It was a fitting end to a stellar season for Andrea Hewitt and an emotional journey for Kris Gemmell as New Zealand scored a golden double at the International Triathlon Union World Cup in Auckland yesterday.
Hewitt dominated the women's race, blitzing the field over the 10km run to win by 57 seconds ahead of Japanese duo Tomoko Sakimoto and Mariko Adachi.
It was her third World Cup win of 2011 and augured well for the London Olympics.
"It definitely gives me confidence heading into next year. It's been a great year, starting with Beijing, into Yokohama and finishing off here. It's awesome," she said.
"Huge crowds here in Auckland, the whole of Queen St was lined. There were so many happy faces, that's why I took my sunglasses off on the last lap and I was smiling. It's really, really hard to smile and run.
"I just tried to enjoy myself that last lap, but it was a hard race. I wanted to do well here. And that's what I did. I'm really happy."
After the race the 29-year-old revealed that she had not sat back on the hilly cycle, but subtly pushed on the 24 uphill stages. She succeeded in stretching her opponents' resolve before breaking it completely.
"Those first few laps, the Japanese tried to step up behind. We dropped a few after a couple of laps and then started to work together, which was a good way to do it.
"My legs were a little bit sore starting the run but I just tried to pace myself. I managed to get away from the Japanese girls straight away, I just kept going and had a good win."
For Gemmell it was a day he and his camp will never forget.
Before the race he declared that if he won he would donate all winnings to charity, after revealing a cousin had been diagnosed with a brain tumour.
In the race – littered with New Zealanders including Ryan Sissons and eventual runner-up Bevan Docherty – French favourite Laurent Vidal get off to a poor start, sucked into a white-water scrap on the swim as Slovak Richard Varga shot into an early lead.
But it was Docherty who helped merge the lead and chasing groups early in the cycle leg, a move which proved critical.
Once back in the lead group, Gemmell made what appeared to be a big gamble, slamming the hammer down on the bike and dragging fellow-countryman Tom Davison with him.
Docherty controlled the pack brilliantly, allowing Gemmell and Davison to open up a one-minute lead by the transition.
Gemmell, with Davison now falling away, tore into his run.
So charged was the veteran, he was fist-pumping with 2.5km still to go. Asked where the win ranks in his career, a visibly emotional Gemmell said: "This is right up there. I'm realistic, I know that this is not a world championship series race, the [world top two] Brownlees aren't here, [Javier] Gomez is not here, but you can only beat the people who turn up on the day.
"I started the year with a win and finished the year with a win.
"I wasn't just racing for myself today either, I was racing for my family."
Gemmell, Docherty and Sissons will now be looking ahead to Sydney in April, where they hope to secure qualification for the Olympics. Fairfax NZ
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