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Challenge Wanaka Preview

Distance 3.8km/180km/42.2km - Date 19 January 2013

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Lake Wanaka is a magnetic destination for lovers of the outdoors and for triathletes seeking a training base. In January it’s also home to perhaps the most scenic Iron distance race in the world – Challenge Wanaka.


Lake Wanaka – one of the most scenic, pristine and natural locations in the world. It attracts visitors all year around. Autumn brings vibrant colours and snow on the hilltops in winter. Summer days are filled with clear blue skies and a climate similar to the Mediterranean. Add to this the local food and wine at your fingertips, and Lake Wanaka is an ideal holiday destination.

Over the summer season, it is not unusual for this area to host world class triathletes as a base for training. The lake, the quiet roads and off road tracks. Perfection. It’s the ultimate location for an Iron distance event.

On January 19, 2013, The Challenge Family will host Challenge Wanaka for the seventh year. It’s arguably one of the best events on the international calendar, however, it’s not all crystal lakes, beautiful scenery and wineries. This race is an honest, tough, and dare we say it, challenging event. So do not expect a walk in the park. Expect an experience.

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The swim:

The 3.8km swim takes part in protected Roy’s Bay in Lake Wanaka. Athletes will start on the beach and complete two laps in the 16-18C waters with a start time of 6:30am. The fresh water is so clean you could drink it, which means wetsuits will be key for this race to help with buoyancy. In the days leading up to the event, athletes must be cautious of other water users, as the lake is popular for a variety of water sports.

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The bike:

The two-lap, 180km bike course will take in some stunning sights. Snaking its way around Lake Wanaka and towards Mt Aspiring National Park, the course also covers Albert Town, Lake Hawea, Clutha River, Queensberry and Cardona Valley Road. The bike course elevation diagram is not dissimilar to Bart Simpson’s hairdo. The undulating terrain definitely provides its own challenges, but the north-westerly winds can intensify those if Mother Nature decides. With generally quiet roads, athletes will have an opportunity to get a taste of the course before race day.

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The run:

On this two-lap run course, athletes will spend 75 per cent of their time on gravel paths, and the rest on sealed sections. A combination of sharp and gentle hills will keep heart rates fluctuating throughout the marathon. Back in town and heading to the finish line, athletes can soak up the atmosphere that the Challenge Family supporters and locals provide.

When all is done, it’s time to enjoy the experience that the Challenge Family bring to their events. The finish line party is an event not to miss and it really kicks into gear from 8pm. After the race, spend some extra time in the area and take part in some of the local activities. New Zealand is the birthplace of the man who invented the modern day bungee jump after all! 

Who is racing?

The biggest name heading to town is recently signed Challenge Family Ambassador, two-time Ironman World Champion and current ITU Long Course World Champion Chris McCormack.

“I’m heading to Wanaka for a win and a new course record,” McCormack declared. It will be the first time he has raced a long course event in New Zealand, where he spent a lot of his time growing up.

“New Zealand holds a special place in my heart as it’s the home of my mother… I lost my mother to breast cancer in 1999, and Wanaka is where my mother and father had their honeymoon. I would really like to do something special at this race for these very reasons,” he said.

Lining up against him in January are two fellow Australians – reigning champion Aaron Farlow, who won his first Iron distance triathlon at Ironman UK in 2011, and Leon Griffin.

At Challenge Wanaka last year, he chased out of the swim by three minutes and after bridging the gap on the bike made his move with 30km to go, remaining in front the entire marathon. He crossed the line in 8:41:53. Griffin has had a big season in 2012, most recently finishing fourth at Ironman 70.3 Shepparton. Expect Griffin to lay it all on the line in search for that Iron distance title. When he finishes a race, he is spent. He won’t leave anything out on course. They build them tough in country Victoria – possibly a perfect match for Challenge Wanaka.

While Australia is shipping over some great talent, the depth of the Kiwi field will prove challenging. Jamie Whyte, who won at Wanaka in 2011, is back to reclaim his title after finishing second to Farlow last year. Whyte has struggled with a knee injury this year, but will be coming right just in time for Challenge Wanaka, and just in time to walk down the aisle the following weekend to marry his fiancé, Fiona.

Also flying the New Zealand flag will be Keegan Williams, who finished second and third in Wanaka in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and Bryan Rhodes, who will be looking for redemption after a series of flats ended his race early last year.

In the women’s field, four-time Challenge Wanaka winner Gina Crawford is returning.
After an impressive 2012 season, topped off with a seventh at the Ironman World Championships, Crawford is eager to take the title for the fifth time.

“I just love racing Challenge Wanaka with the scenic and challenging course,” she said.
“I’m especially looking forward to the changed bike course this year with the double loop encompassing the best parts of the former course. I am excited to be coming back.”
Fellow New Zealander Candice Hammond will be looking to de-throne the Queen of Wanaka. After an exciting year, with a third at Ironman Cairns and a win at the Metaman Bintan, she will be looking at growing her medal tally. Australia’s Kate Bevilaqua, a two time Ironman winner, will make the trip to Wanaka as well.

After a disappointing 2012 season due to illness, Bevilaqua has settled back home in Perth for some consistent training. Kim Loeffler has a huge trip from the States to take on this event, and while posting some impressive results, she is still chasing that number one step on the podium.

Each year this race has attracted a deeper field, with the 2013 edition being the best to date. Record numbers will flock to Lake Wanaka to take on the full Challenge Wanaka Iron distance triathlon, the Lake Wanaka Half and the Junior Challenge.

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Jamie Whyte’s tips:

The wind is your friend. As beautiful as Wanaka can be on a calm Central Otago morning, things can often change in the afternoon. The famous northwesterly has caused some carnage over the last few years. No point trying to hide from it, you need to be comfortable riding in strong winds. Learn how to cut through a head wind or crosswind on your aero bars.

Hydrate. The Central Otago summer climate is often hot and dry which is quite different from racing in a more humid environment.

Enjoy the surrounds. This is the most beautiful place in the world to race. I find it good from time to time during the race to remind myself how awesome it is to be racing amongst such amazing scenery.

Enjoy the adventure.

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Gina Crawford’s highlights:

The run – The scenery around the lake and the river is fantastic, you just can’t beat it anywhere in the world.

The swim – Beautiful crystal clear water surrounded by mountains. I’m usually not such a fan of open water swimming, but I am in Wanaka.

The event itself – Well organised, friendly, fun and great finish line action with a fireworks display. A fantastic event to be a part of.


The ideal route to Wanaka is flying into Queenstown and hiring a car or catching a bus for the one-hour journey to Wanaka. If you want to see more of New Zealand’s South Island, you can opt for a five-hour drive from Christchurch. When it comes to accommodation, every budget is catered for in Wanaka. Official partners of the event include Edgewater, Accommodation Wanaka, Alpine Resort, Wanaka Edge Apartments and Wanaka Luxury apartments, and all offer a special deal for Challenge athletes.

Pro Men

Jamie Whyte (NZL)
Keegan Williams (NZL)
Leon Griffin (AUS)
Bryan Rhodes (NZL)
Chris McCormack (AUS)
Carl Read (NZL)
Axel Reiser (GER)
Diederik Scheltinga (NED)
Dylan McNeice (NZL)

Pro Women

Gina Crawford (NZL)
Simone Maier (NZL)
Candice Hammond (NZL)
Jodie Scott (AUS)
Julia Grant (NZL)
Jo Lawn (NZL)
Kate Bevilaqua (AUS)
Tamsyn Hayes (NZL)