When Charlotte McShane left New Plymouth in 2019 she was convinced it could well be her last triathlon in what had been a distinguished international career.
The then 28-year-old McShane was forced to withdraw from the World Cup event - one of nine DNFs for the day – with what would become a debilitating and certainly a career threatening back injury.
After three frustrating years of treatment and management McShane is well and truly back on her bike, qualifying for her second Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year and another Australian World Championship team for Abu Dhabi.
Sunday will mark the World Triathlon Cup’s return to the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island for the first time since 2019.Listed amongst the 70-strong field of international triathletes will be a fully recovered McShane – who will make a fitting return in the race for Olympic point scoring on the road to Paris 2024.
“It seems really strange now going back to New Plymouth four years after that race and I’m completely over that (back problem),” recalled McShane as she was about to board the plane for New Zealand.
“When I left New Plymouth in 2019 I honestly thought it would be the last race of my career, and now it feels so good to go back knowing that am now strong and healthy and that’s all behind me.”
And McShane, now happily settled in with coach Dan Atkins and the Gold Coast-based Triathlon Australia Performance Centre squad, will be ready for anything.
“There is rain forecast for Sunday and to be truthful I don’t mind racing in the wet. It’s like an extra skill set I feel I have, so if it rains, I’m not too fussed about that at all,” said McShane, who is also ready for the challenging and technical course.
“There’s the New Plymouth hill which although not particularly steep is quite long, in fact a little bit longer than the hill in Devonport which will be a factor in the race.
“I imagine it’s been quite a key part of the race in the past and I certainly like racing the hills rather than the flat surface races, so I want to try and make the most of that.
“It’s a full start list with a lot of good names in there so it should be a really good race.”
McShane admitted her opening World Triathlon Series race in Abu Dhabi last month probably came around a little bit too early.
“It certainly showed me where I was at and things I had to focus on a bit more and since then I’ve felt great,” said McShane.
“I really struggled with my run in Abu Dhabi and when I got home it felt like it was clicking a bit more…. I’m hopeful with a few more weeks of training under my belt I can produce a better performance.”
Coach Atkins is impressed with his charge.
“Charlotte is training so well, I think she’ll be smiling getting on the plane knowing she has put together another really good block post Abu Dhabi.
“It’s probably even better again than beforehand so she’s just got to get up on the day and make it happen and all the numbers in training are fantastic.
“She’s happy and well centred on the Gold Coast in our group and I’m really hopeful of a really good result for her.
“The most important thing for me as her coach is that she’s happy and if you have a happy athlete then they can generally string a good race together.
“She just needs to put it all out there on race day, I’m confident she can and she’s just got to believe she can as well.”
The women’s field will also see the continued return of 2016 Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen from the USA, back on the comeback trail for Paris, just four months after the birth of her second child.
“There is nothing like the return of an (Olympic) gold medallist to spark a bit of interest…I remember when our own Erin Densham did the same thing,” said Atkins.
“I love that intrigue, that interest, that extra pressure, it’s going to create a great atmosphere on the start line in New Plymouth having Gwen there.
“And it’s going to create a different style of racing that’s for sure…I would expect she’s just going to get better and better and everyone in the race will need to be aware of that…and she’s a runner by trade and I’m guessing that hasn’t left her.”
McShane is one of five Australians lining up in the women’s race – a list that includes two others who raced on that day in New Plymouth in 2019 – Tokyo Olympians Jaz Hedgeland who finished on the podium in third place and Emma Jeffcoat who was seventh.
Jaz Hedgeland, 19th and the best of the Australians in this year’s WTS opener, and sister Kira, who finish a spirited second to Kiwi Olympian Nicole van der Kaay at the Devonport Oceania Cup last Saturday, will both be lining up again in the all-important New Plymouth race.
The other Aussie will be Sophie Linn, fourth in last year’s Commonwealth Games and fourth again in Devonport, who will also be chasing all-important Olympic points.