Local triathlete Jeff Symonds is among the favourites going into Challenge Penticton.

Local triathlete Jeff Symonds is among the favourites going into Challenge Penticton.

Trio of Penticton athletes among Challenge favourites

Voice of the race says three locals should push for title, but they'll be in tough against some incoming pros

The voice of triathlon in this city is having a tough time predicting who will be the first professional across the line in this Sunday’s inaugural Challenge Penticton, Canada race.

“I think we are going to have a strong race at the front,” said Steve King, who’s been working races here for three decades. “We’ve got I think up to five guys who could be vying for a win.”

Among the notables is Chris “Macca” McCormack, who will be racing in Penticton for the first time.

“He always comes to win,” King said of the 40-year-old Australian and two-time Ironman World Champion. “He is going to be putting it fully on the line. He would like the title.”

At a media conference Thursday morning at the Lakeside Resort, McCormack noted Penticton had always been synonymous with triathlon in his mind.

“It will always be the home of triathlon in this country and coming to Penticton is very special to me and it is an honour to finally be able to race here,” he said.

He added the long distance races like Ironman have been a learning experience for him over the years.

“You become a bit more internalized and I realized I had to work out some of my own problems on a mental level not a physical level,” said McCormack. “It’s getting all those voices in your head right that enables you to push.”

King also likes hometown racer Jeff Symonds, who’s coming off a win at a half-Iron race last month in Stony Plain, Alta.,

“He knows this course like nobody and he’s in great form,” King said of the local favourite.

Other B.C. favourites include Surrey man Nathan Killam, who won the half-distance race in Oliver in June, and Vernon resident Nathan Champness, who won the half-distance race in Osoyoos in July.

“Both of them I could see doing extremely well,” said King. “Expect them to vie for top half-dozen positions.”

The course record, which still holds since Challenge is using the same route, is eight hours and nine minutes and 53 seconds, set in 2006 by Thomas Hellriegel. King expects the winning time this year to be between 8:20 and 8:45.

“In the women’s race,we’ve only got eight pros listed but we do have, I think, probably three that could be within 9:40 or less. I think that is an extremely good field as well,” King said.

Since the $75,000 prize purse is divied among the top 10 professional racers, the ladies are assured a payout and may be willing to take chances.

“The neat thing for the women is obviously they can push the pace hard,” King said, and “$12,000 for the win is a big incentive.”

Carrie Lester, a 32-year-old Australian who has won Challenge Cairns, Ironman Australia and is coming off a third-place finish in July at Ironman Lake Placid, is one of the women to watch.

Vancouver resident Gillian Clayton, who won the 2012 Ironman Canada, is back again, as is last year’s top age-grouper, Kendra Lee of Denver.

Local racers Janelle Morrison and Jen Annett are also expected to do well, King added.

Morrison was the third woman across the line at last year’s Ironman Canada, while Annett was first in her age group in the Peach Classic Triathlon.

For Morrison it was her first Ironman in Penticton since suffering life-threatening injuries in a car crash in Nov. 2010, and while the results were positive, she realized she still had a long ways to go.

“Last year when I crossed the line it was kind of like, I’m not sure how to describe it other than it seemed like there was more that needed to be learned through the process,” she said. “I had healed my physical body and proven that to myself but there was whole emotional and spiritual side that needed to be healed and rediscovered and regrown so that’s been the key focus this year.”

Now with every race completed, the athlete says she is continuing to grow and learn and is on track to finish the season strong.

King said the pro category is not as strong as in other years, because Penticton in the past has been a place to pick up points needed to earn a spot in the Ironman World Championship in Kona. In the years ahead, however, he thinks pros may note the rich prize purse and try to plan their seasons around it.

This year’s race, the first to allow relay teams, will see one such group, Team MitoCanada, try to set a Guiness world record by completing the event in under eight hours.  The pros hit the water Sunday at 6:15 a.m., followed by the wave starts at 6:30 a.m.