Brendon Vesty didn't see Hugo Ecija Bernal at the finish line but the triathlete from Hawke's Bay knows he owes the Spaniard a beer if they ever meet again.
"I'm going to try to track him down on Facebook to thank him because I owe him one for that," said a grinning Vesty soon after arriving home in Hastings after becoming the 45-49 age-group aqua bike world champion at the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championship in Pontevedra at the weekend.
The 46-year-old did the 1.5km swim — shortened from 3km due to frigid temperatures — in 28m 21s before negotiating the 100km cycling circuit in 3h 5m 25s to finish the competition in 3h 37m 20s in a field of 40 athletes from Europe, the United States and Australia.
"It feels really good and it's something I've always wanted to achieve in my life," Vesty said. "You can't be any better in my eyes although you can get Olympic medals but in a world championship you're the best in your day in the world in my age group so, yes, you can't be better than that."
It was Bernal's Good Samaritan gesture that gave Vesty a lifeline after a mishap threatened to rob him of his maiden world championship crown.
"On the last lap I got a front-wheel puncture so I kind of had the feeling — I didn't have the time splits — but from the position and the people I had passed and who they were, I thought I was leading the race.
"Then I had this puncture and everything sort of flashed before my eyes because I really wanted this world title and I had worked really hard for it."
Vesty carried on riding about 3km of the about 33km course, with only 9 per cent flat stretches, in the hope of one of the three marshals on the motorbike would come to his aid to fix the puncture but that didn't transpire.
Luckily he spotted an English-speaking Bernal on the road side with a back-wheel puncture so he suggested they swap front wheels because the Spaniard, who didn't finish, was waiting for motorbike assistance, regardless.
Another Spanish rider, Josep Tatche Llonch, had zoomed past him as leader in the couple of minutes it took to change wheels but Vesty managed to haul him in with about 15km to go.
"I spoke to him after the race and he said he didn't expect me to catch him," he said of Llonch who clocked 3h 38m 38s to finish runner up while Paul Sell, of Marlborough, was third in 3:44:57.
Because the front wheel was slimmer than the one on his bike, Vesty rode without front brakes and came precariously close to flat-wheeling the rear one as well after a scratch.
"Paul Sell crashed on one of the downhills and ended up in hospital [after the race] with stitches in a hand."
The co-director of Stortford Auto Sales, who qualified for Pontevedra after clinching the Aqua Bike National Championship in Wanaka in February, is nursing shin splints in his quest for triathlon supremacy so the aqua bike challenges are godsend.
"I needed something else to keep me motivated and to work on when I couldn't run so the idea of the aqua bike suited me perfectly because I also worked hard on my swimming for six to eight weeks," he said, thanking swim coach Reece Kennedy, of Napier.
Without the running discipline, Vesty had a strong bike and found endorsement at Wanaka where sponsor and athlete Garth Barfoot boosted the prizemoney of $2500, half of what was required to chalk up close to 40 hours of travel to Pontevedra and back.
He got there a week before the Saturday event but found he couldn't shrug off the effects of jet lag on a 10-hour time difference as well as he could in his heyday as a former professional cyclist.
"I wouldn't say I was 100 per cent but I was getting used to it because sleeping was getting a little easier so it was a long way to go but without his [Barfoot's] help I probably wouldn't have gone there."
Vesty said it was unusually cold in the country where, at the lowest point, the temperature was hovering around 12.8C and got to a high of 14C with an outside air temperature of 10C.
That meant, according to ITU rules, the swim should have been shortened to 750m but organisers opted for 1.5km.
The river race was a challenge in itself with a strong current that pushed him outside his comfort zone of lakes and ocean.
"Overall, I thought, it made for slower times with the cold weather although I was lucky because my race was delayed until a 10 o'clock start."
Vesty also discovered his bike saddle was becoming a little loose on the rough three-lap course around the city area. Every time he encountered a judder bar or any other bumpy obstacle he had to stand up to minimise the chances of a mishap.
Bay triathletes were among the Kiwi podium place-getters who claimed 21 medals — eight gold, six silver and seven bronze. New Zealand was sixth on the country standings.
Michele Frey, of Napier, was third in the 35-39 female category, finishing in 7h 53m 26s (swim 37:08/bike 4:13:13/run 2:53:25), while Kathy Eggers was fourth in the 45-49 female age-group race in 7h 40m 35s (38:25, 3:59:48, 2:51:17).
Vesty, with the shin splints healed, is tweaking his running technique and intends to try to find better traction at the Kona Ironman Championship in Hawaii in October in his second stint.
"Triathlon feels like the challenge to me," he said but emphasised Kona was never a given.
"You know a world title's a world title and it's just a product of where I was at the time."
He hopes to defend his half-ironman crown at the Ironman Bintan 70.3 champion in Indonesia in August as a build up but also as the half-ironman world championship qualifier to be staged in Taupo in November next year.
Vesty, who has scored a sponsorship deal with footwear manufacturers Asics, thanked wife Jessica Vesty (nee Harris) for looking after their four children while he was in Spain.