Richard Murray and Katie Zaferes crowned themselves King and Queen of New Plymouth, taking out the Quality Hotel Plymouth International ITU Triathlon World Cup in front of huge crowds that braved the damp conditions at Ngamotu Beach today.
Murray loves New Plymouth, and why wouldnt the South African who now has three titles in succession in the region voted the second-best place in the world by Lonely Planet. Despite coming into the race with a slight concern over an ankle injury, the 28-year-old emerged at the front of the pack early on the run, and from that point was never headed.
Zaferes has also won back to back - the last time the American was here and victorious was 2014 and she won again today, showing too much strength to kick one second clear of a large group of runners over the final few hundred metres.
Murray held off impressive young American Matt McElroy and local Ryan Sissons, who had the large crowd roaring their delight as he sprinted to the line and the bronze medal after finishing an agonizing fourth last year.
Murray was delighted with the win, albeit a little surprised given the concern he had over his ankle coming in to the race.
"I think at the start of the day if you said that I would threepeat, I would say not possible. I was the last one running into the swim, I had to go real slow and was a bit cautious but then had a good swim, out on the outside. It was awesome though, I was next to Tommy Zaferes as we came out of the water and he was giving me a few pushes to get me going!
"I then ran in my trainers to look after my ankle, as they are a heavier shoe but I had never pulled them on before and I spent about 10 or 12 seconds in transition watching everyone run away, normally I am quick but this time I was a bit slow today."
Murray says conditions made it interesting, and loved the fact the locals were out in big numbers despite the rain.
"It was maybe the wettest I have seen here, I pulled my glasses on but couldnt see with the spray. Everyone in the lead group rode well, Henri and I tried to get away just before the end of the bike but I thought, I cant let this one go. I am very stoked, it is awesome in front of this huge crowd, I love it here in Taranaki."
Zaferes was in a tight tussle with a large group once on the run, eventually going clear of Joanna Brown (Canada) who won her first World Cup medal and Claire Michel (Belgium).
"I do love it here, that was my last World Cup race here in 2014," said Zaferes. "It is cool to come back and I love the race atmosphere here, the community is so supportive, so kind and welcoming and going to the schools fills your heart up and make you sure why you do this, so it is pretty cool to have that awesome feeling going into a race.
"I was nervous, couldnt catch a breath before the race but I am normally like that so just told myself to calm down. I love wetsuit swims but also enjoy the cold, so I took some confidence from the decision not to have wetsuits knowing that it might be a little chilly and conditions might not be perfect - I tend to do a little better in those conditions."
There were a few minor crashes in the slippery conditions, but Zaferes was safe near the front of the field throughout.
"Everyone was pushing from the beginning and it was a constant strong ride all the way through, that was great practice for me as I dont tend to do well with tactics or technically on course and today I wanted to nail that and be in the right place. Every time someone went down at the back, you are thankful you are in that right place, I was just very happy at how I executed it today."
Leading Kiwi hope Andrea Hewitt didnt fire on the day, struggling with the cold during the swim and was not able to close the gap to the lead group on the bike, despite bravely riding solo early on.
"Next week (Gold Coast World Series) didnt go through my head at all, I pushed as hard as I could but just didnt have the legs to do so, my muscles felt frozen. It was great for the other Kiwis to be up in the lead bunch, but today just wasnt my day."
Of the other medalists, there is no doubt that Sissons was the most popular, the Kiwi was devastated last year to miss the podium by the barest of margins and was not going to let that happen again.
"I had to work for it, I didnt have a great swim, but felt really good on the bike and worked as hard as I could and managed to pull the gap in, there werent many working but I managed to get a few guys to pull some turns.
"On the run I felt comfortable the whole way, there were a few surges and with 500m to go I thought, this is it. I was fourth last year in a sprint and really didnt want to get fourth again. I am really stoked to come away with third and a good start to the season, I am looking forward to building on it from here on."
Once again there was no doubting the popularity of an event that was voted the Best World Cup by the athletes in 2016, with great community support and long term partnerships with Quality Hotel Plymouth International, Port Taranaki, TSB Community Trust and Venture Taranaki, as well as a host of other local sponsors.
The support of the local community is borne out in the popularity of the many school visits conducted by the athletes in the lead up to the race, and today was highlighted with a significant and vocal crowd who braved the constant drizzle to cheer each and every athlete, albeit a little more loudly for those wearing the silver fern.
Of the other New Zealand men racing today, there were strong performances from 20-year-old Tayler Reid (Gisborne) who ran strongly to a superb 7th place, Dan Hoy (Auckland) who overcame a sluggish start to the run to finish strongly in 12th, Trent Thorpe (Auckland) in 15th and Liam Ward (Auckland) who finished 19th, all gaining vital experience racing to the top level.
In the womens race the best of the Kiwis was Sophie Corbidge (Auckland) who finished in 11th place while young Nicole van der Kaay (Taupo) continues to find her feet at the top level with a 13th, Elise Salt (Auckland) was 17th, and Hewitt came home in 20th while Deb Lynch struggled after a poor swim and finished 29th.
2017 Quality Hotel Plymouth International ITU World Cup Triathlon
1 Katie Zaferes, USA, 59:28
2 Joanna Brown, CAN, 59:29
3 Claire Michel, BEL, 59:30
11 Sophie Corbidge, NZL, 1:00:29
13 Nicole van der Kaay, NZL, 1:00:35
17 Elise Salt, NZL, 1:01:07
20 Andrea Hewitt, NZL, 1:02:03
29 Deb Lynch, NZL, 1:05:24
1 Richard Murray, SAF, 54:37
2 Matt Mcelroy, USA, 54:43
3 Ryan Sissons, NZL, 54:46
7 Tayler Reid, NZL, 55:14
12 Dan Hoy, NZL 55:31
15 Trent Thorpe, NZL, 55:45
19 Liam Ward, NZL, 56:32
25 Trent Dodds, NZL, 57:27
29 Hayden Wilde, NZL, 58:41
30 Kyle Smith, NZL, 59:28