Hundreds of amateurs and more than 50 of XTERRA’s fastest elite men and women will toe the start line at one of the three XTERRA championship races being held this weekend.
The “Crown Jewel” of XTERRA is in Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands. There’s a World Tour newcomer in Malta, the largest island in an archipelago in the central Mediterranean. And Costa Rica, although technically not an island, certainly looks and feels like one.
Each will dish out amazing experiences on top of qualifying spots into the 20th XTERRA World Championship race in Maui to the fastest amateurs while elites chase cash and glory.
All three are bucket-list destinations for the adventure traveler … which one do you wish you were going to?
XTERRA SAIPAN – MARCH 28
The “original exotic” race on the XTERRA World Tour returns for the 14th year Saturday and Aussie Ben Allen and Austrian Carina Wasle are back on island to defend their titles.
Saipan is located in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean, offering up azure colored water, a powder blue sky, light island breezes, and tropical 85-degree days prevail year-round providing the perfect venue for XTERRA.
“The relaxed island lifestyle allows you to unwind and just focus on the simple things in life,” said Allen, who has won the last three Saipan titles.
The place is so alluring that world-class athletes like Olivier Marceau and Renata Bucher make it an annual trek.
“It’s not an XTERRA season without a stay in Saipan,” said Bucher, a seven-time winner here.
It’s a great place to do some early season training, and always offers a classic road tri – the Tagaman – the weekend before or after. This year Tagaman was before XTERRA and won by Allen and Mieko Carey (Bucher was 2nd in the women’s race, Marceau 3rd in the men’s race).
In Saturday’s XTERRA, Allen will be up against XTERRA Philippines Champion Bradley Weiss from South Africa.
While Weiss got the better of Allen in Albay in February this year, Allen was almost 10-minutes faster than Weiss in Saipan last year.
After finishing second at his home race XTERRA South Africa Weiss has been dealing with a painful iliotibial band (IT band) issue that put him on the shelf for a few weeks but is grateful the rest seems to have been positive for him.
“XTERRA Saipan and Guam are races I look so forward to mostly because of the people I get to stay with, and the triathlon community these unique events draw each year,” said Weiss. “I am looking at the next few weeks as a building phase and will be training through most if not all of the races just to try and build my fitness again. I look forward to racing injury free again but I hold no illusions of my current form and know there is a long road ahead to full fitness.”
Other international elites in the mix include former XTERRA Japan Champion Takahiro Ogasawara, Philippines star Joe Miller, Markus Benesch from Austria, David Esposito from New Caledonia, and Aleksandr Dorovskikh from Russia.
In the women’s race last year’s champ, Wasle, will be up against the 2013 Saipan Champ Jacqui Slack from the UK, and the 2012 and 7x Champ Renata Bucher of Switzerland, Daz Parker from London, and local favorite Mieko Carey representing Saipan, Guam, and Japan.
XTERRA first ventured to Saipan in 2002, and 14-years later is still taking racers through caves where Japanese soldiers hid and fought from during the Battle of Saipan in 1944. The race starts on the same beach where Marines launched their attack, then the bike course traverses nearly every inch of the island where the battles took place.
“The dense jungle on island is forever challenging and there is always a hidden gem around every corner,” said Allen.
Triathlete Magazine called it one of the ‘World’s Best” races in 2011, and New York Times bestselling author Marty Dugard wrote about his adventures at XTERRA Saipan in his book, To Be A Runner.
There are a lot of reasons to love Saipan – the people, history, and adventurous course are a few, however, the most recurring comment you’ll hear when talking to alumni, “it’s so much fun.”
The XTERRA Tribe owes a huge debt of gratitude to the island locals who have embraced this race as their own, and particularly Eric Tydingco, who was born in Saipan and also produces the XTERRA Guam Championship. Tydingco has been instrumental in the sports success in the Western Pacific over the past decade, and has also been a force to be reckoned with at the after-parties as part of a band that has rocked the night away following XTERRA races in Saipan, Guam, and Maui races.
XTERRA COSTA RICA – MARCH 29
The second-running of the XTERRA Costa Rica Championship in Playa Conchal on Sunday will be without last year’s men’s winner Leo Chacon who is busy trying to make it to Rio and women’s winner Shonny Vanlandingham who retired.
There is no shortage of worthy candidates ready to stake their claim to the titles, however, as a star-studded field from around the world is in Central America to compete for the crown.
The men’s elite race includes XTERRA U.S. Pro Series champion Josiah Middaugh (pictured, second at XTERRA Worlds last year), the young-gun Mauricio Mendez from Mexico (5th at XTERRA Worlds last year), local stand-out Rom Akerson, America tour regulars Craig Evans (who will be celebrating his 37th birthday on Sunday) and Alex Modestou, as well as German representatives Nickolas Daimer and Sebastian Neef.
