Wellington multisport rookie James Coubrough was the surprise standout on a crystal clear and hot first day at the Speight’s Coast to Coast. But it was race organiser Robin Judkins who stole the show.
Almost 600 endurance athletes from 15 countries lined up on Kumara Beach this morning with a picture perfect Tasman Seas lapping the shore as the Two Day field headed off on the iconic 243k cycle, mountain run and kayaking race across the South Island.
With a pesky breeze in their face the leaders were in a hurry to wind into their work on the 55k road cycle to the foot of the Southern Alps. This allowed Wanaka’s Gavin Mason to slip away early in the ride and the powerfully built unknown stayed away right to the end, handing 18 year old teammate Shannon Edgar a four minute lead to start the run.
The 33k run across the mountainous Goat Pass can be a big ask, and Edgar’s relative inexperience saw her fail to finish. For Speight’s Coast to Coast rookie James Coubrough, however, talent outshone experience.
The 29 year old Lower Hutt builder put his national representative running background to good use, first cycling with the lead bunch and then simply running away from both individual and team competitors to reach Klondyke Corner four minutes ahead of the first team and a massive 25min ahead of the second placed individual, Dan Moore from Picton.
Coubrough admitted to having some route finding issues on the way up to Goat Pass, even waiting for experienced Christchurch multisporter Luke Vaughan to lead the way for a time.
“I managed to get into the lead pretty early,” said Coubrough after finishing Day One in a fast 5hrs 08min 44secs. “But Luke was a legend at finding the right tracks and kept catching me up. In the end he said just follow me, so we ran together to Goat Pass and then I managed to get away for good on the run out.”
Coubrough may be a multisport rookie, but as a New Zealand representative to the world mountain running championship and the world cross country championship he is one of the classiest athletes to have raced in the Speight’s Coast to Coast. Tomorrow he has a chance to become the first two day individual competitor to beat the teams.
The women’s race produced opposite scenarios as Christchurch youngsters Claire van Polanen and Olivia Spencer-Bower enjoyed a solid 12min lead over defending champion Fleur Pawsey and her new teammate Kate Cambey. The 24 year olds went through secondary school and teachers college together and after twice finishing second , now find themselves on the edge of being the youngest ever combination to win the female teams.
At the other end of the scale, 38 year old Hayley Shearer was surprised to finish today with a clear lead of the individual women’s race. Shearer is a recreational athlete who happens to be a tad handy. She last participated in the Speight’s Coast to Coast in 2001 when she teamed with her mum Glenis to win the veteran women section. This year she will start Day Two with a 13min lead over Christchurch’s Louise Hayes. In the race for third place, however, just 66secs separates Louise Hales (Wgtn), Kate Myers (ChCh) and Ashley Booth (Alex).
Among teams Luke Vaughan (ChCh) finished off a good start by teammate Peter O’Sullivan (Palm Nth) to hold a three minutes lead over the unlikely Auckland and Dunedin pairing of Steve McKinstry and Joseph Petelo. But the team most likely to challenge in Day Two are the third placed Scott Wilder (ChCh) and Matthew Blundell. Blundell is an Australian kayak champion and is hoping to challenge the kayak section record of 4hrs 31secs set way back in 1991 by New Zealand kayaking rep Mike Bassett.
Nineteen ninety one was a big year for the Speight’s Coast to Coast. That was the year that nine time winner Steven Gurney became the first person to break 11 hours in the One Day World Championship event. Gurney is back again in 2011, although at 47 year of age and retired from serious endurance sport, he has teamed with race organiser Robin Judkins.
In a contrast of ability and experience, Gurney was among the leaders on the opening cycle, while Judkins was aiming simply to finish his own mountain run. This he did, finally stopping the clock third from last at 6:59pm, and just 44secs inside the day one cut off time that he put in place for the race several years ago.
While the fastest runner today galloped across Goat Pass in a little over three hours, Judkins was closer to 10. He finished tired but elated, grinning from ear to ear as he sauntered up the finishing chute in a mocking mimic of perfect running form .
“I haven’t completed that run since the early days of the Speight’s Coast to Coast when we tested the course,” revealed the 61 year old on the finish line. “In recent years I’ve had heart problems and even a broken leg, so to finish it almost 30 years later is a big personal achievement for me. And really that’s exactly what the Speight’s Coast to Coast is about for every participant.”
“I’ll tell you something else too,” he cackled. “I wasn’t last. I wouldn’t have cared if I was, but I wasn’t, and it feels great!”
Judkins and Gurney will be in action again tomorrow, with Gurney hoping to be among the fastest kayakers and Judkins hoping his backside can handle the pressure of the final 70k cycle to the finish at Sumner Beach. “Hopefully I can finish before the winner of the One Day World Championship race, tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve always greeted the One Day finishers, so that’s my goal.”
Richard Ussher’s goal tomorrow will be to make sure he’s the first of the world championship field to shake Judkin’s hand. If he is it’ll be for the fourth time, which will put him behind only Steve Gurney as the event’s most prolific winner. But first he needs to beat strong challenges from 2010 runner up Dougal Allan (Wanaka) and international dark horses Jakob Van Dorp from Canada and Australian Chad Meek, who as a three-time kayak marathon world champion could come from behind to set up a battle in the final act of the 11 hour cycle, mountain run, cycle, kayak and cycle race.
It could be a four-peat among women too, with three-time champion Emily Miazga back to top form after surgery late last year. But Richard Ussher will be hoping not, because his wife Elina is the defending champion and they have a strong chance of being the first husband and wife to win the multisport world title in the same year.