Ideal conditions for long-distance triathlon turned into a perfect day for Dylan McNeice (NZL) and Candice Hammond (NZL) as they won the men’s and women’s races at Challenge Wanaka 2014.

McNeice became the first man to achieve back-to-back victories at the world’s most scenic long-distance triathlon with a time of 8:38:48 while Hammond finally ended Gina Crawford’s (NZL) 100% record in 9:33:54 after finishing runner up last year.

McNeice put in a supreme display of consistent pacing to beat 2010 winner, course record holder and five-time Coast to Coast champion, Richard Ussher (NZL) into second place (+11:00). Wanaka multisport specialist, Dougal Allan was third (+15:48) in his first long distance triathlon.

McNeice began his domination with a new course record in the swim leg. Helped by a glass-smooth Lake Wanaka, he exited the water in 46:25 taking more than a minute off Kieran Doe’s 2012 time and more than four minutes ahead of a group including Ben Logan (NZL), Bryan Rhodes (NZL), Matt Burgess (NZL) and Jaroslav Kovacic (SLO).

He increased that lead on the bike and was never less than six minutes ahead of the rest of the field from 50km to the moment he crossed the line. Ussher began to fade in the second half of the run after a strong challenge. Allan stormed the bike leg taking six minutes out of McNeice but could only hold those splits through the run.

Candice Hammond was in great form coming into the race winning the Dunedin Marathon in September and the Taupo half-distance race in December. In the end that form told on Crawford who has made significant changes to her training regime since the World Championships in Hawaii last September.

Unlike McNeice she was behind after the swim, exiting in eighth place, 10:30 down on Crawford with Carrie Lester (AUS) 3:56back in second and 30-39 age grouper Shannon Proffit (NZL), married in Wanaka the week before the race, third (+5:32).

The women’s race soon developed into a battle royale between Hammond and Crawford as Lester dropped out on the bike leg and fellow pros Tamsyn Hayes (NZL) and Wanaka-based German, Simone Maier moved into the top four.

By T2 Hammond was in front by 0:23, overhauling Crawford with around 30km to go on the bike. Both women remained strong through the run and, with previous results in mind, it seemed as if Crawford was just picking her moment to close the gap and pass. But it never happened and Hammond gradually increased the margin on the second lap to finish 7:13 ahead. Simone Maier took the last podium place to complete in a good day for local pro athletes 14:55 behind the winner.

Before the race Dylan McNeice acknowledged the extra pressure as defending champion but always said he could use it to his advantage.

“I felt a lot of pressure to deliver today and knew I had to prepare better than ever. There’s no such thing as perfection but that was as close I think as I’ll ever get. I was really surprised I was holding around that seven-minute gap. It gave me a big boost of confidence and even coming into the last 30 to 40k of the bike I had good legs and thought I can hold this and have a good run,” he said.

“Today was one of those days when I just stayed in the moment and tried not to doubt myself and just told myself to race my own race. I had so many friends and family here supporting me and a lot of people know my name here and I just really wanted to deliver for everyone and myself of course. This is one of my favourite places so if they call me one of their favourites then that’s awesome.”

Candice said she knew from the outset that she’d have to push hard after the swim.

“Today there was no wind and I was able to settle into my rhythm and I really enjoyed it for the first time. I just chase, that’s all I can do – there’s no plan! I was a bit flustered actually as I’ve never been close to Gina before so I thought have I done the right thing? I just tried to find my own rhythm and took the first 10k controlled and then tried to wind it up after that,” she said.

“Every year I race here I seem to have a very close race with someone so you just have to stay in your own head. I didn’t look behind me, I just focused on moving forward and getting the nutrition in. [The Wanaka crowd] is so special. There are so many people here and the support on the course in awesome. It’s hard to acknowledge people when you’re hurting so much but I do hear it and I really appreciate it.”

Challenge Wanaka Triathlon Festival attracts in excess of 2,000 athletes over a multi-day celebration of sport involving all ages and abilities. The flagship event, Challenge Wanaka long distance triathlon (3.8km/180km/42.2km) is part of the renowned Challenge Family global series of triathlons which features 24 races in 14 countries, including the world’s largest long distance triathlon, Challenge Roth in Germany.