While Maier will target a third consecutive open women’s title, and fourth overall, as a curtain-raiser to her 43rd birthday, the field for the open men’s title is arguably wide open.
Hoping to make it a Wanaka double for the third consecutive year is building apprentice Hamish Elliott (28).
For the past six years, Elliott has experienced the course in all weathers and conditions, and he knows the challenges it can present.
His first challenge in even making it to the start line this year was overcoming a battle with Covid after returning from racing in Australia in September.
"It knocked me flat and getting back into training was a real grind," he said.
He got the multisport and adventure racing bug at the end of the 2016 rugby season and burst on to the scene shortly afterwards when finishing third in the two-day race at the Coast to Coast in 2017.
"It was a pretty good introduction to the race, and to the sport," Elliott said.
Working as a shepherd on a farm near Gore at that time, Elliott’s only preparation for a multisport event came just a couple of months earlier when he raced in Gore’s Summer Challenge.
"I fell out of my kayak. It was really random."
Although returning to rugby, Elliott’s love for fitness and multisport had him return to contest his first Longest Day race in 2018, after being encouraged and sponsored to race by his bosses at time, Cameron and Robert Grant.
He finished seventh in 12hr 14min 30sec, a highlight being holding his own on the alpine run stage and snapping at the heels of eventual winner Sam Clarke.
Elliot said it was a huge learning curve when leading the race with Clarke over the alpine stage only to fall into survival mode.
"In multisport, you just can’t be good at one thing. It has to be the whole package.
"All the disciplines stand out where you struggle, and your opponents are quick to pick up on it."
Still involved with farm work, he had little time to train so overlooked the 2019 race, but returned for the weather-hampered 2020 Longest Day.
He was drawn back into the sport after being invited into a team with Julia Grant, Flavio Vianna and Andris Ansabergs for stage racing in China.
"This sparked my love for the sport I tried to walk away from. I found myself back training and getting drawn back into it.
"Being around these people also inspired me."
The 2020 reset was hardly the return to the Coast to Coast course he had hoped as he became hyperthermic on the alpine run and had to withdraw.
Seeking redemption, Elliot refocused and put his energy into training for the 2021 event, only to break his hand two weeks out from race day, forcing his withdrawal.
He returned to the Longest Day course last year, winning the inaugural three-person team category with pro cyclist Louis Crosby and kayaker Rachel Clarke.
Crosby was recently selected to go on the next America’s Cup boat as a cyclor with Olympian Hamish Bond, two-time Longest Day champion Dougal Allan and Cameron Webster.
Elliott said after a rough couple of years, that performance inspired him to return for another crack at the Longest Day.
"I’m perhaps better prepared for this race than I have been before," he said.
"I’ve been combining a lot of gym work to strengthen my core and legs.
"My focus at the start will be to get the body up and rolling and hit that lead group off the beach on to the first ride."
Elliott’s main challenges are expected to come from Christchurch-based Sam Manson and Australians Alex Hunt and Robbie Savage.
Written by Wayne Parsons