Emotions flowed as respected veterans Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell bowed out of the spotlight in yesterday's world championship series grand final in Auckland.
It was also fitting Ryan Sissons showed he is ready to assume their mantle by beating his mentors to secure 11th place and highlight the changing of the Kiwi guard.
Spain's Olympic silver medallist Javier Gomez outsprinted Britain's Jonathan Brownlee and Switzerland's Sven Riederer to win a thrilling race.
Gomez couldn't prevent Brownlee from claiming the overall world crown and a cheque for $90,000 to cap a stellar season that also included bronze in London.
Brownlee's 18th podium finish this year secured the world title from his older brother and Olympic champion, Alistair, who didn't compete because of illness.
"I've definitely been in my brother's shadow up until now," Brownlee, 22, said. "It's nice not to have him here. It was hard leading into it and there was a lot of pressure."
Kiwi fans who braved torrential downpours to line the streets were treated to a stunning spectacle. Foremost in their minds was the chance to farewell Docherty and Gemmell, who were retiring from the gruelling circuit.
"Both Kris and Bevan were my heroes when I started," Gomez said. "They were at the top in the best races in the world. They are always really aggressive racing. They fought hard today. I wish them all the best because they are two great athletes."
Palmerston North-born Gemmell stuck to his plan, breaking away with Docherty's help to lead for three laps of the relentless 40km bike leg which featured 24 hills.
Gomez and Brownlee stamped their authority by cutting his 58-second lead after just 2km of the run, but Gemmell appreciated those moments out in front despite slipping back to finish 20th.
"Going up Shortland Street when I was away by myself three times, you couldn't emulate that anywhere. It was insane," said Gemmell, his eyes welling up.
"I gave it my all. I was committed and there was no turning back. I was just hoping everyone else was suffering as much as I was.
"I'm proud of my whole career. I don't want to die in this sport, it's given me too much. I respect the sport and the competitors in it. It's time for me to move aside."
While double Olympic medallist Docherty was disappointed with his 14th placing, he has enjoyed his decorated 16-year career.
"These young guys can last a whole season. We have to pick and choose our races," he said.
"It was a pretty average result, but you could tell everyone was pretty proud of what I've achieved so it was very special. It was worth it."
Sissons' performance gives hope there is life after Docherty and Gemmell while New Plymouth's Clark Ellis showed promise to finish 19th.
After emerging from the water in 31st, Sissons stayed patient and produced a gutsy 10km run.
" . . . I knew I had it in me," the 24-year-old said.
"Those two [Docherty and Gemmell] are moving on now.
"I'm ready to take over from them and push through into next season which will hopefully be good for me."
- © Fairfax NZ News