Steve Gurney puts angry Ussher in his place
Five-time champion Richard Ussher is still the red-hot favourite to retain his Coast to Coast crown but race legend Steve Gurney wonders if the pre-race controversy might affect him.
Gurney, a nine-time winner of the Longest Day race, has huge admiration for Ussher's skill, talent and experience, and his success in the adventure racing, multisport and Ironman arenas.
He believes Ussher, who won his first Coast to Coast in 2005 just two years after Gurney's last title, is the man to beat but said several rivals, including three-time runner-up Dougal Allan, were capable of stopping Ussher making it three in a row.
Ussher lashed out this week at the organisation of the Coast to Coast, criticising the cost of participation and cataloguing 10 aspects needing change. He also called for race founder and director Robin Judkins to step aside.
Gurney, who staunchly defended the race after Ussher's utterances, yesterday wondered what emotional impact the controversy would have on tomorrow's race.
"I'm only guessing because I don't know what Richard is thinking but I suspect he could be wondering was it the right thing to go to the media like that this week?"
Gurney said he had been "in the space Richard is in. When you're fully preparing for the race, it's your life . . . I still can't understand why he would do it. We all know Judkins, it's the biggest week of his life and a very stressful time. Why would you go and throw a spear in his side and stir him up this week?"
Ussher is seeking a third consecutive title and Gurney said while the Nelson athlete is "still very much in his prime" at 36, being top dog was a challenge.
"It's all about head space at this level. When you've won the race before, you have this confidence knowing you just have to apply the same formula again.
"But [former All Blacks captain] Sean Fitzpatrick had a saying that the underdog is the best place to come from and he would train as if he was number two. I totally identify with that. There's only one way to go when you're top dog.
"I was always aware these young fellas were nipping at my heels trying to knock me off my pedestal."
There should be no chance of complacency on Ussher's part. He was chasing a three-peat in 2007 after winning the previous two titles but race director Judkins noted this week that Aucklander Gordon Walker "turned the race upside-down by attacking right from the start".
"That's something we could see again this year," although Judkins noted Ussher had "learned the hard way" from 2007.
Allan, runner-up for the last three years, is again expected to be Ussher's greatest threat. Gurney said the 27-year-old, an accomplished cyclist, was still "in a learning phase" but now had "experience under his belt".
"I think he will get a bit of confidence from that. I know he had a bit of a stale period [in training] so he took time off to refresh and I think that makes him dangerous."
Judkins said Allan and Ussher "really broke the race open on the first cycle" last year.
"Richard then broke Dougal on the run, so perhaps Dougal feels he'll need to push the opening cycle even harder this year."
Judkins expects Wanaka's Braden Currie, who was third last year and beat Ussher at the Xterra Off Road triathlon world championships in Hawaii last last year, to again be a frontrunner.
World adventure racing champion Trevor Voyce (Nelson) was runner-up to Walker in 2009 and Gurney said he would "certainly have fitness and determination".
Judkins other top 10 tips include Queenstown's Bernard Robinson (seventh in 2012), Christchurch's J J Wilson (eighth) and Auckland's James Kuegler (eighth in 2011).
Cantabrians Nathan Jones and Nathan Bell, who finished first and second in last year's two-day race, are stepping up to the Longest Day this year. Jones is a former top-10 finisher in the one-day event. Picton's Dan Moore, who finished second in 2011 two-day race, will also be keen after failing to finish last year due to an eye infection.