On a day of weather that wildly shifted from hard rain and chilly temperatures to hot sun, Javier Gomez and Annabel Luxford took hard-won, close victories over stubborn rivals Braden Currie and Laura Siddall at the half distance Challenge Wanaka.
After years of the pro field racing the full distance, Challenge Wanaka officials switched the pro field to the half Ironman distance.
Gomez broke away from Currie at the 12 kilometer mark of the run on his way to a course record half marathon, but Currie hung tough all the way to the line where he trailed Gomez by just 17 seconds.
“Braden put a lot of pressure on me and I had to run way faster than expected but I was very happy with how my fitness is,” Gomez told Challenge Media. “I love bike courses like this that are really up and down. We did a good job at the front but in the last 15k some of the guys caught us, which made it really tough. Luckily I managed to pace myself enough at the beginning of the run so I had some energy left for the end, which I really needed. I had to give absolutely everything to win. I really enjoyed it. It was a great course and a great day.”
Luxford took a 4-minute lead on top challenger Laura Siddall with a swim course record 25:49 split On her way to a women’s bike course record 2:2:27:26 split, Siddall caught Luxford at the 70km mark and led into T2. After a women’s run record 1:24:00 split, Luxford held off Siddall by 11 seconds for the victory.
“I was lucky to have a good swim and felt great on the first half of the bike but was losing quite a bit of time to Laura,” Luxford told Challenge media. “When she caught me I knew I had to race tactically. She’s an old hand at this course and I certainly wasn’t going to give her anything. On the run when she started closing on me at the end, I saw her full distance strength coming through but managed to hold her off.”
The men’s field exited the swim in a tight bunch which did not bow down to the glittering résumé of 5-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion and two-time Ironman 70.3 World titleist Javier Gomez. Kiwis Tony Dodds and Dylan McNeice led the way in equal 23:12 splits, followed closely by Gomez, Alexander Polizzi of Australia, and New Zealanders Graham O’Grady and Braden Currie all within 9 seconds. Luke McKenzie of Australia, Joe Skipper of Great Britain, Jesse Thomas of the U.S, Dougal Allan of New Zealand, and Luke Bell of Australia followed three minutes off the leaders’ pace.
Currie zipped through T1 to take an early lead on the bike, followed closely by Gomez, McNeice and Dodds. Halfway through the 90km bike leg, the five chasers trimmed their deficit to 2 minutes. At 70km, a pack of eight men were within 22 seconds. In the final 20km, Skipper made a short surge to the front but was quickly drawn back. Dougal Allan set a new bike course record split of 2:11:28 which brought him into T2 with the lead pack.
Starting the run, Gomez and Currie quickly broke away. At the Gunn Road hill at 12km, Gomez took control, finishing with a race-best 1:12:39 half marathon that brought him to the line in a 3:57:27 with a 17 seconds margin of victory over Currie and breaking a six-year-old race record by 20 minutes. Currie took the New Zealand National title. Jesse Thomas of the U.S. ran his way to third place, 2:06 behind the Spaniard.
Luxford led the elite women out of the swim in a course record 25:49 split with three-time runner-up Laura Siddall four minutes back. On the hilly bike course Siddall went to work and gradually reeled in Luxford until she caught the Australian at the 70km mark. After a bike course record split of 2:27:26, Siddall took a slight lead.
With a faster T2, Luxford took the front leading out on the run. At her best, Luxford held a 45 seconds lead, but Siddall pushed back and trailed by just 11 seconds at the line where she finished second for the fourth straight year. After a race-best run record of 1:24:00, Luxford finished in a women’s course record 4:27:02. Amelia Watkinson of New Zealand finished 3rd, 11:09 behind the winner.
Central Otago, New Zealand
February 17, 2018
S 1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Javier Gomez (ESP) 3:57:27
2. Braden Currie (NZL) 3:57:44
3. Jesse Thomas (USA) 3:59:33
4. Dylan McNeice (NZL) 4:02:45
5. Dougal Allan (NZL) 4:03:09
6. Luke Mckenzie (AUS) 4:03:34
7. Joe Skipper (GBR) 4:08:13
8. Luke Bell (AUS) 4:14:48
9. Olly Shaw (NZL) 4:17:30
10. Jason Hall (NZL) 4:18:05
1. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 4:27:02
2, Laura Siddall (GBR) 4:27:13
3. Amelia Watkinson (NZL) 4:38:11
4. Christine Cross (USA) 4:42:49
5. Hannah Wells (NZL) 4:48:02
6. Julia Grant (NZL) 4:49:45
7. Rebecca Clarke (NZL) 4:51:03
8. Laura Wood (NZL) 4:52:29
9. India Kraal (NZL) 4:52:36
10. Fiona Crombie (NZL) 4:55:00 *F35-39