The race covers a 3.8km swim in Lake Wanaka, a 180km bike ride through the spectacular Southern Lakes and Central Otago scenery before wrapping up with a two-lap 42.2km marathon run along the Clutha River and lake’s edge.
"It’s an unbelievable feeling," an elated Whyte said after breaking the tape in front of cheering spectators thronging Wanaka’s Ardmore St. "I could not have asked for a more perfect race today."
The 29-year-old was second at the Taiwan 70.3 event in November, 13th at Ironman Canada last year after mechanical problems on the cycle leg and most recently took out top honors at the Lake Hayes Triathlon on 27 December.
Whyte rated the bike ride through swirling winds as "excruciatingly hard", but said things didn’t get any easier when it came time for the run: "The wind was brutal out there."
Ogden, who took a win at the Ironman Western Australia in December, came past McKinnon at the 40km mark on the marathon and also rated the day as a tough one at the office: "I was pretty much in survival mode from the first lap [of the run]," he said. "I couldn’t believe how tough it was out there."
The 29-year-old Whyte exited the water first in 52:18, came through the bike in just under five hours, and backed it up with an 3:10 marathon to break the tape more than three minutes clear of Ogden, who was second in 9:07:25, just 12sec ahead of McKinnon. Whyte was in front of the race for much of the cycle with 32-year-old Australian Joshua Rix, who fell back on the run.
Australia’s Belinda Granger, the winner of the inaugural Challenge Wanaka in 2007, claimed victory again after moving into the lead when race leader Belinda Harper of New Zealand suffered a crash on the bike with just 40km left to ride. The 40-year-old Granger, racing in her 41st iron-distance race, came through to win in 10hrs 27min, six minutes clear of Kiwi Simone Maier with Christie Sym of Australia in third.
"It was by far the toughest bike ride I have ever, ever done," Granger said. "I didn’t think I was going to make it back from Cromwell at one stage. I looked down at my bike computer and I was doing 12 kilometers an hour."
But the run’s scenery took her mind off the suffering: "It is the most magnificent run in the world," she said. "The view is amazing. I absolutely love it."
Kiwi Belinda Harper, a rising new professional who was the first amateur home in a record-setting time of 9:44:19 at the Ironman World Championships last year, had a commanding lead of more than five minutes on the bike until she suffered a crash with about 40km left to ride. She was able to ride back to the transition zone and headed out onto the run course 22 minutes in arrears.
Testing winds throughout the day made for tough conditions for the 1,210 athletes from 27 nations competing in the half-distance and full-distance triathlons. For more information, please visit www.challenge-wanaka.com.