Multisport: Dream team pairing of All Blacks legend Richie McCaw, Olympic rowing great Nathan Cohen impress at Coast to Coast

All Blacks great Richie McCaw and Olympic rowing champion teammate Nathan Cohen have lived up to their all-star billing at the iconic Coast to Coast on Friday.

The pair held a healthy lead halfway through the mountain run of the tandem two-day event, before Cohen was hampered by severe cramps, but still managed to finish the first day 20 minutes ahead of the closest rivals in the open male section. Craig Nieper and Merv Hunger in the veteran men's section were the only team to beat them to the line.

The 243-km race begins at the West Coast's Serpentine Beach, crossing the South Island to the finish line at Christchurch's New Brighton Beach. 

Competitors are required to stay within 50m of each other throughout the bike and run sections, as well as paddling a leg down the Waimakariri in a double kayak.

"It was a little bit tough at times," said McCaw, as he gathered his breath moments after crossing the line. 

"We did pretty good on the bike but if anything we probably overcooked it a little bit, bit of cramp coming through there. But we made it."

Competitors on the bike leg on day one.
Competitors on the bike leg on day one. Photo credit: Photosport

The two-time Rugby World Cup champion is competing in the tandem event for the fourth time.

Last year, he partnered with NZ Rugby players association boss Rob Nichol to finish fourth overall in the mens' section. In 2021, the duo earned a spot on the podium, coming in second place.

Competing for the first time with his new cohort, McCaw admitted Cohen - himself a twice world champion and a gold medallist at London 2012 - had considerably raised the bar preparation-wise.

"The training regime's been a bit tougher," McCaw said with a grin. "Some of the training rides were a bit harder than the one we did today.

"He's pretty competitive and a pretty strong athlete. It's been a lot of fun actually."

The 42-year-old wouldn't rule out competing in the one-day event in future, but for now he's content with using the tandem as a means of keeping his competitive juices flowing.

"You've got to have a challenge that gets you out of bed each day," he said. "Keep fit and keep the training going. 

"I wont say never but there's a whole nother level of training you need to do. I don't really fancy getting on a bike right now and then getting in a boat. You'd have to change your mindset a little bit."

"Had a pretty good run there and the body didn't fall to pieces, so long may that last. But there's not a day you wake up when the old knee's not a wee bit sorer than it used to be. Pretty lucky I can still do it, I guess."

On Saturday, the race resumes from Klondyke Corner on the bike, before athletes take to the double kayak, then a final leg back on the bike to the finish line at New Brighton.