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The ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Auckland, New Zealand, will feature challenging climbs, stunning views and strong spectator support.
When Tri Auckland CEO Dave Beeche was designing the course for the 2012 Barfoot and Thompson ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, he went to a few Kiwi athletes for input, one of whom was two-time Olympic medalist Bevan Docherty. “At the end of the day, the harder the better,” said Docherty, who lived in Auckland for about eight years. “So I pointed out a few other hills that we could do, and tried to make it as tough as possible on the bike.”
It’s because of those hills that the race is building a reputation as one of the toughest courses on the ITU circuit. It’s eight laps on the bike, with three decent climbs on each lap. The hills will not only aid strong cyclists in the draft-legal format to break away from the pack, but it will also make for some exciting spectating.
The Tri Auckland team got to test that theory last November, when elite athletes were given the opportunity to race the course at its test event, an ITU World Cup race. The races drew 20,000 spectators to the streets of downtown Auckland, who witnessed Kiwis Andrea Hewitt and Kris Gemmell walk away with the wins.
“The crowd was amazing and second only to Hamburg on the entire world champs circuit,” Hewitt said after the race.
The decision to put an ITU race in New Zealand, and specifically Auckland, was inevitable. First off, the country of New Zealand is a very active place. While there on a weeknight, I witnessed hundreds of athletes show up to the beach for a Stroke and Stride (swim and run) race, part of a local series. There are running and cycling (road and off-road) races constantly, as well as an array of outdoor activities a short drive away (the beautiful Waitakere mountain range is just half an hour from downtown).
Secondly, the city of Auckland has proven it can host large sporting events. It was home to the America’s Cup yacht races in 2000 and 2003. And last year, the country hosted the Rugby World Cup, the largest sporting event ever held in New Zealand. Plus, downtown Auckland has come to life in recent years, with new development, new shops and restaurants, and more pedestrian access to the waterfront. Docherty thinks playing host city recently had a hand in drawing crowds to the ITU test event. “I guess coming off the Rugby World Cup, the Auckland public certainly wanted to get out and enjoy these events, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “It was a massive crowd and it was just huge support for us.”
Finally, triathlon is ingrained in the culture of the country. New Zealand has produced some of the best triathletes in history, with Rick Wells, the 1990 world champion, and Erin Baker, a two-time Ironman world champion, paving the way in the 1980s and ’90s. Then followed Hamish Carter, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, and now we’re in the era of Cameron Brown, Joanna Lawn and Samantha Warriner in long-course, and Docherty and Hewitt in short-course. The country has also been hosting triathlon events for decades, such as the 1990 Commonwealth Games, the 1993 World Championship in Wellington and the 2003 World Championship in Queenstown.
“Triathlon in New Zealand has had quite a history,” said Carter. “I think the whole country will get behind it.”
Besides watching the elite races on Oct. 20 and 21 (which you can view via a live TV feed), you can also represent your country as one of the more than 2,500 age-group athletes competing at the Grand Final sprint and Olympic-distance events on Oct. 22. Athletes will be racing on the 1990 Commonwealth Games course, which features a more scenic (less urban) bike course that winds through beautiful neighborhoods and at points follows the waterfront.
With such a strong triathlon community in New Zealand, and with Auckland establishing itself more as an event destination, you won’t want to miss watching (or participating in) this one-of-a-kind Grand Final course.
“New Zealand’s an awesome place, and the history it’s had with triathlon is so large that there’s just a big triathlon following there,” Docherty said. “So it only makes sense Auckland would put on such an awesome event.”