Photos: World Triathlon
By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Nicole van der Kaay is excited to take her perfect Oceania form to the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) and test herself over the standard distance as the Paris Olympic Games loom ever larger.
The Kiwi No.1 is poised for her season bow in World Triathlon’s blue-riband series at WTCS Yokohama on Saturday and will be joined on a star-studded start-line by in-form compatriot Ainsley Thorpe.
Hayden Wilde, Tayler Reid and Dylan McCullough will later fly the New Zealand flag in the men’s race. Both 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run races are live on Sky Sport 2 (Channel 52) from 1pm (women) and 3.50pm (men) and Triathlonlive.tv (stream from 12.46pm).
After a topsy-turvy 2022 which ended in a painful 48th place at the WTCS Finale in Abu Dhabi, van der Kaay has enjoyed a brilliant start to the year. Victory at World Cup New Plymouth in March followed wins at Oceania Cups in Wanaka and Taupo and at the Continental sprint championship in Devonport, Tasmania and has seen her world ranking soar from nearly outside the top 100 to 36th.
There’s still much work to be done to ensure qualification for Paris ’24 and it starts in Yokohama over the standard – or Olympic – distance before the Taupo 27-year-old heads to Europe for a full schedule of WTCS and Super League racing. The Paris test event in mid-August, where a podium finish will guarantee a nomination to the NZOC for the XXXIII Olympiad, is another obvious target.
“It’s been a great early season over in New Zealand and Australia which has been great to set up my year ahead points-wise,” van der Kaay told Triathlon.kiwi.
“I’m looking forward to the European summer and seeing how I go against the best ladies in the world. I’m just really excited to be here in Yokohama, being around a good buzz and great athletes. It’s my first Olympic distance in a while so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can produce.”
Van der Kaay enjoyed a short break in Gisborne with partner Ried after edging Thorpe at World Cup New Plymouth. She’s ramped up her training on the Gold Coast in recent weeks and heads into Saturday in a good space.
“I’m coming into this race probably the most relaxed I’ve come into any major race, feeling like I trust myself and the training I’ve done, and that’s a really nice feeling to have.
“It’s certainly a nicer feeling than last year where I felt I was always in catch-up mode from being behind in training. Good or bad on race day, I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself.”
Van der Kaay has raced in Yokohama once before, finishing 27th in 2019. After riding the bike course on Friday, she concedes “nothing has changed” although that shapes as cold comfort with contingency plans in place given a forecast of heavy rain. The event could be changed to a duathlon if the water quality suddenly changes and technical parts of the bike course could be snipped for safety.
Thorpe, meanwhile, has quietly slipped into Yokohama in some of the best form of her career. The world No.41 was 2nd to van der Kaay at Oceania Cup Taupo as well as World Cup New Plymouth and produced an eye-catching 17th at the 2023 WTCS season-opener in Abu Dhabi on March 3.
Like Thorpe, van der Kaay is looking forward to mixing it with a stellar field. Abu Dhabi winner Beth Potter is missing but the other podium place-getters, Sophie Coldwell (GBR) and Taylor Spivey (USA), are in Japan while Brit Georgia Taylor-Brown will look to avenge her shock 15th placing in Abu Dhabi in March.
“There are some fierce ladies in the field that’s for sure, all chasing similar goals,” van der Kaay continued. “I’m looking forward to see if the work I have done over New Zealand summer has translated over to these bigger races.”
Do you feel like you’re closing the gap on the biggest names?
“These ladies are the best in the world and are doing no less training than anyone else, so it’s always going to be challenging closing the gap, but that’s the goal.”
“We will see come race day.”