Triathlon: Triathlon season gets underway in New Zealand

The start of the triathlon season in Christchurch is just days away, with the annual House of Travel triathlon festival on this Sunday at Pegasus.

This year will see over 350 competitors taking part in a variety of events, ranging from kids as young as 5, all the way up to professional athletes in the elite cup.

The elite cup also marks the first race of the season in the Triathlon New Zealand National Junior series, with the best up and coming athletes from around the region taking part and hoping to knock defending champion Mike Phillips off the podium.

To gain not only the title but also family bragging rights, Mike will be up against his brother Ben, who recently competed at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, while Mike will be backing up from a third-place finish at the Queenstown half marathon last weekend.

Expect healthy competition between Zac Taylor after he finished third at the National Secondary Schools triathlon ahead of Julius Staufenberg and Saxon Morgan.

In not your typical triathlon format, the elite cup will see athletes complete a 350m swim, a 10km bike and a 2.5km run not once but twice, in a double super sprint triathlon, to test not only the athletes physically but also mentality. To add a bit more spice, the elite women will receive a head start on the men, with the first to reach the finish line to receive a cash bonus.

Julia Grant will be aiming to go one better than her 2nd place last year. She will be up against fellow New Zealand rep, Laura Wood and Ari Graham who finished runner-up in the under-16 girls event at the National Secondary schools in April this year.

Rounding out the field are international rowers, Martina Goetti from Italy and Sophie Sower from the Netherlands, who both competed for their respective countries at the Rio Olympics. In the age-group race, legendary triathlon coach John Hellemans will be in action, while former gold medal rower Nathan Cohen will hit the ground in the duathlon.

As a way of mixing up her pre-season training, Tactix netballer Hayley Saunders will take part in her first triathlon on Sunday. The feisty mid-courter was convinced to sign up only two weeks ago by fellow netballer Olivia Coughlan, and said she was looking forward to lining up in the Pegasus Classic.

"Because our season this year finished quite early, with not making the playoffs and not having any netball after this, I have been looking at doing an event like this for a while to get me out of the gym.

"I usually have quite a solid swim, bike and run base so I am excited at the prospect of the challenge of Sunday's race," she said.

Saunders said she wasn't going into the race with any preconceived goals or finishing times, just to cross the finish line.

"Survival is the main idea ahead of Sunday. I know my times in the pool and on the bike but that could well change with the conditions on Sunday. I just want to get a taste of it alongside Olivia and see how I go," she said.

With a strong support crew made up of some of her fellow teammates on Sunday, Saunders said if all goes well, expect to see more of the team take part next year.

"With a couple of the girls just having undergone surgery, we could have had a few more this year but I know a few of them, the likes of Jess (Moulds) and Zoe (Walker) will be keen to get involved next year.

Get along to support Hayley, with the race starting at 8.45am on Sunday morning.

- NZ Herald

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