By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Will Nicole van der Kaay continue her clean sweep of the Oceania season? Brea Roderick and Hannah Knighton for medals in the U23 women’s race? Can Janus Staufenberg take a step up to gold in the men’s championship? Will the U23 men trump them all for excitement?
Those questions and countless other imponderables will find answers on Saturday when the 2023 Oceania Sprint Championships are decided in Devonport, Tasmania.
Tayler Reid and U23 contender Alex Brackenbury, the former focused on World Cup New Plymouth on Sunday week, the latter a late withdrawal due to a positive COVID-19 test, are notable Kiwi absentees, along with Kyle Smith who is back training at his European base in Girona, France.
But expect the racing to be fast and furiously parochial in Tasmania, a step up again from the two earlier Oceania Cup races in Wanaka and Taupo. Triathlon.kiwi takes a rapid-fire look at each of Sunday’s four races:
Elite Women – 12.30pm local (2.30pm NZT)
Nicole van der Kaay banished any thoughts her reign as Kiwi women’s No.1 might be under threat with Oceania Cup victories in Wanaka and Taupo and will be favoured to add the Oceania sprint title to her triathlon Palmarès. Emma Jeffcoat, third in Wanaka, looks the strongest Aussie challenge but could Olivia Thornbury be an even more dangerous threat? The Otago med student was 4th and 5th in Wanaka and Taupo and faster out of the water than van der Kaay in both races. The key for Thornbury in co. is gaining enough out of Bass Strait and on the technical bike course to negate van der Kaay’s superior run prowess.
U23 Women – 12.30pm local (2.30pm NZT)
Brea Roderick has made quite the impression in her graduation from the junior (U19) ranks, winning her first ever Olympic distance start and backing up that Canterbury Classic feat with second place behind Nicole van der Kaay at Oceania Cup Taupo. Don’t be surprised if she teams with Hannah Knighton, the bike provocateur en-route to fifth in Wanaka, to make the cycle super-fast and up the ante on Aussie hopes Ellie Hoitink and Charlotte Derbyshire, 4th and 7th respectively in Taupo.
Elite Men – 1.30pm local (3.30pm NZT)
Just imagine what Janus Staufenberg could do in triathlon if he weren’t also juggling Otago Medical School studies like partner Olivia Thornbury. He gave a glimpse of that when agonisingly pipped in a photo-finish by Spanish star David Castro Fajardo at Oceania Cup Taupo following a frustrating 9th in Wanaka when he was caught in a bike crash. Wanaka winner Callum McClusky is another whippet on the run to watch along with the pedigreed Jake Birthwistle. A strong swim from Trent Thorpe will give New Zealand another strong medal chance.
U23 Men – 1.30pm local (3.30pm NZT)
Don’t be at all surprised if the men’s finish in Devonport is a complicated mix of elite and U23 racers. Indeed, the U23 men’s race shapes as an absolute doozy with Oscar Dart and Oceania Junior champion in Taupo, Bradley Course, providing the Aussie starch in a race with ample Kiwi interest. Saxon Morgan, 8th at the last U23 worlds in Abu Dhabi, was outgunned by Dylan McCullough in both Wanaka and Taupo so will look to respond. McCullough outpaced McClusky in Taupo, adding credence to the likely mixed elite and U23s finish theory. James Corbett and Lachlan Haycock, meanwhile, also have designs on representing NZ at the 2023 U23 worlds in Pontevedra and with likely only three spaces available, will be seeking early-season ranking boosts in Tasmania. Forget not either Sam Parry, 6th and 12th in Wanaka and Taupo, nor the next-tier dogfight featuring Austin Carter, Henry McMecking, Ivan Abele, Luke Scott, Ben Airey and Oliver Larcombe. It shapes as a fascinating race at both ends of the field.
Stay tuned to Triathlon.kiwi for full coverage on Saturday.