A champion prevailed while a newcomer made his mark on a misty day in Taupo.
by Ian Hepenstall
Multisporter-turned-triathlete Braden Currie scored arguably the best win of his fledgling triathlon career to win the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo today.
Currie, a two-time Coast-to-Coast winner, dominated off the bike to beat a quality international field in the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 event in Taupo.
He held off the well-performed Kiwi Callum Millward and early leader Dylan McNeice to win in 3:51:47.
Meanwhile superstar American Meredith Kessler, a four-time winner of IRONMAN New Zealand, was forced to dig deep to hold off the charge from young Kiwi Amelia Watkinson to win the women’s title.
US-based British athlete Laura Siddall was third ahead of Samantha Warriner, the former world number one ITU athlete and IRONMAN New Zealand champion, who brought the curtain down on her stellar career in her new hometown of Taupo.
The Wanaka-based Currie, who has his sights set on the Rio Olympics, surprised many with a superb swim, coming out of the 1.9km splash in the crystal clear waters of Lake Taupo fourth in 24”33, just 50 seconds down on leader McNeice.
By the 45km turn at Reporoa, Currie, Millward and McNeice had formed a flying group with fellow Kiwis Matt Franklin and Graham O’Grady, as pre-race favourite Tim van Berkel (AUS) fell behind and then crashed and Auckland hope Mark Bowstead punctured.
Currie was first into transition and put the hammer down opening a 51 second lead at 5km and 1:06 from Millward at the halfway mark back in the city. He managed to protect his advantage on his way to his first IRONMAN 70.3 victory.
« I was really happy with that. It was a great win and reasonably unexpected for me, » says Currie. « It showed the gains I’ve made in training and that was really pleasing because I really didn’t have a clue how I would go.
« The swim set things up for me because I didn’t have to work so hard. It is reasonably hilly the first part of the ride and suited me coming from a mountain bike multisport background. I used it to jump back on to the back of that front bunch and I was able to pace off those guys more. »
Kessler has enjoyed a stellar season with two IRONMAN victories and five wins over IRONMAN 70.3, coming to Taupo after defending her title at IRONMAN Arizona last month.
She was a minute clear out of the 1.9km swim and maintained that buffer midway on the 90km bike from Warriner, who was ensuring she gave her final professional race everything she could muster.
Warriner closed the margin to 30 seconds going on to the 21.1km run but her challenge faded, eventually finishing fourth.
However Kessler found a new challenge as the 24-year-old Watkinson closed to within 50 seconds with 5km remaining.
« I didn’t see her until after the turn at Rainbow Point and I literally had to really sprint it home from there, » says Kessler.
« That was by far the toughest race and toughest win this year. I had to use everything in my toolbox to hold Amelia off especially the last 5km.
« My husband and I are instantly at peace when we touch down in Taupo. We love this place and I am so thrilled to start the year and now end the year with wins in Taupo where we are supported so well is very special. »
The podium presentation was halted as all rose to welcome home Warriner in fourth place and end an outstanding career in the sport.
The race attracted 1200 competitors from 34 countries chasing 75 qualifying places for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship to be held on the Sunshine Coast, Australia.
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