The 2011 ITU World Cup series wraps up this weekend, with a return to one of the strongest triathlon nations in the world. From the first ITU World Champion, Erin Baker, to Hamish Carter, Samantha Warriner, Bevan Docherty and Andrea Hewitt, New Zealand just keeps producing world-conquering triathletes.
Now the ITU World Cup series returns to New Zealand for the first time since 2008, and returns to Auckland for the first time since 1998. Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city and the Queens Wharf waterfront one of its most lively areas. It became even more so in the last two months, when it was home to the Rugby World Cup fan zone, which finished just last month with New Zealand’s own All Blacks claiming the title. Now, triathlon gets it chance to shine right in Auckland’s CBD, with this event the perfect dress rehearsal for next year’s Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Grand Final.
The course starts with two-lap 1.5km lake swim in a sheltered area next to Queen’s Wharf, before an eight-lap technical and hilly 40km bike course. From the waterfront, the cycle leg takes athletes through the CBD, and up and down the steep Queen St. The course finishes with four-lap 10km run.
Elite Women’s Preview
Andrea Hewitt finished the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series in incredible style, pulling out a dominant performance to win the biggest race of the year at the Beijing Grand Final. Then, just 10 days after that epic battle with ITU World Champion Helen Jenkins, Hewitt did it again in Yokohama. Those two performances mean she is the female triathlete to beat right now, and therefore it’s hard to back against Hewitt in a place where she is sure to have crowd support.
The supporters have more than just Hewitt cheer on though with a number of New Zealand woman set to challenge, including 2011 Mooloolaba winner Nicky Samuels and new junior world champion Mikayla Nielsen in her World Cup debut.
What is likely to make a difference here is the tough, steep and technical bike leg. In an eight-lap leg, with each five kilometre lap containing three climbs, it has the potential to split the field and gives the strong cyclists a great chance to form breakaways.
Others to watch for include Slovenian Mateja Simic, particularly because she’s part of Team ITU again. Last time she was part of the team she claimed silver in Edmonton, her and Slovenia’s first World Cup medal. Simic also has some extra motivation, she’s currently in a battle with Hungary’s Margit Vanek to claim the next Olympic qualifying spot from Europe. Simic and Austria’s Lisa Perterer are also the next two in line to qualify a new flag European spot. Also keep an eye on a deep Japanese team which includes Ai Ueda, triple Olympian Kiyomi Niwata, Asian Games gold medallist Mariko Adachi and Tomoko Sakimoto, runner-up at the recent Guatape World Cup. Others to watch are South Africa’s Kate Roberts, European U23 champion Alexandra Razarenova (RUS) and Spain’s Zurine Rodriguez is also coming off two consecutive world cup bronze medals.
Elite Men’s Preview
The 11-strong New Zealand men’s team will no doubt be keen to take out the win at home in what’s been a lean year. Only two-time Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty has won a world cup race, in Edmonton, and not one has made the podium of a Dextro Energy Triathlon Series race. Docherty will lead the charge here, alongside world cup winner Kris Gemmell and up and comers James Elvery, Clark Ellice, Ryan Sissons and Tony Dodds leading the way. Docherty will also be keen for a good result, to keep ahead of Canada’s Kyle Jones in the ITU Olympic rankings and make sure New Zealand men qualify three spots for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
But going on the French run in World Cups lately, definitely watch for Laurent Vidal. Vidal, who is Hewitt’s partner and coach, describes himself as 49 per cent Kiwi and 51 per cent French and he’s had a solid year. He’s already qualified for the London 2012 Olympics, with a sixth place finish in London, then finished sixth in Lausanne and fifth in the Beijing Grand Final. Vidal will start the Auckland race wearing the No.1, and you can’t knock the current French form. Vidal has never won a World Cup, but neither had Jessica Harrison, Carole Peon or Etienne Diemunsch two months ago. Now, they are all have, in Tongyeong, and Guatape respectively. Vidal has won in New Zealand before, at last year’s Oceania championships in Wellington.
Others to watch include the in form Spanish triathletes Ivan Rana and Jose Miguel Perez. Also keep an eye on Team ITU athletes Min Ho Heo (KOR), Aleksandr Latin (EST), Hervé Banti (MON), Medhi Essadiq (MAR) and Ognjen Stojanovic (SRB).
In the men’s Olympic qualifying race, the interesting battles here are between Heo and Dmitriy Gaag for the new flag Asia spot, and Morocco’s Essadiq who is aiming to extend his lead over Zimbabwe’s Christopher Felgate in the new flag Africa spot.
The 2011 Auckland ITU World Cup gets underway when the elite women’s race starts at 12.00noon (local time) on Sunday 20 November, followed by the men’s race from 2.45pm. Follow every movement live through Triathlon’s live timing and text updates, at www.triathlon.org/live. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/triathlonlive.