Bay of Plenty athletes take out the men and women's pro races at Ironman 70.3 Taupo and share insights into their battle for supremacy.
Long-distance triathlon's next generation has put the old guard on notice after local hero Kyle Smith took out the men's pro race on debut at today's Ironman 70.3 Taupo event.
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Smith, 22, won the men's pro race today in a time of 3hrs 49m 23s.
He was closely followed by Max Neumann, 24, from Australia 20 seconds later, while Whakatane's Hayden Wilde, 22, rounded out the 'millennials' podium in a time of 3:52:39.
Smith and Neumann played a tactical game of cat and mouse right from the swim exit, with Wilde putting in a solid effort on the bike to try and catch the flying leaders.
Smith hit the run with a small 26 second lead, eventually winning the battle of wills to cross the finish line first.
An emotional Smith credited his win to hometown support – and the inspiration of Wilde – for the win at his debut 70.3 distance.
"I was really suffering for the last 3km and I was seeing stars. I don't think I would have made it home without the crowd support – everyone shouting my name got me there.
"I didn't know what to expect. I knew it was going to be a hard day and I went into it with full respect for the distance, and for the other competitors.
"It's been a hard year with lots of ups and downs, sickness and injury which has been eating away at me. I've worked so hard ... to have that recognised by lifting the tape ... is just amazing."
Smith said he's looking forward to tackling the course again at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupō in 2020.
"The course is amazing. I've been riding those roads since I first started in triathlon and you can't beat the run by the lake."
A visibly exhausted Neumann acknowledged he'd given everything to the race.
"I thought I'd be able to come back at the end, but I think we were both completely in the hurt box. I simply closed my eyes and ran down the home straight.
Olympic-hopeful Wilde said he was disappointed not to have qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship today, as his 2020 season.
"Today sets me up well for the Olympic distance and I've definitely picked up some endurance gains from it. You have to respect the distance and four weeks' training after the ITU season just wasn't enough.
"But I wanted to come here and it's great to be on the podium."
Tauranga-based triathlon Hannah Wells capped off a stellar year by winning the pro women's race.
But she conceded it was a "tough day" as her win came just two weeks after her first place at the Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney.
"I had to work really hard to hit the numbers I wanted and I was literally counting down the kilometres to the end.
"The day started badly with calf cramps on the swim, but the bike course was calm heading out to Reporoa and I felt good. I wanted to get a good lead on the bike because I know that Felicity is a handy runner.
"The headwind back to Taupō on the bike was tough and on the run, I simply chose to suffer a bit more and do what I had to do. I didn't feel confident about the win until the last lap – but you can never relax.
"The course is beautiful and the extra loop out to Reporoa is a really cool addition."
"I'm over the moon to get the win and I'm happy to finish the year on a high. There was so much support out there – I even got a bit teary at one point from the cheering. It was great."
Ironman 70.3 Taupō results:
1. Hannah Wells NZL – 4h 21m 45s; 2. Felicity Sheedy-Ryan AUS – 4h 24m 51s; 3. Grace Thek AUS – 4h 26m 41s; 4. Rebecca Clarke NZL – 4h 33m 41s; 5. Holly Khan – 4h 34m 25s.
Pro Men: 1. Kyle Smith NZL – 3h 49m 23s; 2. Max Neumann AUS – 3h 49m 43s; 3. Haydn Wilde NZL – 3h 52m 39s; 4. Jack Moody NZL – 3h 56m 56s; 5. Jakub Langhammer CZE – 3h 59m 17s.