The 2016 Olympic gold medallist Gwen Jorgensen ran her first World Triathlon World Cup race for seven years in New Plymouth, but it was New Zealand's Nicole van der Kaay who crossed the line first ©World Triathlon

New Zealand athletes won both race in the opening leg of this year's World Triathlon World Cup before home fans in New Plymouth, but most eyes were on the return of one of the sport's biggest names as they embarked upon their campaign for next year's Olympic Games in Paris. 

Olympic bronze medallist Hayden Wilde came from behind to secure victory in the opening stage of the men's race, while team-mate Nicole van der Kaay took the women's race in an event notable for the presence of United States Rio 2016 gold medallist Gwen Jorgensen.

The American was racing in her first World Triathlon Cup event in seven years - and just five months after the birth of her second child - as she continues her ambitious attempt to make it to next year's Olympic Games in Paris having announced her retirement from triathlon in 2017. 

She finished a disappointing 14th in a race that saw the 25-year-old van der Kaay win the first World Triathlon Cup race of her career.

For Jorgensen, in her second race back after a third place in the Oceania Triathlon Cup event in Taupō during a six-week training trip to New Zealand, this was a setback, but Paris 2024 remains her goal. 

"I think we had a really great training block here and I’m actually really glad we came as the family have had a great trip," Jorgensen, who tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the US marathon team at Tokyo 2020, said on a video posted to YouTube after the race.

"I came here to perform and it was a big investment to bring the entire family so I’m not impressed with the outcome but it was my best on the day."

Jorgensen revealed that she tripped at the start of the swim and never really recovered. 

Van der Kaay, on the other hand, was in the mix from the beginning, holding the lead alongside fellow New Zealander Ainsley Thorpe and Australian swim specialist Emma Jeffcoat.

The cycle stage saw 30 racers within 18 seconds of each other, with Norway's Solveig Lovseth and van der Kaay leading the group at the end of that portion of the race.

The run race began with Jorgensen's US team-mate Erika Ackerland leading the race alongside Van der Kaay, Thorpe, , Jeffcoat, New Zealand’s Brea Roderick and Olivia Thornbury.

At the end it was van Der Kaay who took the lead with Thorpe in second and Lovseth finishing on the podium for the first time.

“This race is super special for me," 27-year-old van der Kaay, ranked 40th in the world, said.

"This was actually my first World Cup podium four or five years ago and I haven’t had a World Cup podium since.

"So to get gold has made it super special.

"It was a goal of mine to get that gold but I didn’t know how I was coming in against some of the internationals. It’s a great feeling and the home crowd, even better. 

"There was a lot of cheering out there for the New Zealanders. 

"First of all, was to get those points and I’ve nailed my first half of the season now it’s just building up to Paris [2024]."

New Zealand's Hayden Wilde celebrated his first World Cup victory of his season before his home fans in New Plymouth ©World Triathlon
New Zealand's Hayden Wilde celebrated his first World Cup victory of his season before his home fans in New Plymouth ©World Triathlon

Wilde was only 19th out of 58 athletes after the opening 750 metres swim, 20 seconds behind the leader, Portugal's Ricardo Batista.

Wilde, third in the re-arranged 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, was quick to catch-up during the 20 kilometre bike race, equating with the leaders in the first hill of lap one.

At the end of the bike race, only eight of the races were in the mix, with the rest of the field strung out. 

Wilde hit the 5km run course for the last leg with compatriots Trent Thorpe, Dylan McCullough and Tayler Reid, alongside Batista, Italy's Nicolo Strada, America's Seth Rider and Australia's Brandon Copeland.

Wilde came out on top, with the delight of the home crowd, as he won the first World Triathlon Cup event of his career, something he has been looking to achieve since he began his breakthrough to the top level in 2019. 

Reid took second place, while Batista rounded off the podium.

“I feel on top of the world," Wilde, the Commonwealth Games silver medallist in Birmingham last year, said.

"It was just lovely to do it in front of friends and family. 

"The family has ripped it out of me that I won an Olympic medal but never a World Series or World Cup medal. 

"So it is nice to tick all four boxes on all four tiers. 

"I did it completely the opposite way, but great to do it on home soil."

The next event in the World Triathlon Cup is due to take place in Mexican resort Huatulco on June 18.