Lucky to be alive after being hit by a truck while out training last year, the Auckland triathlete Terenzo Bozzone is hoping to celebrate his birthday by retaining his title at Ironman New Zealand in Taupo tomorrow.
Bozzone who turns 34 today suffered serious injuries when he was hit by a truck while training on his bike last July.
After months of rehabilitation he returned to the sport and has performed well including winning the Western Australian Ironman in December.
Bozzone says eight months after his accident, he's finally nearing his best again.
"I feel like I've done some really good work at the start of this year, I don't have any delayed effects of the accident, so my concussion symptoms seem to be gone, the achilles issues which I was suffering with also after the crash have pretty much dissipated and aren't slowing me down and just excited for the year ahead and what I can do."
Bozzone says the accident is something that remains in the back of his mind.
"I think I mange to compartmentalise those feelings quite well, but for my wife on the other hand, it probably weighs a bit heavier on her as I head out for a bike ride. I'm quite fortunate I do a lot of my bike training indoors on a programme called Zwift, it limits the amount of exposure I have out on the roads.
"But it's something you just have to be aware about, I'm always as safe as I can be, always try and predict what drivers are going to do. I just know we have a bit of lycra and a helmet and a vehicle weighs a lot more and people do make mistakes, it's just a matter of being vigilant every time I go out on the road."
Bozzone's main competition will come from 12-time winner Cameron Brown and 2017 champion Braden Currie.
Also in the mix are Andrew Starykowicz (USA), and Tim Reed (AUS) and fellow New Zealanders Mike Phillips and Dylan McNeice.
Bozzone says his record sub-8 hour win last year was a big marker in his decorated career.
"It was a funny emotion, I knew I was capable, for the past ten years I was just waiting for it to happen. I have raced around the world and figuring out the full IRONMAN distance was a big thing for me. Having a race I knew I was capable of was a big tick of moving forward toward my big goal of winning the IRONMAN World Championship in the next few years."
Bozzone knows he is in for another torrid day if he is to win again.
"It is going to be a quick day, with the quality of the field it is probably the deepest field we have ever had in Taupo which is exciting for the 35th anniversary.
"The whole of the game is changing though and stepped up another level, nowadays you have to be ready to adapt your race plan, now you have to adapt to be competitive with your competitors throughout the day.
"The power on the bike and pace on the run are just a whole new level. When Braden won a couple of years ago started the marathon at a full pace, you have to make the call do I go with him or back off and hope he comes back.
"And Cam is the same, he has probably had his fastest two marathons the past couple of years in Taupo, so you kind of want that in the game plan. You don't want him with you heading on to the run, you want a buffer on him if you can get it."
The women's race is shaping as one of the best seen in recent years with a host of contenders from all corners of the world, including New Zealand's own emerging star in Teresa Adam.
Great British athlete Laura Siddall is one of three former winners in the Pro field and is taking her role as defending champion seriously at an event and place that she loves.
"I feel it's a real honour to be returning to IRONMAN New Zealand as the 2018 Champion. There are not many times in our careers where we have opportunities like this so it's a great privilege to return to race.
Five-time champion Meredith Kessler was unbeatable in Taupo from 2012 to 2016 before taking time out to start a family. She'll have her 15-month old son with her this weekend.
The other past winner is American Jocelyn McCauley, while the Kiwis to watch out for are last year's runner-up Teresa Adam, Rebecca Clarke, Mel Burke Erin Furness and Karen Tulmin.
The 3.9km swim, 180km bike and 42km swim starts at 6:45 tomorrow (Saturday morning).