Port of Tauranga Half winner Graham O'Grady wants to nail another prestigious triathlon title in Auckland on Sunday.
Amid a stellar international field of world class stars, the 30-year-old from Kinloch is planning to make his mark in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Auckland triathlon.
O'Grady believes his stars are aligned for the first time in his three decades on the planet, which is the key to him starting to deliver on his undoubted potential.
He comes into the 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run event on the back of two telling wins over Ironman legend Cameron Brown and former Ironman 70.3 world champion Terenzo Bozzone, both among the favourites for the race which doubles as the official Asia Pacific Championships.
O'Grady took out the Taupo Half prior to Christmas and then produced a stunning performance to beat off Bozzone and Brown to claim the Port of Tauranga Half and Triathlon New Zealand long distance titles at Mount Maunganui, equalling the course record in the process.
"It's probably the best race that I have ever had. It was quite special to win it," O'Grady said.
"I feel I have always had that potential and I showed glimpses of it in 2011 in USA. The way I did it - being out on my own the whole race - shows I am in good form and can go pretty fast by myself."
O'Grady came through the Triathlon New Zealand development programme and gradually moved to the endurance distances, basing himself in the US where he became a popular training partner for some of the sport's big names because of his prodigious talent.
Two years ago he finished runner-up in the prestigious Escape from Alcatraz race ahead of double Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champion, Craig Alexander. Some encouraging results followed but without the breakthrough many had predicted.
O'Grady believes a new-found balance in his life has made the difference.
"I love living in Kinloch and I now have a great partner as well who keeps me grounded. I am focussing on all areas of the sport like my nutrition. I am doing some coaching as well and some work for a local survey company.
"It is all a bit of balance so it is not all about triathlon. That has all helped. I am enjoying it more and going better."
The wins have given him confidence that he will be more than a bit-part player in the Asia Pacific Championships on Sunday.
"This gives me some confidence for sure. I have just as much chance as anyone else to stand on the podium. I just need to be confident and back my ability."
The race has drawn a class field with Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty, Brown and Bozzone and a raft of Australians with more than 60 wins over the Ironman 70.3 distance between them.
"I think we will be quite close in the swim," O'Grady said. "It will be a fast race and if you are fit you will be there at the end. It is still four hours of racing so you have to be smart with what you do."
O'Grady is looking forward to the opportunity to race at home in a world class event, including being part of the first triathlon to cycle over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
"It is going to be so fantastic to race at home with my friends and family supporting. I am so excited. It is going to be an awesome atmosphere. The podium is my aim for sure.
"I want to race the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and a good result here with so many points on offer will set that up."
While the elite athletes will rightly get all the attention, every triathlon field has its share of entrants who have had to overcome adversity just to make it to the start line.
Tauranga's Fraser Sharp had a road crash that left him with some horrendous injuries when he was 16. But the 34-year-old has kept battling and after setting a personal best at the recent Port of Tauranga Half of 4h 51m 23s he is determined to go even faster over the 70.3 distance in Auckland.
"Looking at the course, it is a very fast course and so I expect to do another PB around 4h 40m, I hope," Sharp said.
"I am not going to put too much pressure on myself but all going well that is what I hope to do."
Since the Port of Tauranga Half Sharp has been building up his training, especially his road running which is the element he needs to do the most work on.
Once he has Auckland out of the way Sharp will focus on Ironman New Zealand in Taupo - his first crack at the hugely demanding event.
- There are 1200 entries for the professional and age group racing which starts at 6.30am on Sunday with the winner expected at 10.15am and the final participant by 3pm. The course comprises a 1.9km swim in the Viaduct Harbour, 90km bike over the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Albany and return with two shorter laps to St Heliers and back, and a two-lap run along the waterfront. The race is based at the Viaduct Events Centre.