By Kent Gray/
As of Friday, there are just 165 days until the individual men’s race at the XXXIII Paris Olympic Games and 166 till the world’s best women toe the edge of the Alexandre Bridge start pontoon on the River Seine.

Drill down a little further and it is a mere 101 days until the second and final global qualification period for Paris closes, meaning every remaining date on the World Triathlon calendar until that deadline is mission critical for those with Paris ambitions.

While Friday’s twilight Oceania Cup Wanaka doesn’t carry Olympic qualification points given its Continental Cup status, it is the launch pad for an Oceania campaign critically important to hopefuls on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

As such, those in Wanaka will be after a fast start to 2024 as they eye critical World Cups in Napier (February 24-25) and in Wollongong (April 24), plus points rich Oceania Sprint and Standard Distance Championships in Devonport, Tasmania (March 16-17) and Taupo (April 14) respectively.

Kiwi stars Hayden Wilde, Tayler Reid, Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe won’t race in Wanaka though both Wilde, Reid and Thorpe are listed to start in Napier. It all adds intrigue to Friday night’s races around the Wanaka CBD.

WOMEN – 6:30pm, Friday, February 16
With Nicole van der Kaay training in Portugal for the opening round of the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) season on March 8-9 and Ainsley Thorpe targeting World Triathlon Cup Napier on Feb. 24-25 to start her year, top seeding for Wanaka goes to Italian Ilaria Zane.

The reigning Italian sprint champion and world No. 45 enjoyed a strong end to 2023 with a pair of World Cup bronze medals in Weihai and Chengdu.

Second seed is Zuzana Michalickova, a multi-talented sportswomen who has medaled in national cyclocross, road and mountain biking, cross country skiing, athletics and swimming events in Slovakia. The world No.70 won the U23 title at the European Winter Triathlon Championships last January, finished 40th at World Cup New Plymouth and finished the year strong with three World Cup top 10s and 18th place at the U23 race at the World Triathlon Finals in Pontevedra.

Kiwi hopes will rest on third ranked Brea Roderick, the 21-year-old Cantabrian who made the most of unexpected WTCS starts last year to rise up to 88th in the world rankings and the establish herself as the clear Kiwi No.3. Roderick’s 2023 highlight was 24th place at the Paris Olympic Test event. She will race Wanaka hot on the heels of a bronze medal in the U23 division at the Cycling New Zealand Road Race Championships though will want to eliminate pesky errors that have cost her during a number of triathlons in the past year, including a recent training hit-out at the Canterbury Classic when she comfortably led only to be DQ’d for miscalculating the number of run laps in Lyttleton.

There will also be much interest in the performance of Otago Medical Student and 6th ranked Olivia Thornbury who hasn’t raced since an encouraging European campaign last year highlighted by a bronze medal at European Cup Holten and 44th place at her WTCS debut Hamburg.

Olivia Cummings, in 9th, gives New Zealand a third athlete ranked in the top 10 in Wanaka while Ellie Hoitink and Emma Jeffcoat headline the Aussie assault. Hanne De Vet, the Belgian partner of Hayden Wilde, will be another to watch.

You can find the full women’s start list for Wanaka HERE.

MEN – 7:45pm, Friday, February 16
With Hayden Wilde and Tayler Reid resting up for next weekend’s World Triathlon Cup Napier, Dylan McCullough will wear the No.1 bib in Wanaka.

It’s a huge year for the 22-year-old Aucklander who is chasing the second Kiwi male spot in Paris behind Wilde. He’ll be keen to crack on from his Canterbury Classic victory late last month which followed a breakthrough World Cup silver medal in Miyazaki in October.

No.2 seed is Southlander Janus Staufenberg who like partner Olivia Thornbury, will race for the first time since a European summer campaign highlighted victory at European Cup Holten and 27th place on WTCS debut in Hamburg. Staufenberg is one of those athletes with a huge engine who doesn’t know when to quit and would love to eclipse his silver at Oceania Cup Taupo last February.

Italian Alessio Crociani, 6th in the U23 race at the World Triathlon Finals in Pontevedra last September and fresh from a pair of 10th places at Word Cup level to round out 2023, is the third seed but sure to be pushed hard by top-10 ranked Kiwis Saxon Morgan and Lachlan Haycock.

There are a total of 22 Kiwis on the men’s start list including Palmerston North chippy Sam Parry who shone in Wanaka 12 months ago, and James Corbett who has stood out domestically already this summer with victories at Tinman and the Kinloch Triathlon Festivals aquathlon.

You can find the full men’s start list for Wanaka HERE.

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