A new generation of athlete stamped their class on Ironman 70.3 Taupo today, with Kiwis Mike Phillips and Amelia Watkinson coming out on top against world-class domestic and international opposition.
In a race that was minus the usual 1.8km swim due to the potentially toxic algae found in Lake Taupo on Thursday afternoon, athletes took on a 3km run, 90km bike ride and 21km run in near-perfect conditions.
Phillips, of Christchurch, is still a relative newcomer to the sport, earlier this year posting the fastest time ever by a debutant over the Ironman distance with a 7h 52m 50s in Barcelona. Today he controlled the race from start to finish, winning by over two minutes from Braden Currie, with Callum Millward in third making it an all New Zealand men's podium.
"I was second here last year so it is great to get the win," Phillips said.
"Duathlon is not my strength, I am more a swim-biker, so I took the opportunity to get a lead on the return leg bike and that ended up being just enough to get the win ahead of Braden and Callum. Braden is a phenomenal runner, it was important to keep an eye on him as he could always have a great run, so it is awesome to hold on.
"After today and my race in Barcelona, Ironman New Zealand is the big goal and it would be great to come back here and race all the top Kiwi guys and legends of the sport and hopefully make it to Kona. I have only done one full distance and 10 or so 70.3 races, so I am beginning to get a handle on it."
He didn't think the late change to the course had a major impact on the Pro race.
"Not everyone that was a contender could swim well so I am not sure it would have changed things much. Everyone on the bike close together is not unusual, that is usually the time to break the race up anyway."
Currie's day was tougher than intended. The defending champion rode the 90km in one gear due to a mechanical fault, one that remained something of a mystery in the moments after crossing the line.
"I knew it would be a tough day, but to jump on the bike and realise I had no gears made it a lot more challenging. But hands down Mike had a good race, I put it down on the run but couldn't catch him. It is a weird one, I think my battery might have disconnected because it is definitely charged, downhill I was doing 130 cadence and uphill 50, that gets taxing on the legs after a while," Currie said.
Based in Thailand, Auckland's Watkinson stamped her mark on the race in a similar time to Phillips, breaking the field apart on the bike back from Reporoa into Taupo and the transition to the run.
"That wasn't an easy one out there, I wore a few layers to make sure I didn't get too cold and I managed to hold on to the lead after making a break on the bike, but that run was tough, I was certainly pushed.
"It is tricky, not as hot as racing in Asia so I am probably not as thirsty and wasn't taking on enough electrolytes – and you need them, I was hurting on the second part of the run and was checking splits to make sure Jocelyn wasn't catching," Watkinson said.
The 26-year-old is a genuine threat now in any 70.3 event, and is starting to show and feel the confidence that regular podiums can deliver.
"I have had a couple of really tough races, two weeks ago I was third at Asia Pacific Champs, I am building confidence with each tough race. You take each race as it comes, there are always funny little challenges with each one and it is another win, I am really happy," she said.
Race Director Wayne Reardon said it was a great day, with the weather, the town, the people and the athletes "turning it on".
"The attitude of everyone has been wonderful. The delivery of the event has been seamless and the response from the competitors has been amazing. While many were disappointed with the news about the Lake, they rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job of executing their race plans and I hope have all had an amazing day and weekend in Taupo," Reardon said.
Ironman 70.3 Taupo (3km run, 90km bike, 21km run)
1st Mike Phillips, NZL, 3h 36m 02s
2nd Braden Currie, NZL, 3:38:32
3rd Calllum Millward, NZL, 3:41:27
4th Dylan McNeice, NZL, 3:43:55
5th Casey Munro, AUS, 3:44:32
1st Amelia Watkinson, NZL, 3h 59m 42s
2nd Jocelyn McCauley, USA, 4:01:00
3rd Laura Dennis, AUS, 4:02:23
4th Laura Siddall, GBR, 4:02:59
5th Christine Cross, USA, 4:04:02