American star Meredith Kessler and Kiwi icon Cameron Brown head an impressive international field for the Kellogg's Nutri-Grain IRONMAN 70.3 Taupō on Saturday December 10.
The pair has reigned supreme in beautiful Great Lake Taupō in both Kellogg's IRONMAN New Zealand and Kellogg's IRONMAN 70.3 Taupō, winning 18 times between them.
However both will face stern and in-form competition from a bevy of international competitors over the 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run.
The professional field includes nine triathletes who have won IRONMAN 70.3 races around the globe, led by defending men's champion Braden Currie. The three-time Coast to Coast multisport champion and ITU World Cross Championships bronze medallist, grabbed his breakthrough IRONMAN 70.3 win in Taupō last year.
The Wanaka athlete has developed into an outstanding competitor who has relished the change to endurance triathlon.
"The IRONMAN 70.3 is world renowned and is definitely something to have on the CV so it's very exciting to be coming back and defending my title," Currie said.
"I wasn't really expecting the first one, I thought that I could be up near the front at the end of the bike but I wasn't sure if my run would stack up.
"It will be different going back as these guys know now how I race and what I do. I won't be changing how I race, I'll race to my strengths and I'll be going for the win."
Brown holds legendary status in the sport both in this country and around the world, and even at 44 years young, he comes in as the reigning IRONMAN New Zealand champion, the oldest man to win an IRONMAN race in the history of the sport.
The international charge will come from Australian Paul Ambrose, a two-time IRONMAN Australia champion and multi IRONMAN 70.3 winner, and former Olympic rower Todd Skipworth who stormed on to the scene three years ago with a raft of wins and podiums over the distance.
Dougal Allan, like Currie a highly regarded multisporter and adventure racer from Wanaka, enters on the back of two strong races over the distance in China, while Auckland's Mark Bowstead earned a breakthrough win at this distance in USA last year.
Fellow kiwi Guy Crawford, based in Western Australia, is another who has won at IRONMAN 70.3 and is bound to be setting the pace out of the water and on the bike.
Kessler has developed a fondness for Taupō, having won IRONMAN New Zealand five straight times, and dominated the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 event last year. The San Franciscan has won 32 races over either IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 distances in the last seven years, and is coming off her third straight win at IRONMAN Arizona.
She will face fierce competition from in-form young New Zealand triathlete Amelia Watkinson, who was runner-up last year. Currently based at the triathlon-training enclave in Phuket, Watkinson has won 10 times around Asia this year, most notably a dominant victory at IRONMAN 70.3 Thailand last weekend.
American Lisa Roberts has three podiums at the distance over this distance in 2016, including third in China, while Canada's Melanie McQuaid has a remarkable pedigree in endurance sport. She is a four-time world champion in Xterra offroad triathlon, the inaugural ITU Cross triathlon winner and a six time winner over IRONMAN 70.3 among her 50 international race wins.
Great Britain's Laura Siddall returns after finishing third last year and fourth at IRONMAN New Zealand, off the back of an IRONMAN 70.3 victory and three podiums in Europe and USA.
There are over 1000 competitors from 30 countries competing, with age groupers chasing qualifying spots for the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in USA.
Online entries are still open, click here for more information or to enter now: ironmantaupo.com
The professional fields are:
Women: Meredith Kessler (USA), Amelia Watkinson (NZL), Laura Siddall (GBR), Lisa Roberts (USA), Melanie McQuaid (CAN), Elaine Brent (NZL), Rebecca Clarke (NZL), Anna Cleaver (NZL), Tamsyn Hayes (NZL), Hannah Lawrence (NZL), Laura Wood (NZL).
Men: Braden Currie (NZL), Cameron Brown (NZL), Dougal Allan (NZL), Paul Ambrose (NZL), Zac Barber (NZL), Mark Bowstead (NZL), Simon Cochrane (NZL), Guy Crawford (NZL), Alain Djouad-Guilbert (MAS), Sam Elstob (NZL), Matt Franklin (NZL), Jason Hall (NZL), Jake Jackson-Grammer (NZL), Sebastien Jouffret (FRA), Lachlan Kerin (AUS), Daniel McGuigan (AUS), Paul Cameron (NZL), Mike Phillips (NZL), Eddie Rawles (NZL), Drew Scott (USA), Olly Shaw (NZL), Todd Skipworth (AUS), Linsdey Wall (AUS).