Gentle cautious as historic 10th Noosa title beckons
Ashleigh Gentle's move to middle-distance racing means there is no exposed form behind her assault on a 10th Noosa Triathlon title.
Ashleigh Gentle has no regrets about her Olympic triathlon retirement ahead of a rare return to the distance as she attempts to strengthen her historic Noosa stronghold.
The 32-year-old has only been beaten once in 10 Noosa starts, with Emma Moffat relegating Gentle to second in 2013 after she had broken through for a maiden victory a year earlier.
The Brisbane product has barely been troubled in eight-straight wins since, a COVID-enforced cancellation in 2020 robbing Gentle of another potential victory.
But the two-time Olympian is wary given she hasn't raced the 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run distance since winning the Noosa race in a stroll last year.
"Each year is similar; I never go in confident and my husband (professional triathlete Josh Amberger) said the other day, 'do you ever think you'll get to Noosa and feel confident?'," she told AAP.
"But there's always so many unknowns and I don't know what my body is going to give me.
"That's what I'm most proud of; no matter how the year's gone or how I feel, it's always two hours of pain.
"I am proud of the way I've found a way to win and that will remain, whether I win again or don't."
Paris Olympic hopefuls Natalie Van Coevorden, Charlotte McShane and Jaz Hedgeland have been fine-tuning their Games qualification assaults over the distance and will ensure the pace is hot on Sunday.
Gentle won't race for Australia in Paris next year, content with her switch to middle-distance racing - 2km swim, 80km bike and 18km run - and remove herself from Olympic calculations.
She's performed strongly on the lucrative Professional Triathletes Organisation for the last two years and says her 10km run - already a standout strength - has improved.
"I've found my feet; it suits me well and I had my time in short course. It was time to move on," she said.
"I look back fondly and of course had some really difficult times too, but it's shaped who I am."
Keen observers of the sport can't recall a streak as impressive and while Rafael Nadal has won 14 French Open titles, he could only muster five on the trot.
Victory on Sunday in the event's 40th staging would mean Gentle has won a quarter of the time.
"It's a lot. Surreal; I didn't even realise I was old enough to win that many," she laughed.
"Noosa brings the magic for me each year, hopefully it does again on Sunday."
The men's race is headlined by New Zealand's Tokyo bronze medallist Hayden Wilde and Paris-qualified Australian Matt Hauser in their race debuts.
Two-time winner Jake Birtwhistle will complete a hectic 18-race season in Noosa while fellow Paris aspirant Brandon Copeland will also jostle for honours.
Charlie Quin won in record time last year but knows the standard has "gone up a notch" in a field that also includes South African Henri Schoeman.