Images: World Triathlon + @nicolevdkaay

By Kent Gray/
Nicole van der Kaay couldn’t have hoped for a better start to last season, a perfect five wins from as many starts seeing her dominate the early season Oceania schedule.

It was the launch pad to two top 8s at World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) level later in 2023 that saw the Taupo world No.24 meet the secondary selection criteria for this year’s Paris Olympic Games.

As such, you might have expected van der Kaay to keep calm and carry on the same path to her likely second Olympics appearance.

Except you won’t find her name on the start list for the start of this summer’s Oceania campaign in Wanaka on Friday night, nor for World Triathlon Cup Napier, with it’s Mixed Relay bonus, the following weekend.

Instead, the Kiwi No.1 has radically changed things up as she looks to eclipse her 29th placing at Tokyo in July 2021 and 9th at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games a year later.

Van der Kaay, who celebrated her 28th birthday earlier this week, has started the new year with a new coach and training approach, ending her long-term association with Stephen Sheldrake to link with renowned Estonian Paulo Sousa.

That necessitated a move to Portugal to join Sousa’s camp which includes the likes of American Taylor Spivey, Spaniard Miriam Casillas Garcia, Brit Kate Waugh, Belgian Claire Michel, Japan’s Yuko Takahashi and Pole Roksana Slupek, among others.

As much as she’ll miss racing in Wanaka and Napier, van der Kaay has embraced the move to the tiny beach town of Monte Gordo. The immediate focus is to turn Sousa’s guidance iand the group training into a positive start for 2024 at the WTCS season opener in Abu Dhabi on March 8-9.

“There’s been lots of changes in the last month, moving my life over to the Northern Hemisphere with a new coach and training squad in pursuit to be my best for 2024,” van der Kaay said.

“The squad members have been the most welcoming and encouraging group, with the one-team, one-dream mindset. They have truly helped me feel right at home, especially when missing summer and home comforts from the other side of the world.”

Van der Kaay is one of the swiftest runners on the World Triathlon circuit but openly admits she needs to strengthen her swim to be able to stick in races and capitalise on her top discipline.

“These girls are so strong and have a fantastic work ethic, so I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be. For now, I keep working, keep building to the main goals later in the year.

“Specifics have been working on volume in all three disciplines, so appetite and fatigue has definitely been sent through the roof.”

Kiwi No.2 Ainsley Thorpe has also opted to bypass Friday night’s twilight Oceania Cup Wanaka, installing Canterbury’s Brea Roderick as an early favourite for the sprint race.

You can find the start lists for Wanaka here.

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