THE injury-enforced withdrawal of reigning champion James Pretto has thrown this weekend's Freycinet Lodge Challenge wide open.
Having conquered the field in 2012, Pretto was on track to do the same again before a serious knee injury forced him out of the multi- sport event on the spectacular East Coast.
The Melburnian was in ominous form having won a number of titles this year including the Forster Adventure race and the Marysville to Melbourne.
Freycinet race director Tim Saul said he was disappointed over Pretto's withdrawal, but admitted it throws the race wide open.
"James is a class and quality athlete and it would have been great to see him return and chase back-to- back titles, but as well all know, injuries are a big part of this sport.
"Hopefully he recovers and can come back next year," Saul said.
"His absence makes the title race very intriguing with another record field of 600 multi-sport athletes from all over Tasmania and interstate taking part which is very pleasing indeed."
The Challenge, which incorporates running, kayaking and both road and mountain bike riding, will take place against the backdrop of the stunning Freycinet National Park.
Saul said: "It's an amazing place and certainly one of the most spectacular multi-sport events to be found anywhere in the world and the competitors always have a truly unforgettable weekend."
The two-day event gets underway tomorrow and concludes on Sunday afternoon.