The favourite tag doesn't sit well with Sophie Hart, though she feels she has learnt how to "suffer" with the best as she prepares to tackle the Coast to Coast world multisport championship tomorrow.
Race organiser Robin Judkins installed Hart as the favourite for the women's title in his annual top 10 predictions. However, speaking from a section of the Waimakariri River near Arthur's Pass yesterday, the 2011 champion didn't want a bar of it.
"No, thank you, not at all," Hart said. "[Elina Ussher] is the reigning champ."
Hart will line up for her sixth Speight's Coasts to Coast after competing in a team event, the two-day race and previously finishing three one-day races, with an ever improving record of eighth, third and first in 2011.
The one-day feature race, often referred to as the "longest day", starts at 6am on the West Coast's Kumara Beach. Competitors then run, cycle and kayak the 234km distance across the South Island to Christchurch's Sumner Beach.
"As far as multisport racing goes, [the Coast to Coast] draws the most competitive field," Hart said.
"It is the race to do really . . . the course is pretty spectacular and crossing from one side of the island to the other in a day, is a pretty neat thing to say that you have done."
Hart did not compete in 2012, when Ussher took the title, so their contest has been identified as one of the possible highlights.
Again, Hart didn't want to know about the effective head-to-head many pundits have picked. She has a great respect for her "super-strong" rival and fellow Nelsonian, but Hart believed there were many more threats in the field.
"I'm not really interested in the battle between Elina and I," she said. "I am just trying to think about my own race as much as possible. I tend not to bring it down to a two-person race, that is just asking for trouble."
Hart said her victory in 2011 came from a strong kayak leg that turned the race. The kayak section (67km) is now one of her strongest disciplines, forged from what was once a fairly brittle command of the paddle.
"I used to be a bit of a rudder and dreaded kayaking but now the tables have turned dramatically. I really look forward to getting on the river."
Hart said preparations for the race had gone without a hitch and, while not directly comparable with individual multisport competition, a busy 2012 on the world adventure racing circuit has her in a good head space.
"Adventure racing is pretty good at teaching you how to suffer. Having faith that things will come right again at some point and not giving up until the end. It increases your mental toughness in terms of racing."
In September, Nelson's Team Seagate made up of captain Nathan Fa'avae, Trevor Voyce, Hart and Christchurch-based Chris Forne claimed the world adventure racing title.
The Raid In France, a triumphant 125hr 40min 500km from the French Alps to the Mediterranean coast was preceded by wins in the Tierra Viva race in Patagonia, the Godzone Adventure race in the South Island and the Ordos Adventure Challenge in China.
"It all helps for sure," Hart said. It is a very different style of racing because the adventure racing is extreme endurance stuff so it is a lot slower and longer.
"My team-mates are all top athletes and just seeing how they race is a good experience."
The Coast to Coast two day race was due to start this morning with the cycle and mountain run, then conclude with the cycle, kayak and cycle sections tomorrow.
More than 800 competitors are expected to take part in the 31st edition of the Speight's Coast to Coast.
- The Nelson Mail