This year's Coast to Coast is shaping up as one of the toughest as winners and runners-up from the past three years take to the start line again.
Centre stage on the Kumara Beach start line on February 9 will be defending champions Richard and Elina Ussher, who in 2012 became the first married couple to win the Speight's Coast to Coast in the same year.
While Elina had entered a couple of months ago, Richard had been unsure of attempting his sixth Coast to Coast title. He had finished 2012 drained following a tough year on the international circuit and only decided to line up for the world title race after New Year.
With a growing group of young pretenders to his throne, Ussher might be worried before this year's race. But his competition hasn't all had ideal buildups either.
Wanaka's Dougal Allan, the Coast to Coast runner-up for the past three years, has been battling a wrist injury. The much-anticipated comeback of Christchurch's Luke Vaughan has been hampered by a shin injury requiring stitches, and Wellington's James Coubrough (fourth last year) has withdrawn after breaking his ankle on a training run across Goat Pass at the New Year.
While Elina Ussher's buildup has gone somewhat better than her husband's, she faces one of the most competitive female fields the Coast to Coast has seen.
The rematch between Elina Ussher and Whakatane's Sophie Hart will be the most anticipated battle of this year's event, and the fact both are based in Nelson just lends to the intensity.
Ussher won the 2010 and 2012 events, but Hart beat her in 2011 with the second-fastest time recorded. In an epic battle she beat Ussher by nine minutes and missed Andrea Murray's 1997 race record by just 65 seconds. Then last year, Hart went on to win the adventure racing world title, so her return to the 2013 Coast to Coast is much anticipated.
Both women, however, will need to be wary of athletes as good as Auckland's Louise Mark (second in 2010, fourth in 2011), Taumarunui's Rachel Cashin (third in five of the last eight years), Christchurch-based Swede Sia Svendsen (two-time winner of the teams event), Hokitika's Tanya Maitland (seventh last year, ninth in 2011) and Brazilian Camila Nicolau (sixth last year, eighth in 2011).
As well as favourites, at age 36, both Elina and Richard Ussher are among the eldest contenders. This may prove either an advantage or a handicap. While youth usually favours speed, age brings experience. Richard has missed the event only three times since 2000. Elina has raced every year since 2006.
The 31st Coast to Coast is scheduled for February 8-9. Racing starts on Kumara Beach, midway between Hokitika and Greymouth, and finishes 243km later on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.
The feature Multisport World Championship is contested on Saturday February 9, with almost 150 entrants taking on the 3km run, 55km road cycle, 34km mountain run, 15km cycle, 67km white water kayak and 70km cycle in one day.
The Two Day race starts on February 8, with the cycle and mountain run, then concludes on February 9, with the cycle, kayak and cycle sections.
Race director Robin Judkins expects more than 600 entrants for what is the longest-running multisport race in the world.
Rotorua has only one competitor taking part in the event, Fiona Sandford.
Whakatane has five entrants, Steve Birkett, Aaron Mallett, Nikita Watkins, Kaye Watkins and Eric Horwood. Taupo also has a competitor, Mark Sinclair who will compete in the two day individual.