Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/ in Napier
Hayden Wilde tried his darnedest but not even the Kiwi No.1’s bike and run superpowers could prevent an impressive Australian sweep on the opening day of World Triathlon Cup Napier.

Wilde was forced to settle for a gritty second place in his season bow as Callum McClusky took full advantage of the world No.2’s poor swim in choppy Hawk Bay to hang on for a maiden World Cup victory.

It came after Sophie’s Linn equally impressive win in the women’s race over Brits Sophie Alden and Olivia Mathis. Earlier, Aspen Anderson and Jack Woodberry had set up Australia’s golden day with runaway victories in the respective Oceania Junior (U19) Championships.

New Zealand celebrated three other medals, silver and bronze to Tauranga’s Finnley Oliver and Cantabrian Benjamin Airey respectively in the junior men’s race and bronze for Manawatu’s Hayley Cornwall (pictured below) in the U19 women’s championship.

The surprise though was seeing McClusky cheekily intimidating Wilde’s trademark Falcon flap and shooshing the home straight cameras after snatching the tape.  

It’s not often the Kiwi talisman is quietened on home soil but Wilde left himself too much to do after exciting the water second to last.

“I don’t think a lot of people can say they come pretty much last out of the water and get to the front of the race…I had to work really hard for that one,” Wilde said before continuing with a frank self-assessment.

“I’m just really struggling with speed at the moment with the swim…yeah, coming into it mentally knowing I’m a little bit lacking in the water.

“I don’t know what it is. I’ve been training as much as I have been normally and swimmimg more than I have been but it just hasn’t come together. I don’t know why but we’ll have a look at that and reassess.”

Wilde gave up more than 40 seconds out of the swim-to-bike transition but surged on the tight, technical bike course out and back to Port of Napier to reduce the gap to just 26 second and give himself a sniff starting the run.

His 13:52 split for the 5km was the only sub 14 minute effort and 19 seconds swifter than noted runner McClusky. But in the end, there was just too much ground to make up, leaving Wilde to ponder his next start at World Triathlon Championship Series Abu Dhabi on March 8.

“The bike power was there I can tell you that, really happy with that and I think I ran pretty quick today, probably one of my fastest 5 k’s off the bike after a hard bike. So really happy with that but at the end of the day, if I’m that far behind getting on the bike it’s pretty pointless.

“Heading into Abu Dhabi, looking at an even stronger field for the swim and bike, yeah I really have to pull some things together in a couple of weeks. Maybe just completely work on speed in the water.”

Did you think you could reel in McClusky after batting your way through the field?

“Oh man, I was trying to turn my legs over there in the end but they just didn’t want to turn over …he was fading a little bit and I was really going hard and to be honest I think if I did catch him, he would have put a sprint in and I was pretty gassed. Kudos to him.”

Dylan McCullough was the second of the Kiwi men in 5th with Tayler Reid next in 12th in his season bow.

Cambridge-based Aucklander Ainsley Thorpe was the best of the New Zealand women in 8th, just pipping Southlander OIivia Thornbury in 9th. Again though, the Kiwi challenge faltered in the water with Thorpe and co. just too far back to catch the leading group.

World Triathlon Cup Napier wraps up on Sunday with elite and Oceania junior mixed relays after the New Zealand Sprint Distance Triathlon Championships from 8am. The latter is part of the Tri NZ Suzuki Series and a qualifier for October’s  World Triathlon Age Group Championships in Malaga.

The mixed relays – 10:30am for the juniors and 12:30pm for the elites – are again live and free to air on TVNZ+.

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