Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/Triathlon New Zealand
Taupo plays host to the final event of the Oceania Triathlon season on Sunday with the continental showpiece standard distance championships at Wharewaka Point.

Top ranked Kiwis Hayden Wilde and Nicole van der Kaay are already offshore as the Paris Olympic Games loom ever larger on the horizon while in-form Dylan McCullough has withdrawn as a precautionary measure with an ankle niggle.

Storylines abound, nonetheless. Here’s our preview to Sunday’s racing in and around Lake Taupo which, per long range forecasts, should be clear of the wild, wet and woolly autumnal weather currently sweeping many parts of New Zealand. Overcast skies with temperatures in the early to mid-teens are predicted.

The Wharewaka Point race course features two laps of a 750m loop in Lake Taupo (1500m total), 8 laps of a 4.95km bike circuit (40km) with a couple of not insignificant elevation gains and 4 laps of a 2.5km (10km) lake side run course.

Ainsley Thorpe fighting at World Cup Napier.

Elite Women – 10am Sunday
After the frustration of a false start to the WTCS season in Abu Dhabi in early March, it will be fascinating to get a fresh gauge on Ainsley Thorpe’s form in Taupo. The Cambridge-based Aucklander, 26, will hope to take at least one step up onto the podium after finishing 4th at last year’s Oceania Standard Distance Championships in Port Douglas, in addition to reinforcing her standing as the likely lieutenant to van der Kaay’s in Paris. But none of that will be easy in Taupo.

Brea Roderick’s elite silver-U23 gold medal haul at the Oceania Sprint Championships in Devonport on March 16 was a confidence booster for what is a rare standard distance start for the Cantabrian 21-year-old. Roderick was 6th overall in Port Douglas last year, a performance good enough for U23 bronze.

Southlander Olivia Thornbury didn’t have the race she hoped for in her last start out, 26th at World Cup Hong Kong. But 3rd and 9th placings at Oceania Cup Wanaka and World Cup Napier prior to that highlight how fierce a competitor the 25-year-old can be.

Eva Goodisson was 7th in Devonport and will be hoping for cleaner race after suffering two penalties and a tumble at the continental sprint championships. The longer run will be a challenge in the Mt Maunganui-based athlete’s on-going comeback from a neural back injury.

With van der Kaay the defending champion, a new name will go on the Oceania honours board on Sunday. Jaz Hedgeland will hope to add the standard distance crowd to the continental sprint title she snared in Devonport. Watch also for Hedgeland’s Australian compatriots Natalie van Coevorden, Charlotte Derbyshire and Tara Sosinski, the latter 3rd in Devonport behind Hedgeland and Roderick.

Kiwi women:  Ainsley Thorpe, Brea Roderick, Emily Irvine, Eva Goodisson, Hannah Howell, Olivia Cummings, Olivia Thornbury, Sarah McClure.

Full Start list – Elite Women

Matthew Hauser will start his season in Taupo.

Elite Men – 1pm Sunday
With freshly minted Oceania sprint champion Dylan McCullough withdrawing to avoid any chance of aggravating a minor ankle sprain, the dynamic of the men’s race shifts. Matthew Hauser is the short-priced favourite as the Aussie No.1 opens his season in Taupo after also being impacted by the Abu Dhabi abandonment.

Likewise, Tayler Reid will use Taupo and next weekend’s World Cup Wollongong sprint to mirror a potential individual and mixed relay start in Paris. The Gisborne 27-year-old is psyched up to maximise the big points on offer over the next week after finishing off the pace (by his high standards at least) in 12th and 6th at World Cup Napier and in Devonport respectively.

Reid battling it out in the World Cup Napier Mixed Relay.

Saxon Morgan will be keen to continue his form resurgence after surprising some with his 5th place effort at the Devonport sprint and backing it up with 10th at World Cup Hong Kong. Count on Janus Staufenberg also featuring in Taupo. The Wanaka 24-year-old was just pipped in a sprint for the Oceania Cup Taupo title last summer and drew confidence from 16th place in Hong Kong last month. But there still appears plenty left and that big tank of Staufenbergs, as evidenced by 6th and 23rd placings in Wanaka and Napier that won’t have matched the Otago Medical School students own high expectations of himself.

Saxon Morgan in Hong Kong.

Aussie 19-year-old Bradley Course is the defending champion after his shock win in Port Douglas 12 months ago. The Kiwis will also keep close tabs on Aussie rivals Brandon Copeland, Oscar Dart, Luke Bate and former WTCS gold medallist Jacob Birtwhistle.

McCullough, meanwhile, continues to train for upcoming WTCS stops in Yokohama (May 11) and Cagliari (May 25).

“I still could have raced [in Taupo] if I wanted to but we prefer just to play it safe,” McCullough told

“I’m training normally and I’m still fit. John [coach John Hellemans] and I are just focusing on Yokohama and Cagliari instead.”

Kiwi men: Ben Airey, Cameron Maunder, Dion Wallwork, Grayson Westgate, Gus Marfell, Henry McMecking, Ivan Abele, Jack Staples, James Corbett, Janus Staufenberg, Lachlan Haycock, Oliver Larcombe, Saxon Morgan, Tayler Reid, Will Taylor.

Full Start List – Elite Men

Stayed tuned to for coverage across the weekend.

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