Cory Taylor and Max Beattie will resume their tantalising ironman rivalry in Mount Maunganui this weekend, although they’d be well advised to keep a eye on a rising tide of talent behind them.
Taylor heads into Saturday’s Mount Monster surf lifesaving endurance race as defending champion, having beaten Beattie by nearly 5mins in last year’s inaugural 25km classic.
It kick-started a magnificent year for the Gold Coast-based Gisborne star, who went on to win his first national ironman title and help New Zealand win the world championships in France.
“It was cool to win the first one because I didn’t know what to expect going into it and it was a new, exciting experience which New Zealand hadn’t seen before,” Taylor explained. “Training during the winter can be tough but having something like the Monster to train for makes it so much easier and really sets up your summer.”
Midway’s Taylor and Omanu’s Beattie are both racing in the Australian surf ironman qualifying series this season, aiming to step up to the lucrative Kellogg’s Nutri-grain series next year. They train and compete together for the strong Northcliffe club in Queensland and have engaged in a number of grueling battles in the last three seasons.
It’s a strong local contingent that could be their biggest challengers on Saturday, however, led by Mount Maunganui’s Sam Shergold (fourth last year), Hamish Treanor (first under-19 last year), Sam Roy (ninth overall last year) and Whangamata’s Bjorn Battaerd.
There’s also a number of ultra-talented teenagers lining up, including Papamoa pair Mason Bryant and Andrew Trembath, Omanu’s New Zealand under-16 ironman champion Sam Pasley and Mount Maunganui quartet Hamish Miller, Kane Sefton, Daniel Barron and Isaac Marshall.
Billed as the next generation of New Zealand ironmen, the young locals are all passionate watermen who spend every free moment training or playing on the long, scenic stretch of coastline which will be showcased on Saturday. The race starts and finishes on Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach and features a 5km beach run, a spectacular swim leg which includes a jump off Moturiki Island’s blowhole, a 12km ski leg and a 6km board paddle.
“Not only is it a 25km stretch of incredibly beautiful coastline but it’s a grueling event with great competitors,” Beattie, the 2012 and 2013 New Zealand ironman champion, said. “Just things like jumping off that rock at the end of Moturiki Island – it’s picturesque and there’s no place in the world like it and to be able to race here is something special.”
Beattie and Taylor were both in the New Zealand team that headed Australia at the Rescue 14 world championships in France, with Taylor grabbing silver behind Australia’s multiple world champion Shannon Eckstein in the ironman there on the way to the 23-point overall win.
Taylor then spent a month traveling through Europe with his girlfriend, although he’s comfortable with the quality of training he’s had since then.
“Being overseas for nearly two months in total does take its toll, especially when you like food as much as me!” he quipped. “But it was a good break and you definitely need breaks like that sometimes in this sport. I’m really excited to race this weekend and that first run leg is shaping as crucial – it can really set you up for the race if you’re in the lead pack and make it really difficult for anyone to to try and catch up.”
The female field, meanwhile, has had a late injection of Olympic class, with kayaking star Teneale Hatton signing up to race as valuable cross-training for her flat-water pursuit.
She’ll link with a strong contingent from the Piha club in tomorrow’s event, with club coach and fellow 2012 Olympian Steve Ferguson having raced the inaugural Mount Monster last year. Hatton’s teammate Kirsty Wannan shapes as one of the favourites for the women’s title tomorrow, along with Mount Maunganui’s Katie Wilson, who was second last year.
“Pretty much our whole squad is coming down and everyone I’ve talked to said that it was just an awesome event and highly recommended it,” Hatton, 24, explained. “It’s a bit of a challenge and I wanted something different to do.”
After a big easterly storm this week, Mount Maunganui’s forecast is looking ideal for Saturday’s race, with a 1m swell and light northerly winds predicted. With the field having doubled to nearly 250 athletes this year, organisers have split the start with individuals heading off at 10am, followed by teams 10mins later.
Follow www.facebook.com/TheMountMonster for results and updates throughout the day.
See a video of the Mount Monster here: https://vimeo.com/92368069