Rotorua's Olly Shaw has a decade of Xterra cross-triathlon racing under his belt, but this year he is ready for a change.

With Taupō hosting the Ironman 70.3 World Championship next year, the 27-year-old has switched his focus to on-road and half-Ironman racing, rather than Xterra.

"When that was announced, I saw it as too good an opportunity to pass up - racing a world champs pretty much in your backyard. That's the goal for next year, but qualifying for that is a big deal."

In the past, athletes would collect points for qualification by racing in as many half-Ironman events as possible. However, that changed recently, and now each race is allocated a certain number of qualification spots, usually for one man and one woman. So world champs hopefuls need to win one of those events or finish second behind someone who has previously qualified.

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"That qualification period starts near the end of July, so I have a bit of time. It's really about training now and focusing on a few weaknesses so when that qualification period does start, I'm in the best form I can be to give myself the best chance.

"I really need to work on my swim. Swimming is more crucial in a half-Ironman than Xterra - just where you are out of the water. I think it's fair to say the 70.3 fields are generally deeper than Xterra, so there's a deeper level of competition.

"It's just more time in the water, I'm with Henk [Greupink] at Te Arawa Swimming and we're working on closing the gaps down."

Olly Shaw finished second at Xterra New Zealand in Rotorua last year. Photo / File
Olly Shaw finished second at Xterra New Zealand in Rotorua last year. Photo / File

Two weekends ago, Shaw finished seventh in Blue Lake Multisport Festival King of the Lake and with one of the strongest fields the event has ever attracted, it was a valuable opportunity to see where he is at.

"That was a heavily swim-focused weekend which was good, especially with the ITU [triathlon] boys showing up. I couldn't believe it, to be honest that's probably one of the best fields that will line up in New Zealand this year.

"It was a good starting point - it is pretty black and white, I need to improve and I'm definitely not where I need to be."

Last year, Shaw's highlights included finishing second at Xterra New Zealand in Rotorua, third at Xterra Albay in the Philippines, fourth at the Xterra European Championship in Germany and 11th at the Xterra World Championship in Maui.

"It was a reasonably consistent year, I didn't do a huge amount of racing overseas, but I targeted a few key races.

"I didn't feel like I had an amazing race at any of them, I felt like I had decent races in three of them and the world champs wasn't my best day unfortunately. It was very promising, knowing I can race with those guys at the front if I have a good day."

He said the change in focus this year was refreshing.

"It's more time on the road and the races are a bit longer, so the training volume increases too. I do enjoy road cycling, there's just something about seeing how fast you can go, what power you have, that individual effort that I really enjoy. I've dabbled in half-Ironman racing in the past, more for training, and I enjoyed it.

"I am excited for the change. I think I've raced Xterra New Zealand 11 years in a row and I'm probably likely to still race, just because it's here and I do love it. But, it is exciting to be doing something a bit different and having a different focus, I'm really looking forward to it."