While it may not have the usual star power due to its rescheduling to Whanganui Vintage Weekend, the 2020 Billy Webb Challenge is likely to attract the largest entry numbers to the regatta seen in recent years on Sunday.
The ninth race held since 2008, the timing of the challenge has been moved from its traditional spot in November or December to becoming part of the Vintage Weekend in January, as a way to manage costs and align with the premier visitor event.
The challenge regattas commemorate the 1908 event where Christchurch's William 'Billy' Webb defended his world title on the Whanganui River in front of 25,000 spectators.
Past winners have all been Olympic and world champions in Mahe Drysdale, Hamish Bond, John Storey and Germany's Tim Ole Naske.
Elite athletes would lead the field off, but this year, the top New Zealander rowers are unavailable as they ramp up training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July.
Nonetheless, event manager Kat Wade said entry numbers are looking to overtake the total turnout of recent challenge races.
"So far we have entries from Wellington Rowing Club, Aramoho-Whanganui RC and Clifton RC, with crews from Whanganui Collegiate School and Union Boat Club still to enter," she said today.
One veteran of the challenge who is returning is Wairau Rowing Club's Tristan Gregory-Hunt, who is part of the Central Regional Performance Centre (RPC) and had been contending for inclusion in the selection in the Rowing NZ summer squad in the lightweight double.
Raised on the Chatham Islands, then initially rowing with the Hawke's Bay RC, Gregory-Hunt has won club titles at the national championships and attended the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta with the Wairau eight.
As well as entering the last Billy Webb Challenge in December 2018, he has previously won a race on the Whanganui River in the Winter Series.
Rowing: Billy Webb Challenge returns to join Whanganui Vintage Weekend
"Since I'm an elite athlete, I like to race that stuff and challenge myself," he said.
"With the river, you never know what the chances are, with the tides.
"I enjoy coming to the township as well."
The uniqueness of the challenge, where rowers travel up river and then turn to come back down, will continue to be a draw card for Olympic champions in the future, Gregory-Hunt agreed.
"Definitely. I enjoy doing the regatta – it's different, which I like about it."
Activities will begin around 10.30am on Sunday with the race beginning at 11.15am, with the start-finishline across from the River Traders Markets area, in front of the silver globe.
Prizegiving will be held on the Riverside Shindig Stage.