By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Nicole van der Kaay’s impressive, early-season hit-and-run job across Australasia – with the emphasis on that famed run of hers – will face its sternest test yet at World Cup New Plymouth on Sunday.
The Kiwi No.1 will start the sprint race (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) off Ngāmotu Beach in the No.3 bib behind American Erika Ackerland and Frenchwoman Sandra Dodet.
She’ll keep a wary eye too on, among others, resurgent Kiwi team-mate Ainsley Thorpe and Rio 2016 Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen, especially given the latter has had a month to build on that legendary run of her own after an impressive comeback bronze at Oceania Cup Taupo on Feb. 25.
Still, after a 3 for 3 start to the year, van der Kaay is a short-priced favourite to continue her timely ascent back up the world rankings.
Lingering pandemic restrictions and early season injury niggles hampered the Taupo 27-year-old last year and meant she started 2023 dangerously close to being on the outside of the world’s top 100 and looking in on the year’s big races with little certainty.
Oceania Cup wins in Wanaka and Taupo last month, in addition to victory at last weekend’s Oceania Sprint Championship in Tasmania have fortunately taken care of that problem with van der Kaay impressively hauling herself back up to 40th in the world rankings.
“I got the three races and the maximum points I could so from almost looking from outside the top 100, I’m sitting now 40th. I’m really wrapped with that,” van der Kaay told Triathlon.kiwi.
“I’ll go down a little bit after some of my last years points slip out [of the world ranking calculations], but I’ve put myself in the best position I can from where I was. I’m lucky it really paid off.”
Van der Kaay’s perfect start to 2023, built around her blistering 5km splits but also featuring an impressive swim in Devonport last Saturday, has taken some of the sweat out of securing points-rich World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) starts later in the year.
Not that she’s done with her early season points haul yet. New Plymouth carries the additional carrot of Paris Olympic Games qualifying points while the Oceania Standard Distance Championship in Port Douglas on May 27, the last stop en route to Europe, provides a points boost given it is for the continental title.
But that is for later. For now, the focus is on New Plymouth’s return to the World Triathlon circuit for the first time since 2019. For the Kiwis, it’s so good to be back racing at home.
“It is amazing that international racing is back in New Zealand. It’s been a while, it’s felt a bit foreign without the Mooloolaba and New Plymouth World Cup every year so it’s really nice to be able to have it back,” van der Kaay said.
“Yeah, early days, early season but it’s also super important for all of us Kiwis to try and get those early season points.”
The elite women’s race is live on Triathlonlive.tv from 10:50am on Sunday. The race starts at 11am with the elite men taking the gun at 1:30pm.