Multisport: McNeice masters 'nightmare' challenge

Gina Crawford is moved to tears at the welcome home while winning the women's section of...
Gina Crawford is moved to tears at the welcome home while winning the women's section of Challenge Wanaka in record time yesterday.
Challenge Wanaka winner Dylan McNeice near Waterfall Creek. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.
Challenge Wanaka winner Dylan McNeice near Waterfall Creek. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.

In the choppy waters of Lake Wanaka, one newcomer and one old hand grabbed hold of the lead in the elite men's and women's Challenge Wanaka triathlon on Saturday, and refused to give it up for the next 226km.

Gina Crawford, of Wanaka, won the women's event for the fifth time, breaking her course record by 4 minutes.

Dylan McNeice (27), of Christchurch, won the first full iron distance race he has competed in, closing out Jamie Whyte, of Auckland, and triathlon great Chris McCormack, of Sydney.

Just after dawn, Lake Wanaka laid on a real test of the triathletes' swimming ability - a cold breeze churning up the 3.8km swim course.

One contestant likened it to a washing machine, another described it as a ''nightmare'' and a ''horrible experience'' and Sebastian Bartel, of Frankfurt, gave up after 20 minutes, likening the lake to the North Sea.

But for a triathlete with a swimming background such as McNeice, it provided a strategic springboard into the cycle leg.

He came out of the water in 47min 56sec, 4min ahead of Bryan Rhodes, of Rangiora, and 8min ahead of McCormack, Whyte and Rob Creasy, of New Plymouth.

Commentators at that point were pondering who it would be that could give McCormack a run for his money, most onlookers fully expecting the man with more ironman victories than any other to reel in the front-running newbie, McNeice.

As the cyclists headed into light rain at Glendhu Bay, the wind eased just a little, and the swell likewise - giving those in the later-starting half marathon a slightly smoother swim than the elite athletes had.

Rhodes, riding alone, and a bunch consisting of Whyte, McCormack and Leon Griffin (Bendigo) gained a few seconds on McNeice at the beginning, but McNeice showed he had no intention of making it easy for his chasers.

He picked up a nice tailwind through Hawea Flat on the first circuit of the cycle leg and at 70km was still holding a 7min lead.

He extended that to 7min 42sec at the 100km, with Griffin in second place, Rhodes in third and McCormack fourth.

By 130km, the bunch was still trailing McNeice by 6min 55sec.

Then, with 20km to go, Whyte broke away and set out on his own after McNeice, reducing his lead to 3min 30sec. McCormack was now fifth.

McNeice held his lead into the final transition, setting off on the run well clear of the rest of the field.

Then strange things began to happen.

McCormack looked less than composed, dropping his bike helmet as he began to run through the transition area and then dodging into a tent by mistake.

And on the big television screen, the audience was watching as McNeice - Whyte on his heels - ducked into a portaloo, fuelling speculation his race was run.

But McCormack regained his composure, and so did McNeice. He extended his lead to 4min in the first half of the marathon, raising the prospect he could hold on for the win.

McCormack found himself in a battle with Keegan Williams, of Cambridge, for third place - and that is where he finished, maintaining his remarkable record of having secured a place on the podium in 88% of his races.

McNeice said after the race it was ''cool'' to beat McCormack but he struggled over the last 10km, continually expecting to be caught.

He had a run plan that involved easing up at times but in the end he just ''ran the whole thing hard''.

Crawford ran the women's race in commanding style, although she said after the race she did not expect to break the record because of the very slow swim (61min).

''But then I had an amazing bike ride and held it together in the run.''

At the 100km mark on the cycle leg, Crawford was 9min 57sec ahead of Lawn and stretched that to 13min towards the end of the ride.

Crawford finished the event 19min 50sec ahead of Candice Hammond, of Cambridge, who had a tussle with Lawn right to the line.

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