Mahe Drysdale is in a race against time. As he settles in for a short break after a long, tough season, one thing still dominates his thoughts.

"We certainly indulge but I wouldn't say we put our feet up," he told Radio Sport, speaking about the upcoming holiday period.

'Holidays' is a relative term when you're New Zealand's greatest single sculls rower. And when you're only 18 months away from your last shot at an Olympic medal, there's little time for indulgence.

"Hopefully [there's] a bit more rain, so the speed boats stay away," he laughs about his plans for the summer.

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"We try to train right through. We get a break from Karapiro, and we can do whatever we want. But I usually take my bike with me, and if we can get rowing, then we do some rowing as well."

As Drysdale spoke to media at the New Zealand Olympic Committee's Lonsdale Cup gala dinner, an award he has won, he couldn't help but be reminded of the task at hand.

"It's always nice to celebrate the success we have and we're fortunate we have quite a lot in this country, so it's great to be here and celebrate - and I guess looking forward to 2020, which is only 18 months away.

"It's certainly come round pretty quick. The next 18 months will fly past, and it's important now to be doing that work trying to get into a position where you can hopefully be celebrated in a couple of years."

The 40-year-old's drive has shown no signs of slowing after taking the single sculling seat in New Zealand to new heights, winning a bronze and two golds at the last three Olympics.

But this year, he was toppled by single sculls heir apparent Robbie Manson after the 28-year-old took out both World Cup regattas in Linz and Lucerne.

Mahe Drysdale celebrates his win at 2018 Billy Webb Challenge race. Photo / Bevan Conley
Mahe Drysdale celebrates his win at 2018 Billy Webb Challenge race. Photo / Bevan Conley

It has left Drysdale now chasing the seat he made his own, an unfamiliar feeling after years at the top.

"I'm just trying to build on what I had this year," he says, already looking forward to working over summer. "Obviously [I need to] improve it because it wasn't good enough to get the spot.

"Just trying to build my base up to where I need it and then we'll try to add a little bit of speed on top of that hopefully and hope that will be good enough to take another gold in Tokyo."

That single sculls seat in Tokyo is not a foregone conclusion, however, especially after New Zealand experienced their worst medal haul at the recent world championships in Bulgaria since 2003. Drysdale's rival Manson finished a disappointing fifth in the single sculls, while Drysdale failed to medal in his unfamiliar role as part of the quadruple sculls.

As Rowing New Zealand goes through a review of its programme after the disappointing performance, it has left the door ajar for Drysdale.

In his quest to get back to the top, Drysdale is seeking assistance from the man who helped him get there in the first place. He has enlisted the help of former coach Dick Tonks, currently coaching for Rowing Canada.

The move back to working with his former coach was controversial after the pair parted ways after the Rio Olympics following a fall out between Tonks and Rowing New Zealand. In 2015, Tonks was reportedly working with a Chinese crew on Lake Karapiro against Rowing New Zealand's wishes.

Drysdale, who worked with Tonks in British Colombia in recent months, says he plans on working together the next 18 months.

"He's obviously around all the World Cups and all the world champs coaching Canada but there's certainly a chance I'll be over in Canada for a few more trips between now and Tokyo."

That reunion has already proven fruitful for Drysdale after regaining his Billy Webb Challenge crown in dominant fashion last Sunday. Drysdale says winning again has given him confidence and is a good indication he's heading in the right direction.

"I just raced at the Billy Webb, which was a really nice stepping stone just to sort of prove that some of the training is going in the right direction. And, yeah, we just keep working on it.

"A lot of what I did at Billy Webb was the stuff we've been working on. I've only been working on it for six weeks now and to already see some of the benefits from that is pretty pleasing that I'm going in the right direction. It gave me a lot of confidence. "