Images courtesy SuperLeagueTriathlon.com
By Kent Gray/Tri NZ
Forget the Bledisloe Cup and weird Thursday night rugby tests. The most tantalising trans-Tasman battle is being played out in Super League Triathlon (SLT).
After a win apiece, Hayden Wilde (in London) and Aussie battler Matt Hauser (in Munich) have conspired to turn Super League 2022 into a spicy and delicious and unmissable Antipodean affair. Part III of their personal battle takes to the surf of Zuma Beach on USA’s west coast on Sunday and therein lies the overarching pre-race narrative for Sunday. With the help of a little Malibu surf, can Hauser edge Wilde again?
To get you ready for the third of SLT’s five events in California, we’ve whistled up five reasons to cancel that training ride/run/swim early Sunday and invest instead in a coffee and a comfy pew to take in the LIVE coverage on Sky Sports Select (channel 50) from 8am Sunday. Let’s get to it…
1. Wilde v Hauser – Part III
Hayden Wilde entered London under the weather and won. Matt Hauser entered Munich angry after a case of mistaken (false start) identity in London and won. Roll on Part III of their epic Antipodean showdown at #SLTMalibu.
Wilde admitted he ran out of gas on the final run in Germany last weekend, perhaps a consequence of his brilliant performance at West India Quay the previous Sunday and a case of his post-Commonwealth Games and pre-Super League stomach virus finally catching up with him.
“Old @superleaguetriathlon racing hey. It’s a tough game but we all love it,” Wilde wrote on social media. “When you’re even a % off you’ll pay for it. Sunday in Munich the engine didn’t want to play ball. Felt like I was battling all day not being able to find the 6th gear I normally have. With below par swim legs and no top end for the bike or run.
“Got taken down by the better athletes but proud to give them a battle and staying consistent. Needed that those gears to keep up with a flying @matt_hauser and @vascovilaca. Hopefully the body turns up to Malibu as I know these lads will!”
The Whakatane ‘Falcon’ will need to conjure all his old mountain biking skills to drain Hauser’s clear swim advantage in Malibu while Hauser will be desperate to extend his surprise championship lead and prove Munich was no fluke.
Sure, the Aussie made up 12 seconds in the second leg of the swim in Munich and then 20 seconds on the final 300m splash ‘n’ dash in the Olympiapark lake to reel in the four blokes ahead of him, including leader Wilde. But it was the Eagles’ frontman’s kick in the deciding run that truly surprised.
With a US$50,000 bonus on the line for the overall SLT winner, expect a strong retort from Wilde on Sunday, perhaps with more than a little help from a slippery Sharks team-mate.
2. Reid eyes the Blue Jersey
It’s easy to get caught up in the Wilde v Hauser narrative but to overlook the performance of Tayler Reid in the opening two rounds of Super League would be a serious injustice to the #GizzyHard Shark.
Reid placed an impressive 6th in Munich, two spots better than his season bow in London, and critically leads the race for the Blue Jersey, awarded to the series’ best swimmer.
Reid earned the Sharks a ‘short chute’ by winning the opening swim in Munich. That advantage (essentially a short cut on the final run) was handed to Wilde and though he couldn’t take advantage, it showed Reid is up for Sunday’s opening swim which shapes as a pivotal moment in the entire season.
Gold Coast fish Hauser says he’s relishing the chance to “get back into the surf and catch a few body waves”. Whatever. Even the most gentle surf conditions at Waikanae Beach a kilometre from downtown Gizzy trumps anything that posh Aussie tourist trap can manage. That’s our story anyway and we’re sticking with it. Over to Reid to prove us right!
3. The Eliminator
Another week, another new format. You’ve got to love it.
STL trumpet their quickfire global series as the #FutureofTriathlon and after the ‘Triple Mix’ and ‘Enduro’ formats in London and Munich respectively, it’s hard to argue.
Malibu is showcasing the Eliminator format which adds yet another dimension to the racing. In short, as SuperLeagueTriathlon.com says, it’s set to test the “resilience, stamina and velocity of the athletes in a pressure-cooker environment where field position proves key over timing.”
The very first Super League format rolled out has been given a fresh twist with the combined time from the first two of the three rounds of swim-bike-run defining a pursuit start for stage three. There’s a short break between stages for the athletes to reset their equipment but this will be another tactical lung-buster. Bring it!
4. History Lesson
Malibu hosted the finale of SLT 2021. Hauser won the opening swim and with it a short chute and a $20,000 bonus as the Blue Jesery swim stud.
Wilde’s response? The Kiwi captured the run jersey and then finished fourth in a mass sprint finish to Hauser’s 10th after both made the final stage of the Eliminator format.
The Kiwi ended second to Hauser’s ninth in the overall standings but this is clearly a different year. There’s also the sudden threat of seals on the swim. No really.
5. Unheralded Heroine
At Tri NZ, we’re unashamedly pro Kiwi and especially biased when our athletes dig deep to do the silver fern proud. Step forward Nicole van der Kaay.
The Taupo 26-year-old has hung tough for back-to-back 10th placings in London and Malibu to move up to 9th overall in the women’s standings.
With London winner Cassandre Beaugrand not racing in Malibu, the hot money is on Brit Georgia Taylor-Brown to repeat her Munich runway in California. It will be interesting to see how USA Olympian and three-time Super League podium athlete Summer Rappaport, fellow American Gina Sereno and Britain’s Jessica Fullagar perform as Malibu wildcards, but not half as compelling (from a Kiwi perspective at least) as van der Kaay’s performance.