Usshers Coast to Coast's supreme couple
Story by: JOSH REICH - Photo by: Chris Symes
Not that anyone really needed convincing, but Richard and Elina Ussher's double success at the Coast to Coast on Saturday has confirmed the pair as undisputed multisport royalty.
The Nelson pair made history on the 243-kilometre epic from Kumara Beach on the West Coast to Christchurch's Sumner, becoming the first husband and wife to win the Longest Day in the same year.
After going close in both 2006 and 2011, when Richard won and Elina was runnerup, they finally achieved the feat on Saturday, a fitting way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Speight's sponsored race.
While no Coast to Coast is easy, both Usshers claimed their win in style, with Richard winning in 11hr 33min 24sec, nearly 20 minutes ahead of Wanaka's Dougal Allan, while Elina finished in 13hr 25min 24sec, nearly 40 minutes ahead of Christchurch's Fleur Pawsey in what was close to a record-winning margin.
While the overriding emotion yesterday was "fatigue and pain", the pair were still able to reflect on what was a memorable achievement.
"It was a good day out, happy with the dual result," Richard said, while Elina added: "It was awesome."
In the men's race, Richard drove a breakaway during the opening 55km cycle leg including Allan, Jeremy McKenzie, JJ Wilson, Braden Currie and Carl Bevins and opened up a three-minute lead over a large chase bunch.
Bevins and Wilson were dropped after 30km and the remaining four hit the run together.
As expected Currie showed good legs on the mountain, taking a handy lead over Richard, who was also passed by a fast-moving James Coubrough.
Despite giving up time, Richard said there was no sense of panic as he knew his advantage lay in the paddle and second bike leg into the finish.
"It was a slightly different race, especially with a couple of the guys being very quick runners, so I had to race a little bit more tactically and sort of back the things that I knew were going to be strong. So I guess in many ways it was a more tactical race than I've usually run there, and it was quite pleasing that that worked out basically exactly how I'd envisaged and how we'd planned for."
Ussher passed Coubrough on the short cycle to the Waimakariri River, and Currie on the water, which was running very low.
He averaged around 40kmh into a headwind on the final 70-odd kilometre ride into Christchurch.
In what was a cool but clear day, the crowds lining the streets of the city gave him a final boost to the finish, and his fifth title after victory in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011.
"The support was absolutely amazing and it was really apparent what the race means to the people of Christchurch, really," he said.
"It's an incredibly cool feeling to come into town and have so many people out on the street cheering your name and cheering you on, a very, very positive experience.
"Those are the sort of memories you really cherish."
He paid tribute to the efforts of those chasing him, saying they didn't make life easy.
"It was good to see the young guys really laying it on the line.
"The course this year was probably a touch long, they sort of ran out of steam a little bit towards the end, but they definitely showed that they deserved all the talk around them being good challengers before the race.
"I've got no doubt Dougal and Braden and James and a couple of the others are going to have some pretty monumental battles between them in future editions."
Elina's victory was slightly easier, rival wise, after she pulled away from 2007 winner Pawsey in the opening stages of the run and continued to extend her advantage throughout.
She was in better condition than in recent tilts at the title, having not competed at the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, held in December, which often left her short on preparation time.
Her biggest challenge this time around came from her body, with the cool conditions not helping some bad cramping throughout.
"I was trying to push not too hard, but hard enough to keep my lead."
She was particularly pleased with her efforts on the water, on her new kayak designed by Richard and Nelson's Andrew Martin.
"I had a good time on the river, it was really low and a headwind all the way through so it was quite slow at times and a hard battle, but it went really well."
Richard was not ruling out a run at a third consecutive title in 2013, and a third overall for Elina (she also won in 2010), however, it was far too early to make any such decision, they said.
He was considering another go at ironman, while Elina was keen to explore more mountainbiking.
Before they made any big decisions, however, they were looking forward to a bit off time off their feet. "It will be a couple of days yet before we start to unwind and relax without hurting when we move," Richard said.
Nelson had more success in the battle for the two-day teams crown, with Steve McKinstry (Auckland) and Daniel Busch (Nelson) passing day one leaders Trevor Voyce (Nelson) and Matt Blundell (Australia) to win by 89 seconds in 11hr 22min 30sec.