Jiang And Jones Claim Kepler Challenge Crowns
Nancy Jiang and Daniel Jones have taken out a weather-affected 33rd edition of the Kepler Challenge mountain race in Te Anau.
Jones cruised to his third win in as many years, while Jiang had to hold off a determined challenge from defending champion and six-time winner Ruby Muir over a 59km alternative course.
For just the fourth time in the event’s history - and the second year in a row - snow, wind and forecast thunder and lightning forced race organisers to go with their plan B route up to the Luxmore Hut before returning to Lake Te Anau and a return leg to and from the Moturau Hut.
Few runners would have complained about the decision when they were met with sleety rain and freezing conditions at Luxmore Hut where both Jones and Jiang led their respective fields to the high point of the race.
Jones, who won the Auckland Marathon last month and would have been racing in Spain this weekend if Covid-19 hadn’t intervened, went on to win by nearly 14min from Scotty Hawker, with Weston Hill third.
“Third win in a row, I’m pretty pleased,” Jones said.
“I’ve had one proper win (in 2018) and two B course wins, but they all count for me, I’m stoked. The track was pretty nice, it was a bit muddy in places where we were crossing over, but there were no big swimming puddles this year and obviously the times reflect that and it was smooth sailing right through.
“It is always quite nice with this B course because you can see the gaps on what you’ve got to your competitors, so I was able to judge that from Luxmore and again at Moturau.”
Jiang, who won the Challenge in 2018 and finished third behind Muir last year, had earned a small lead at Luxmore that she was determined not to relinquish. Fiona Love finished in third place.
“I didn’t really have a plan with the late course change. It was definitely faster and flatter running than I had planned for, but I felt good on the day and Ruby was on my heels the whole way. I saw her at the last turnaround and she was right there and that definitely gave me the kick to just go for it,” she said.
“It’s good to have competition and it really pushed me. I felt like I dug in pretty deep, so I’m stoked. Last year I remember there was a few kilometres of basically swimming, at one point the water was up to my chest, so I’m pretty happy with how things went today. It’s definitely one of my favourite events. I’ve raced overseas the past few years, but there’s just something about the Kepler and everyone here is just amazing.”
Meanwhile, top-ranked national 10km and cross-country runner Jonathan Jackson won the 27km Luxmore Grunt men’s race from local policeman Dwight Grieve and Sam Manson.
Defending champion Sarah Douglas was a comfortable winner in the women’s event, finishing ahead of Maddie Dillon and Sabrina Grogan.
Kepler Challenge, 59km (alternative course):
Men: Daniel Jones 4.05:23 1; Scotty Hawker 4.19:19 2; Weston Hill 4.30:03 3.
Women: Nancy Jiang 4.59:46 1; Ruby Muir 5.01:54 2; Fiona Love 5.17:11 3.
Luxmore Grunt, 27km:
Men: Jonathan Jackson 1.56:07 1; Dwight Grieve 2.06:26 2; Sam Manson 2.07:22 3.
Women: Sarah Douglas 2.12:18 1; Maddie Dillon 2.21:20 2; Sabrina Grogan 2.21:32 3.