Photos: Courtesy Andrea Airey

By Kent Gray/
Paris Olympic Games hopeful Dylan McCullough has started his year as predicted with a comfortable victory in the “pretty epic” Canterbury Classic. New Zealand team-mate Brea Roderick thought she was off to a flier as well – until a horrible realisation struck her moments after she’d crossed the finish line.

Cambridge-based Aucklander McCullough knocked out the standard distance triathlon in 1:58:10 to edge fellow World Triathlon campaigner and Canterbury favourite Saxon Morgan by 2min 31sec. Argentina’s Valentino Agnelli, who led out of the swim at the recent Tauranga Half and has a start in next month’s World Triathlon Cup Napier, rounded out the podium in 2:11:29.

It was a useful training hitout for McCullough and Morgan as they eye the February 16 Oceania Cup sprint in Wanaka and the showcase sprint and mixed relay weekend in Napier on February 24-25.

Defending women’s champion Roderick was also accentuating the training positives afterwards despite being disqualified for mistakenly failing to complete the course after missing a lap on the 9.5km run.

Kiri Atkin was the chief benefactor of the Canterbury 21-year-old’s snafu, winning the women’s title in 2:25:11 from Georgia Waghorn (2:31:33) and Olivia Richie (2:38:31).

Kiri Atkin.

It was bitter-sweet for Atkin who has previously competed at the elite level under the stewardship of John Hellemans and is slowly easing her way back into top level tri after a series of injury challenges.

The 27-year-old Christchurch tax manager felt for Roderick but will at least take confidence into her next race, Challenge Wanaka on February 17.

“I mean it doesn’t really feel like a win,” Atkin told modestly.

“Brea is definitely significantly better but yeah, it’s nice to still kind of be the next best I guess, and yeah, always nice to take a win but not under those circumstances.”

Atkin was surprised to learn she was the victor, much as Roderick was shocked upon realising she’d missed a lap.

“I somehow miscalculated and finished a lap early, didn’t realise until 10 mins after I had finished and, my ankle was really sore from rolling it so called it a good training day,” Roderick said.

Other than the ankle injury and the miscalculated run, Roderick was happy with her days work as she too builds towards Wanaka and Napier – after riding the 125km road race at the Cycling NZ nationals in Timaru on February 9.

“Sensations felt good today. It had been four months since I did a triathlon so was good to blow the cobwebs out and get all the mistakes out of the way!

“Swim was good, felt strong and comfortable. This year we had a long run to transition of over a kilometre which was different to what we are used to. I unfortunately rolled my ankle pretty badly in T1 so struggled the first part of the bike but found my legs out there in the hills.

Brea Roderick.

“I then had a mind blank and accidentally ran a lap less. So a lot of mistakes today, however the main thing is the body felt pretty good so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Next up for me is road cycling nationals which will be a good challenge leading into Wanaka and Napier.

“The main goals for the year are just to keep progressing across all three areas of triathlon and I’ll be targeting the U23 world champs in Malaga in October.”

McCullough opened up a 13 second lead over Morgan out of the water after completing the new 1500m swim course in Cass Bay in 17:33. The run to transition in neighbouring Corsair Bay was no cinch as the eventual winner’s 6min 11sec split for the approx. 1km distance highlighted and he put more time on Morgan with a 1:01:30 split for the hilly 40km bike.

Dylan McCullough.

“It was a good training session and good to see where my fitness is at after just solo training lately,” McCullough said after rounding out the race with a 31:56 split for the equally hilly 9.5km run.

“It was a pretty epic course out there. A real honest triathlon with lots of hills on the bike and run withsome decent off road trails throughout the run. Hopefully I’ll get to come back to this race in the future. I really enjoyed it.”

Morgan’s early season plans include the Oceania Sprint & Relay Championships in Devonport in March and the Oceania Standard Distance Championships in April, the latter either side of World Cups in Hong Kong and Wollongong.

Sunday’s race was a decent way to lean into that.

“The goal was to just get a good workout so happy with how it went.” Morgan said

Saxon Morgan.

“Swam just off the back of Dyl [McCullough] and started the ride together. He rode a solid amount of time into me but I rode the best power I’ve done so happy with how I am tracking for the 2024 season.

“The run was good. Ran a solid pace and tried to just even split the run which I did.”

The Canterbury Classic incorporated two Tri NZ Suzuki Series events, the South Island Standard Distance Championships which served as a qualifier for October’s World Triathlon Age Group Championships in Malaga, and the NZ Standard Distance Duathlon Championships, a qualifier for the WT Multisport Championships in Townsville this August.

You can check out all the age group results from the Canterbury Classic HERE.

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