It's usually the first shakedown of the season for Half Ironman hopefuls but Sunday's Tinman triathlon is threatening to overshadow the main event.
The Craigs Investment Partners-sponsored race has the strongest field in more than a decade, with more than a dozen elite triathletes chasing the $1000 first prize.
And the bloke with the biggest target on his racing bib will be reigning Port of Tauranga Half Ironman champion, 19-year-old Aucklander Michael Poole.
"Last year I chose to do other races as build up for the Half but now with the ramped up prize money, it's a much bigger incentive to come down to the Mount to race the Tinman," Poole said. "I'm pretty excited about the field that's assembling as I've never really raced most of these guys before. Pretty much all the top guys doing the Half will be there and it will be awesome to gauge early season form and size up their strengths and weaknesses."
Poole has had a frustrating year with injury since his breakthrough win in the Half, but has recently dominated the Stroke and Stride series in Auckland.
His main competition on Sunday will come from Waiuku's Bowstead brothers, Mark and James, who are both previous winners of the Tinman.
Another Half Ironman and Tinman champion, Kieran Doe, may race if he recovers from the 'flu in time, while 27-year-old Callum Millward will line up fresh from his win in last weekend's Contact series race in Rotorua.
The other contenders include another talented teen, Taupo's Cameron Todd, Mount Maunganui's Owen Miller, recent Karapiro half ironman winner Graham O'Grady and Auckland's Jamie Whyte.
Whyte, however, will miss the Half Ironman for the first time in six years, racing instead at the Taupo half later this month and the Wanaka Challenge event in January.
"This year has been a good year for me - I placed top five in all four of the Ironman 70.3 events I competed in overseas, which included my recent second-placing at the Taiwan 70.3," Whyte said.
"I also got through my first ironman, going sub-nine hours at Ironman Canada."
James Bowstead, who won Tinman in 2008, is looking forward to challenging again after his brother and Doe both beat him last year.
"Mark and I have had extremely different years this year - Mark stayed in New Zealand training, shooting over to Australia for the odd race, while I spent a lot of time overseas training and racing," Bowstead said.
"We're both excited to once again be on the start line together and are hoping for an extremely hard and fast race, as that is what we need to help us in our preparations for the Half."
Millward beat Poole at their last meeting, the Gold Coast half ironman in October, finishing second to his younger rival's fifth, after a conscious move away from Olympic distance racing.
"I'm stepping up to the long distance scene after competing in ITU World cups for the last five years," Millward said. "I made the decision halfway through this year while racing in Germany. Now I'm self-coached and doing my best to make a successful transition with my eye on the Port of Tauranga Half."
The leading local in the women's race is also planning on racing the Half for the first time, with Janine Simpson making a promising debut at the distance when she finished third at the Auckland half earlier this year.
The 33-year-old was third in the Contact series opener last year, after finishing last season second overall.
Her main competition will come from previous Tinman winners Maddy Brunton and Michelle Bremer, as well as 19-year-old Aucklander Megan Blackett.
Sunday's race will start in Pilot Bay at 8am, with Olympic (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) and sprint distances.