hewitt, Nicky Samuels, Rebecca Spence and Simone Ackermann, with Hewitt an outside chance of yet again standing on the season ending podium.

Many however have been just as fascinated in the progress made by Spence as she slowly but surely has shown that she is getting close to her best again after returning to the sport in 2015 after some years away. The Auckland athlete posted a career equaling best ever WTS result of 13th in Edmonton a fortnight ago and will look for a similar or better result to improve on her current ranking of 36 in the world.

Triathlon New Zealand High Performance Coach Jon Brown has been impressed with the return to fulltime racing for Spence.

"She is very committed now to what she is doing, she has figured out that she does want to achieve as much as she can in triathlon and is working to a better plan towards the next Olympics. She is very strong independent person and is still figuring out what the ideal situation is for herself.

Our job is to try and encourage that as much as we can, and if we can, to then steer her in the right direction.

"The majority of racing comes down to the run and how well athletes can run off the bike, her strength off the bike allows her to have more left for the run and she has a good idea of what type of training works for her. When she is at her best she is capable of being right in the action and mixing it with the top 12 girls on the circuit. It will be interesting to see how she copes with the conditions, she has trained well in Florida so hopefully will continue on from her strong showing in Edmonton."

Brown says racing in an Olympic year after the Games always has its challenges, but they have been allowed for in the buildup.

"Everyone has had quite a long year but we knew this period between Rio and Cozumel would be quite challenging so we have made the effort to go to Florida and prepare in the heat, the conditions will be the biggest challenge this weekend and how people deal with that is going to be crucial.

"Some people physiologically are better in the heat, you can prepare and train but some have more natural advantages in getting rid of the heat build-up, largely due to body shape. Our girls are all looking forward to the race and everyone wants to finish on a positive note."

Meanwhile the quite remarkable Hewitt has been counted amongst the three best in the world on five occasions since 2009 and has never been ranked outside the top six during that amazing 7 years and will be hoping for a strong finish to her campaign to continue that peerless run.

Hewitt is in 5th place heading into Sunday mornings (8am NZT) Grand Final and with a heavier weighting of points on the line in the Grand Final, a strong result might yet see her overtake Jodie Stimpson (GBR) and Katie Zaferes (USA) to earn yet another medal to add to her collection.

Samuels has returned strongly after her long injury layoff and will start on Sunday in 24th place, knowing that a top ten or podium position in Cozumel would propel her up the season ending rankings.

Simone Ackermann comes into the race ranked 52 in the world, looking at the very least for a consistent showing to end the season ranked inside the top fifty in the world.

Ryan Sissons will be the sole Kiwi in the elite men's race at the ITU World Series Grand Final in Mexico this weekend (racing Sunday elite women and Monday elite men NZT) but he won't let that stand in his way of a strong finish to what has been a hectic year.

With the Olympic Games in Rio the obvious key 2016 event for all who qualified, Sissons is looking to reach another peak when he lines up in Cozumel at 8am on Monday morning, knowing that a strong showing might yet deliver a season ending top ten world ranking.

"I wanted to be top ten in the world at the end of the year, I think I am 15th or 16th at the moment with the five others all close to me. I was hoping for a strong race in Edmonton to push me up but I didn't get that. As a result I will count my New Plymouth World Cup in my points - which isn't bad as it was a fourth place and that is not too bad, but if I have a good race here it will help those chances. It does depend on how others ranked close to me perform on Sunday as well though."

Sissons will be the only Kiwi in the men's race, with Tony Dodds making the call to return home to recover from an injury picked up in training. Sissons has also had a few hurdles to overcome since Rio, with illness affecting his ability to train in the days after the Olympic race.

"I lost a couple of weeks of decent training which is pretty annoying and then raced Edmonton on the back of two or three days easy training, which was not ideal. But I have managed to get a reasonable amount of work in since then so am looking at having a solid race. It is tough to know how I am going with the limited time since Edmonton, but I am pretty fit and I have done some reasonable training for what will be a hard race on Sunday here."

Conditions in Cozumel are hot (early 30's) and humid, meaning the race is as much about coping in that environment as it is about racing fast.

"Conditions play a huge part, it is not going to be a fast race, it will be a bit of 'survivor' out there with the hot conditions and that can play into my hands a little, I have raced well in these conditions before. So long as I can hang tough and get through the 10k after all of that, it should be alright so yeah, I am looking forward to it."

Sissons and the rest of the members of the elite squads have arrived from an acclimatization camp in Florida, where they rubbed shoulders with the entire New Zealand team (U23 and Juniors) heading to Cozumel.

- NZ Herald

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