A fired up Australian contingent is hoping to rattle some Kiwi cages at next week's Expand-A-Sign 3D Rotorua, which features the Australasian multisport championships.
The off-road festival on June 3 has attracted a strong international contingent intent on taking down reigning champions Richard and Elina Ussher, who triumphed in their respective divisions in last year's inaugural event.
Victorian multisporter Luke Haines will be returning, confident of improving on his eighth placing last year in the 50km feature race through Rotorua's spectacular geothermal playground.
"May is a month of racing for me, with only one week of proper recovery after my second placing at the Marysville to Melbourne Multisport Challenge," Giant-sponsored Haines said. "My body has responded well though and I am looking forward to being faster in Rotorua across all disciplines come June. Racing in New Zealand is just plain fun - it's a great, clean country side with lots of fit, like-minded people who really enjoy this style of racing. You're always assured of a quality field - everyone knows Richard Ussher but guys like Braden Currie are also very good, while Sam Clark will also have improved after another year of racing. I'm really looking forward to the challenge."
Rising Whakatane star Clark beat Haines by a place last year, while Methven teacher Glen Currie, Braden's brother, was fourth, just ahead of another well-performed Australian, Grant Suckling.
Injury has thwarted Suckling's bid this year, though he has managed to entice compatriots Sam Maffett and John Jacoby to make the trip, with Jacoby a three-time Coast to Coast winner in 1988, 1989 and 1993.
"I've slowed up as I get old and a bit heavier these days with dodgy hips that slow my running down a fair bit but I'm really looking forward to the Rotorua mountain biking - I've heard a lot about it," Jacoby said. "I'm also hoping to see a few of my old Coast to Coast rivals on the start line."
Maffett and Jacoby are also directors of Rapid Ascents, the event company which organizes the Anaconda Adventure series.
Suckling's withdrawal was a bitter pill to swallow, after he couldn't overcome a series of leg injuries in time to take his place and chase the $10,000 in cash prizes at stake.
"I've grappled hard with my decision not to come as I thoroughly enjoyed this event last year," Suckling said. "I have had to weigh up my enthusiasm for the event against my responsibility of representing my country to the best of my ability, not to mention the personal cost to get there."
The women's field has also been given a boost, with news Elina Ussher has recovered from the rib injury she suffered at the Orion Health GODZone Adventure Race in the South Island last month and is back training hard.
Victorian Peri Gray will be among the top Australians chasing her, as well as Deanna Blegg, Kim Beckinsale and Sharon Dilly, who filled three of the first four places in the 40-49 women's category last year.
Beckinsale has been preparing on a steady diet of adventure races since her debut in Rotorua last year, with the Noosa Heads resident keen to kick on.
"I raced the XPD World Championships and the Godzone race with Team Mountain Designs - XPD was great and Godzone was a DNF for me due to an ankle injury but I'm all good now and really excited about doing something nice and short, as in under 52 hours without sleep!" Beckinsale said. "I'm coming back to do the 3D event because of the awesome mountain biking trails and because we had such a great time at last year's event."
Other internationals include Italian Anthony Romano and Auckland-based South African John Callie, who competed for South Africa in rowing at the 1996 Olympics but has focused on multisport since retiring.
Event director Neil Gellatly is delighted with the calibre of the overseas athletes, although he's sounded a friendly warning to them.
"As strong as the international contingent is, they will meet a deep line-up of Kiwis desperate to keep as many of the medals and as much prize money on New Zealand soil," Gellatly said. "With names like Braden Currie, Trevor Voyce, Fleur Lattimore and of course the Usshers, the Australians will have their work cut out for them."
The festival will also feature a 25km Grassroots Multisport Challenge, doubling as the New Zealand Secondary Schools Multisport championships, while new events include a 2km under-10 fun run, a 5.5km trail run and walk, and a standalone 30km mountain bike race through the sublime trails of the Whakarewarewa Forest.
The feature 50km race, won by Richard Ussher in 2hrs 45mins 57secs last year, starts with an 8km paddle on Lake Okareka, with views of Mt Tarawera in the distance, continues with a 30km mountain bike through some of the Whakarewarewa Forest's best single-tracks, then ends with a 12km trail run through the magnificent Redwoods Forest.
The total prize pool for the event tops more than $75,000 and Gellatly is expecting a sharp rise on last year's entries, when 500 athletes took part. This week marks the last chance for standard entries before the late entry fee kicks in on Friday.