Champion couple face biggest test
Nelson's Richard Ussher has confirmed that he will start alongside wife Elina in this year's Speight's Coast to Coast, which is shaping up as one of the toughest ever.
Last year the Usshers became the first married couple to win the Coast to Coast in the same year, and they will be centre stage on the start line at Kumara Beach on February 9.
While Elina entered a couple of months ago, Richard had been unsure of whether to attempt his sixth Coast to Coast title.
He finished 2012 drained, following a tough year on the international circuit, and only decided to line up for the world title race after New Year.
With a growing group of young pretenders to his throne, he might be worried ahead of this year's race. But his rivals have not had ideal buildups either.
Wanaka's Dougal Allan, the Coast to Coast runner-up for the past three years, has been battling a wrist injury. The much-anticipated comeback of Christchurch's Luke Vaughan has been hampered by a shin injury that required stitches, and Wellington's James Coubrough (fourth last year) has withdrawn after breaking his ankle during a training run across Goat Pass at New Year.
While Elina Ussher's buildup has gone somewhat better than her husband's, she faces one of the most competitive female fields the race has ever seen.
Her rematch with Sophie Hart will be the most anticipated battle of this year's event, and the fact that both are based in Nelson adds to the intensity.
Ussher won in 2010 and 2012, but Hart beat her in 2011 with the second-fastest time ever recorded in the women's event.
In an epic battle, Hart beat Ussher by nine minutes, and missed Andrea Murray's 1997 race record by just 65 seconds.
In 2012, Hart went on to win the adventure racing world title, so her return to the Coast to Coast is much anticipated.
Both women, however, will need to be wary of athletes as good as Auckland's Louise Mark (second in 2010, fourth in 2011), Taumarunui's Rachel Cashin (third in five of the past eight years), Christchurch-based Swede Sia Svendsen (two-time winner of the teams event), Hokitika's Tanya Maitland (seventh in 2012, ninth in 2011), and Brazilian Camila Nicolau (sixth in 2012, eighth in 2011).
As well as being favourites, at age 36, both Usshers are among the eldest contenders.
This may prove to be either an advantage or a handicap. While youth usually favours speed, age brings experience. Richard has missed the event only three times since 2000, while Elina has raced every year since 2006.
The 31st Coast to Coast is scheduled for February 8 and 9. Racing starts at Kumara Beach, between Hokitika and Greymouth, and finishes 243km later on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.
The feature Multisport World Championship will be contested on Saturday, February 9, with almost 150 competitors taking on the 3km run, 55km road cycle, 34km mountain run, 15km cycle, 67km whitewater kayak and 70km cycle in one day.
The two-day race starts on February 8 with the first cycle leg and the mountain run, and concludes on February 9 with the kayak leg and the remaining cycle sections.
Race director Robin Judkins has said he is expecting just over 600 entrants for the longest-running multisport race in the world.
The Nelson Mail