In the first big long-distance race of the year, victory went to two local heroes.
Where Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
When 20 January, 2013
Winners Dylan McNeice (NZL), 8:51:18; Gina Crawford (NZL), 9:24:31
Set against the lake and mountain backdrop of the Mount Aspiring National Park in New Zealand’s South Island, the Challenge Wanaka triathlon is both beautiful and brutal, in equal measures. It’s also the first big long-distance race of 2013, and although there were no British pros it still attracted big-name athletes such as multiple world champion Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack and New Zealand’s own sub-nine-hour Ironman star, Gina Crawford.
The race organisers had warned competitors to “expect anything” when it came to the weather in this alpine environment, and they were right. The race began in a violent storm as the athletes sprinted from the beach to plunge into the crystal clear waters of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka, for a two-lap 3.8km swim within easy view of the brave spectators lining the shore. It made for a tough swim in choppy waters, and it was former surfer Dylan McNeice who fared best in the swell, exiting the lake first in 47:56, six minutes ahead of his pursuers, including former winner Jamie Whyte and fellow Kiwi Bryan Rhodes.
McNeice held onto his lead during a two-lap bike course, as he sped past alpine lakes and battled his way up the many hills. McCormack was riding strongly but making no real inroads, while Jamie Whyte was looking strong, reeling in five of the six minutes between him and McNeice.
With only a minute separating them, it took an impromptu toilet break during the marathon run for McNeice to relinquish his lead, albeit only temporarily. As he sat there, Jamie Whyte flew by praising his luck. But McNeice was soon hot on his heels, passing him to retake a lead that he would never give back. In the end he broke the tape in 8:51, almost four minutes clear of Whyte in second, and seven minutes ahead of McCormack, who posted the fastest run split of the day.
Home favourite Gina Crawford also led from the start in the women’s race. She was initially disappointed when she exited the water and saw a swim split of 59:14, but it still gave her a 30-second lead over fellow Kiwi Joanna Lawn.
However, it was during the bike section that Crawford pulled something special out of the bag. Riding like fury, she’d already stretched her lead to 10 minutes by the time she’d ridden just 100km of the 180km course. Her final bike split was 5:08 – 12 minutes quicker than the next fastest female bike split, and only 10 minutes slower than Chris McCormack’s.
She’d built a massive lead going into the run, but still had the energy to post the second fastest run split (3:11). Only second-placed finisher Candice Hammond went quicker, and only by one and a half minutes. It was still enough for her to claim second in the last few kilometres of the run, as she caught and passed Joanna Lawn. But the day belonged to Crawford, with victory by a winning margin of 20 minutes.
Top 3 Men
1. Dylan McNeice (NZL) 8:51:18
2. Jamie Whyte (NZL) 8:55:43
3. Chris McCormack (AUS) 8:58:05
Top 3 Women
1. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:24:31
2. Candice Hammond(NZL), 9:44:22
3. Joanna Lawn, (NZL) 9:44:30