Big names front for Challenge Wanaka race

PROVEN WINNER: Gina Crawford celebrates winning the Challenge Walchsee-Kaiserwinkl triathlon in Austria in September.
PROVEN WINNER: Gina Crawford celebrates winning the Challenge Walchsee-Kaiserwinkl triathlon in Austria in September.

Challenge Wanaka has attracted several world-class entrants, with tough battles predicted in both the men's and women's divisions.

The iron-distance 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run will take place tomorrow.

The long-course event has attracted 224 individual competitors, while 1045 athletes have entered the Lake Wanaka half.

Fifty-four teams of three will compete across both events.

Among the big names in the men's division are four-time world champion Chris McCormack, of Australia, former duathlon world champion Leon Griffin, another Australian, Challenge Wanaka 2011 winner and Southlander Jamie Whyte, four-time iron-distance champion Bryan Rhodes and regular podium finisher Keegan Williams.

The women's lineup is also impressive, featuring seven-time Ironman New Zealand winner Joanna Lawn, a Kiwi who has been described by Inside Triathlon magazine as one of the top 10 greatest female iron-distance triathletes of all time.

She will race against four-time Challenge Wanaka winner Gina Crawford, Australian Kate Bevilaqua, who has multiple long-distance titles, and regular podium finishers Candice Hammond and Julia Grant.

Lawn and Crawford yesterday brushed off suggestions their clash was the one to watch in the women's division.

"It's not just between me and her. Anyone can win this race," Crawford said.

Having a child meant Crawford had reduced her training to 20 hours a week but she said she was more determined and found it easier to "push through".

"I've got to make money to feed my boy."

She had suffered a stomach bug early in the week but was eating normally and training well.

Lawn said she had entered Challenge Wanaka for the first time because she was nearing the end of her career and wanted to do races that excited her.

"It's bloody hard.

"If you're enjoying it, it might be a little easier. Ignorance is bliss - if you don't know what is around the corner."

After 13 years of racing, Lawn said she had finally accepted she would not always win and was happy with her achievements.

"You can never underestimate what you are going to do, or what anyone else might do."

Hammond said Lawn and Crawford "set the benchmark".

"I get a lot of adrenaline when I see them on the course."

Bevilaqua, another athlete new to Challenge Wanaka, said she had been back in training for two months after falling ill last year.

"I'll give it everything and, if not, it will be a good training day."

In the men's division, Challenge Wanaka organisers have described McCormack as the "highlight" of the race.

Despite "approaching 40", the 20-year veteran said he felt strong and was as enthusiastic as ever.

He was excited about racing in New Zealand because he had strong family ties to the country through his late mother's iwi, Ngati Tuwharetoa.

Whyte said he had recovered from a knee injury and was looking forward to competing in his home region.

"Chris [McCormack] is a big name, if not the biggest probably," Whyte said.

"It's a bit like the All Whites getting to play Brazil on their home ground - that's what it's like for me, having Chris here."

Another of the sport's veterans, Rhodes, who turned 40 this month, said the older athletes still set a very high benchmark for those coming through the ranks.

The Southland Times