In a performance worthy of his status as a world-class triathlete, Whakatane-raised but Tauranga-based Hayden Wilde blew the small field apart to win the Eves Surfbreaker Triathlon at Mount Maunganui on Thursday.
Wilde, who was ninth in this year's Under-23 World Championships and is ranked 64th in the world (fourth in New Zealand), made what turned out to be the decisive move on the first lap of the first bike leg along Marine Parade.
"I had a real good first swim and caught a little wave just at the end to get back on the boys at the front. I was hoping for a real good transition which happened, got on the bike just behind Josiah [Ney] and then about halfway through the first lap I could see he was hurting a bit on the wee hill. So that's when I made my gap."
What a gap it turned out to be.
He took a 25-second lead into the first bike/run transition and was never threatened.
The 21-year-old, who was fourth in this event 12 months ago, used the experience of a 2018 international campaign to make sure he suffered no mechanical mishaps as he built up a huge lead.
"I was thinking about last year when my chain fell off, but I've a lot more experience now, knowing what gear to be in and knowing what to do when I bring my bike back into transition. I made sure I came in real smoothly and tried not to jar the bike too much. It's a new bike too, so I was really happy about how it performed today."
Wilde's margin on the course increased steadily. By the end of the second bike/run transition his lead over Trent Thorpe was close to two minutes. He was never threatened on the second 2.5km run which finishes with an energy-sapping stretch across the sand of the Main Beach foreshore before coming back up to the finish line on the grass outside the new surf club building.
Thorpe held on for second, with Trent Dodds third, just ahead of Ney.
The Surfbreaker Triathlon is, according to Wilde, unique because of its start on a beach like that at the Mount.
"We have a few races like in New Plymouth and Mooloolaba where we have a surf start, but there's nothing like this because of the straight drop. But today was low tide so we got to wade out a bit.
"But I've been doing Superleague where we do three swims through the surf so I was the most used to getting back into the water. It was second nature for my arms but the other boys haven't been doing so much of this. It's a shock to the body, but my body dealt to it really well."
Wilde has ambitions to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 20 months and next year hopes to secure selection in the New Zealand team.
"I want to have a really good Superleague season. My first race is in Singapore at the end of February. At the moment, there's about four guys going for two spots in the New Zealand team. It'll be difficult for me because this only my third year doing triathlon and the other guys have been doing it for years."
While Wilde was completely dominant in the men's elite race, it was far more competitive in the women's event.
Nicole Van Der Kaay, who won this event last year, was in a close contest with Ainsley Thorpe and Sophie Corbidge for most of the distance.
Starting the second run, Corbidge was first out of transition but Van Der Kaay soon saw an opportunity.
"I saw that she was tiring a bit, she might have had a bit of stitch so I took my chance and I held that gap for the rest of the time."
Van Der Kay, ranked 32 on the ITU standings and a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in the mixed team relay, was across the line first. Thorpe emulated her brother by placing second, while Corbidge was third.
Originally from Taupo, but now with the Triathlon New Zealand high-performance programme in Cambridge, 22-year-old Van Der Kaay has big plans for the early part of 2019.
"I have a big month in March with the Oceania championships and then a World Triathlon Series event in Abu Dhabi and then I'm coming back to race the World Cup in New Plymouth."
The Surfbreaker Triathlon, now in its 34th year, attracted a big field of spectators around Main Beach. Many of them had already competed in the Sprint and Super Sprint events for all-comers earlier in the morning.