New Zealand and Australia shared the honours at the Oceania Triathlon Championships at Kinloch, Lake Taupo today with Kate McIlroy (Wellington) winning the women's elite title and Aaron Royle (Australia) the men's.
Brilliant conditions greeted over 900 participants at the latest round of the Contact Tri Series at Kinloch. Racing covered everything from the children's Contact 1:2:1 to the beginners 3:9:3 race, national age group sprint championships and of course the elites who chased not only national titles but Oceania honours as well.
Kate McIlroy won the women's race in a most impressive first hit out of the season, running away from the ever improving Dutch pair of Rachel Klamer and Danne Boterenbrood with Debbie Tanner running home fourth.
These four plus Nicky Samuels established a strong lead early on the bike after exiting the 750 swim together, with the field trailing behind as the pace went on around the tight and demanding multi-lap 20km bike course.
On to the 5km run it was Samuels who faded first, leaving the two Dutch and two Kiwis to hammer away in front of a huge crowd lining the Kinloch course.
Into the home straight for the final time it was McIlroy who proved strongest, pulling away in a great display of strength and leg speed, especially for so early in the season.
"I'm really happy, it was a really hard race, we pushed the whole way," said McIlroy. "The bike was aggressive and on the run there was a group of us pushing the whole way. Team tactics didn't come into it at all; I think we all had a plan of trying to bike really hard and keep the chasing group away from us and maintain that gap.
"Once on the run the pace was on the whole time, Danne went out quickly so there was no time to rest. There were a few surges on the last lap from Rachel, I made sure I stayed with her the whole time and got ready for the sprint, it isn't the strongest part of my racing but I managed to find enough today."
The Dutch have spent the summer training in New Zealand under the watchful eye of former NZ Coach John Hellemans, now running the Dutch national programme. That work under the eye of triathlon legend Hellemans is paying dividends with Klamer finishing second to Andrea Hewitt in Wanaka and now a close second to McIlroy and in doing so, taking out the U23 race category.
In the men's race drama struck favourite and winner at the Barfoot & Thompson ITU World Cup race in Auckland last November when Kris Gemmell retired due to mechanical failure on the bike. Gemmell's derailleur broke, bringing his race to an abrupt end.
It was Aaron Royle (AUS) who went one better than his runner up finish at the 2011 Oceania standard distance championships in Wellington, winning comfortably from a chase group that included New Zealand's Martin van Barneveld.
Royle rode superbly, exiting onto the run alongside Tom Davison (Christchurch) and Edward Rawles (New Plymouth), the two Kiwi youngsters riding superbly in elite company. The 3rd seeded Aussie held on in front of fast finishing Jan Van Berkel (NED) and Jamie Huggett (AUS), with Van Barneveld in fourth in his first race since Beijing last year.
"I came into this race confident, it is my first race for the year and I know I am probably the fittest I have ever been," said Royle. "I was able to get a good swim and really take it out on the bike; it was really the bike that got me the win today.
"We had a good group, Rawles, Davison and for a while Richard Vargas (Slovakia). I was concerned knowing that there were a few good guys that could bridge the gap on the run if my legs didn't keep me going but I was able to push through to the end and hold the lead.
"The crowd was awesome, even though they were mostly going for New Zealand. I heard the odd cheer for me, I'm sure they love Australians!"
Van Barneveld took the NZ Championship honours as first Kiwi in fourth place, a result all the more meritorious given it is his first race for almost 5 months.
"I've just come back from overseas and this is my first triathlon since Beijing in September last year. I had 5 weeks holiday after Beijing and decided to go to Kenya, working at 2,400m with New Zealand athletes Jake and Zane Robertson to focus on my running. It has gone really well, two weeks ago I ran 8:12 for 3,000m on the track so I'm happy with where I am at.
"I am totally committed to triathlon in 2012; my time away was just a focus to do something where I can compete with the best in the sport. The Brownlees are just destroying the run at the moment and even our own Ryan Sissons had a great year running.
"I decided I had to do something about the run if I am going to compete and so went to Kenya to work solely on my running. It has certainly worked, I am probably in shape to run 8:05 for 3k on the track but now I need to make sure I can swim and bike to get myself in contention and in good shape to run those sorts of times."
Under 23 and under 19 titles were also on the line with strong fields assembled in all races categories.
Event Director Haidee Stratford said the day was a huge success.
"Thanks to the great support from the Tri Sport Taupo Club and the T?wharetoa Maori Trust Board for granting us access to the Lake today has been fantastic, we have had capacity fields, safe racing and a great crowd on a beautiful day."
Results: Contact Tri Series, Kinloch, Lake Taupo
ITU Oceania Sprint Championships (also NZ Sprint titles for eligible triathletes)
750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
1. Kate McIlroy NZL 1:03:53
2. Rachel Klamer (U23) NED 1:03:57
3. Danne Boterenbrood NED 1:04:03
4. Debbie Tanner NZL 1:04:15
5. Nicky Samuels NZL 1:04:49
1. Aaron Royle AUS 58:24
2. Jan van Berkel NED 58:28
3. Jamie Huggett AUS 58:32
4. Peter Kerr AUS 58:40
5. Martin van Barneveld NZL 58:46
1. Rachel Klamer NED 1:03:57
2. Natalie Van Coevorden AUS 1:09:10
3. Rebecca Kingsford NZL 1:10:54
1. Sam Franklin NZL 1:00:24
2. James Chronis AUS 1:00:44
3. Edward Rawles NZL 1:00:52
1. Mikayla Nielsen NZL 1:08:22
2. Tamsyn Moana-Veale AUS 1:09:31
3. Maddie Dillon NZL 1:10:32
1. Marcel Walkington AUS 59:56
2. Sam Ward NZL 1:00:40
3. Troy McAlister NZL 1:02:52