This year’s Speight’s Coast to Coast is poised to be a fierce battle with Wanaka’s One Day defending champions Braden Currie and Jess Simson set to fend off a number of multi sports established and rising stars.
On top of his second consecutive defence of the Coast to Coast Currie (28) will also tackle his first-ever full ironman distance event at Challenge Wanaka the following weekend before he rounds out tough month of racing with the OTU Cross Triathlon Oceania Championships in New South Wales, Australia, on February 28. Currie ‘says a ‘worry about it later’ attitude has prompted the three tough endurance events in a row effort.
“After my first Coast to Coast win in 2013 I had to quickly decide whether to make sport my life or whether to just make it part of my life. I decided to make sport my key focus, with the goal of finding where my passion and ability lies on an international level. This is why I enjoy setting myself challenges like this one,” he says. “Coast is a must for me. I was always going to do it, because I love racing Coast. Challenge Wanaka is a really a quick way of pushing myself to the next level in on-road sports as well as competing in my debut ironman in an area I love racing in.” Currie says Xterra and Cross-Triathlon are now a key focus as he ‘loves the speed and technical aspect of racing on off-road courses’ and has enjoyed improving his technical skills on the bike.
After a blistering 33 kilometre mountain run last year he beat five-time Coast to Coast winner – who is now the event’s Race Director - Richard Ussher by 21 minutes, finishing in a time of 11 hours and 18 minutes. “When I first did the Longest Day I gained the understanding that I could do it, then the next year I knew I could race it. This year I am at the point where I can race it as hard as I can for 11 hours.” Although the pre-race favourite Currie knows he will not have the racing all his own way with a number of contenders poised to knock him off the top spot. “I know that there’s a good group of guys that have committed a huge amount of time in their preparation for this year’s Coast. I also know that there will be a big target on my back – all these guys will be out to beat me. But that’s just more encouragement for me to train harder and push myself on the day,” he says.
Race director Ussher believes Currie will be “very difficult to beat.” “He is racing really well and as long as he is healthy I think it will be hard to stop him making it three in a row,” Ussher says. He also rates Currie as one of the quickest runners ever over the mountain run. “It would have been great to see Braden and Keith Murray (current Coast to Coast record holder, now 53-years-old) going head to head in the run if they were both in their prime,” Ussher says.
Sam Manson has continued to improve after a good year of racing. Manson surprised many by leading the chasing pack off the mountain run last year, but will have to keep a careful eye on former podium finisher Trevor Voyce who pipped Manson for second at the 2014 3D NZ multisport Champs. Manson is happy with his build up which has seen him take time off from working as an Air Force Aircraft Mechanic to give this year’s Coast to Coast his full focus. “For the first time I have a coach looking after me,” he says. “Cam Durno and I have working together since end of October to make sure I do all the right things, including not getting carried away. It is different to my usual build up but think it’s still bringing me out into a really good form.” Manson is picking Currie as the man to beat but is also conscious he hasn’t beaten Sam Clark before either, but says ‘everyone has their weaknesses’ and is confident he is in good form and is keen to not leave any effort out on the course. “As soon as I get off the first bike stage I’ll be going as hard as my body and mind will let me until New Brighton.”
Others pushing podium claims in the men’s one day event includes top international and regular coaster Flavio Vianna from Brazil, Sam Goodall, Dan Busch, Hamish Fleming with late entry, 43 year old World Champion Adventure Racer Nathan Fa’avae and veteran Nathan Petersen potential wildcards.
The women’s race is also expected to be a thriller with and defending champion Simson up against multiple winner Elina Ussher, top triathlete and 2013 Australasian Multisport champion Simone Maier and experienced multi-sport veteran Rachel Cashin, who has managed multiple podium efforts in the event over the past ten years. Simson had a record-breaking two-day Coast to Coast win in her debut in the event in 2012. It was a dominant display, winning in 12 hours and 48 minutes, taking more than 11 minutes off Anne Woodley's previous two day record set in 1997 over a shorter course. Simson also set a new mountain run record of 3 hours and 39 minutes.
Tackling the One Day event for the first time last year she says she went to ‘the extremes of physical endurance’ to win the race beating two-time Coast to Coast winner Ussher into second place, becoming only the third athlete to win the open women's title in both the two-day and Longest Day events and the first woman in 25 years to have won the titles in consecutive years.
Simson had not even heard of the Coast to Coast before she got married four years ago, recalling reading a magazine article about the race and thinking ‘I could never do that,’ but a belief that with focus and discipline, goals that seemed unachievable can become realities has proved a winning formula. “The main reason I wanted to win last year was to test the common phrase that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” she says.
Other women to watch in the One Day event are Fiona Dowling, Carolin Holmqvist and Charlotte Breeze. The match up’s in both one day fields has Ussher really excited saying he expects a real battle and when combined with the event’s new live tracking technology being used for the first time, is confident racing will bought to life much more than ever before.
Another innovation for this year’s event will see the top one day competitors numbered according to their seeding with the men starting with Currie as number one and Simson as 101. Ussher says that in the past the numbers have been based solely off time of entry but he wants competitors and the public to have a better idea of the categories and who the leading athletes are during racing. The rankings and an improved transition after the first short three kilometre run off Kumara Beach will be significant for the leading contenders for the one day title. Ussher pointed out that in the past some of the leading elite athletes have had to cover extra distance to the end of the bikes racks which raised the risk of missing the crucial first cycle bunch usually full of the strongest cyclists. This year a triathlon style transition will see the leading seeded competitors all racking their bikes alongside each other. He says the two day Coast to Coast event is a little harder to predict and that the fields in the individual races are looking wide open. “There’s a few familiar faces in there with the likes of Olivia Spencer -Bowers in the women’s race and Josh Harris in the men’s but as usual I expect to see some new names at the front of the individual fields. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a record breaking performance from an unknown competitor, reminiscent of Nathan (Fa’avae) almost 25 years ago.” Ussher says he expected Nick Hirschfeld to feature in the mountain running event and ‘notch up another win’ but was conscious there are a number names in the men’s and women’s fields he didn’t know so thought there could be ‘some real hitters in there.’
Racing starts in the two day event on Friday the 13th at 7am with the One Day World Championship Longest Day event starting the following day at 6am.