Breca Bay of Islands
By Peter Gibbs
Triathletes Stephen Hurdley and Matt Earley were convincing winners of the first Breca Bay of Islands on Sunday.
Competitors prepare for the start at dawn.
As the sun came up at 7am, 230 athletes started their journey from the Waitangi Treaty grounds, heading for Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island, 33km away.
After 10 short stages, alternating between run and swim, the leaders arrived at Omata Estates, the first checkpoint.
It had taken just over an hour, and the British team of Liz McDougall and Pete Campbell held a narrow lead over pre-race favourites Moss Burmester/Rebecca Clarke and Sam Clark/Bonnie Van Wilgenburg.
Swimmers enter the water for the 3.1km swim section.
Jean Markarian/Ben Chidgey were next, followed by Hurdley/Earley.
The first hour had given competitors a taste of the conditions race director Ben De Rivas had described as 'arduous and technical'. Where there was a difficult option around rocks instead of along a beach, or a vertical cliff ascent instead of a gradual climb, that's the route that had to be taken.
The next long run section was where the defining break took place.
Easy gravel roads and boardwalks through the mangrove swamps were interspersed with steep bush tracks and staircases. At one point, most of the leaders missed a direction arrow, allowing Hurdley/Earley to reach checkpoint two in Russell with an 18 minute lead over the UK team of Stephen Coombes/James Holder, with the Kiwi combinations Reuben Tucker/James Turner and Gavin Costello/Ed Tappenden a further minute back followed by Clark/Van Wilgenburg.
The stage was set for some serious catchup attempts.
After the hill from Russell to the coast and another taste of rock climbing, competitors set out on the 3.1km swim to Motuarohia Island. Clear water and glassy seas made this section a pleasure, but none of the pursuers were able to make a dent in the lead, with Hurdley/Earley extending to 23 minutes over Clark/Van Wilgenburg, Hamish MacMillan/Ben Campbell-MacDonald and Burmester/Clarke.
After a short, but energy-sapping run over the island, competitors faced a swim of 1.6km. For many, this was one of the toughest sections, as a squall coming through made it a battle across to Moturoa Island.
Coastal rock climbs were a frequent feature of Breca Bay of Islands
After the 2.7km run across the island, Hurdley/Earley had maintained their lead over Clark/Van Wilgenburg and Burmester/Clarke, with MacMillan/Campbell-MacDonald dropping off a little.
With more swims and runs coming in rapid succession, along with some very serious coastal cliffs, Hurdley/Earley arrived at the final island of Urupukapuka with a 24 minutes buffer.
The final 4.3km stage was one for mountain running specialists and Clark/Van Wilgenburg threw everything into it, gaining five minutes on the leaders.
In the end, it was Hurdley/Earley in 5hr 32min.
Clark/Van Wilgenburg (5hr 51min) took second ahead of Burmester/Clarke (5hr 59min), Markarian/Chidgey (6hr), MacMillan/Campbell-MacDonald (6hr 8min) and Andrew Abakhan/John Ellis (6hr 9min).
Competitors continued to stream in for another five hours, with the final team taking a shade over ten hours.