Last year Middaugh, Mendez, Akerson, Evans, and Neef finished 2nd through 6th, respectively.
The women’s race sees the return of two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson, who will have her work cut-out for her against the likes of XTERRA National Champion Emma Garrard, last year’s runner-up Christine Jeffrey, XTERRA newbie (but road tri vet) Sara McLarty, and Laura Mira Diaz from Brazil.
“I am beyond excited, it has always been on my bucket list of countries to visit,” said Garrard, who was recently named USA Triathlon’s Elite Off-Road Athlete of the Year. “I am bringing the family so I am just as excited to have some beach time and check out the wildlife as I am to race. Normally Vegas is my first race of the season so it will be great to have another race under my belt and see where I’m at compared to the other women.”
We asked Emma what her off-season has been like, and here is what she said…
“I feel like I take more of an off-season than most pro triathletes as mentally and logistically I cannot race 12 months a year. I have a two-year-old now so running intervals feels quite relaxing in comparison. I’ve taken on a year-round job as a coach for Park City Nordic so it’s been a lot of fun to inspire the next generation of endurance athletes. The winter in Park City has been mild which means I’ve done a lot more running, biking and swimming than usual. Although cross-country skiing is usually my secret off-season weapon, I did more mountain biking because the trails were dry. Despite the mild weather it was my first year since living in Park City I’ve had a season pass so I had more days telemark skiing than usual.”
As for the competition in the women’s race, Garrard says “Lesley always shows up at a race prepared to win and has shown she’s fit by her result in the Pro XCT last weekend. There will be some of the fastest swimmers in the sport there so I will have my work cut out for me to close the gap on the bike. Plus, there will be some local competitors who I’m sure are used to the humidity and know the course.”
Fans can watch all the action go down live with a streaming broadcast Sunday, March 29, starting at 6:45 a.m. MST on www.Teletica.com. Alternatively follow the links from http://www.costaricaxterra.com/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TriatlonCostaRica?fref=ts
XTERRA MALTA – MARCH 29
The inaugural XTERRA Malta off-road triathlon on Sunday has attracted hundreds of athletes from 19 countries to the beautiful island nation in the Mediterranean.
As the first major on the XTERRA European Tour it’s a great chance for racers to collect some early points towards winning divisional titles and qualify for Maui at the same time. The elite field is strong and deep and will provide a good indication of who has done what in the off-season.
The men’s start list is highlighted by 2014 XTERRA Greece Champion Francois Carloni from France who finished third in the European Tour last year.
“I’m ready, but not sure to be the favorite,” said Carloni. “Brice Daubord trained hard, Nicolas Fernandez is a very good athlete, Roger Seranno looks good, and I never have topped Coddens.”
Daubord (FRA) finished 11th at XTERRA Worlds last year, Serrano (ESP) was in the mix at XTERRA South Africa last month where he finished third, and Coddens (BEL) was super impressive in his last race of 2014 when he placed runner-up to Conrad Stoltz at XTERRA England.
Others in the mix include Jan Pyott (5th on Euro Tour last year), Albert Soley (15th at Worlds last year), Clement Briere (former age group World Champ), and a cast of others featuring Henry Sleight (GBR), Jim Thijs (BEL), Tm Van Daele (BEL), Simone Calamai (ITA), Fabrizio Bartoli (ITA), Xavier Jove Riart (ESP), Arthur Serrieres (FRA), Rory Downie (GBR), Matt Dewis (GBR), Lars Van der Eerden (NED), and Fabien Combaluzier (FRA).
The women’s field features four racers who finished in the top 10 of the 2014 XTERRA European Tour standings including Brigitta Poor (HUN), Maud Golsteyn (NED), Louise Fox (GBR), Sandra Koblmueller (AUT), and Malta’s-own Danica Spiteri. Others in the mix include Jessica Roberts (GBR), Elisabetta Curridori (ITA), Nicole Olivari (ITA), and Karin Hansen (SUI).
On top of some great racing action Malta looks like an incredible place to explore.
“Whilst the beautiful beaches and rugged nature reserves are some of the most beautiful spots in the world, Malta’s archaeological and historical setting makes it a haven for travelers interested in how civilization shaped the way we live,” said race director Nathan Farrugia of Hellfire Events.
“Interestingly, Malta’s neolithic temples are older that Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Malta has been the melting pot of Greek, Roman, Norman, Anglo-Saxon, British and Italian civilizations, but is perhaps best known for the Knights of Malta, that fought off the invading Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, in the living monument cities of Valletta and Mdina.”
The race itself covers every aspect of what makes the Mediterranean the sought after destination that it is, said race co-founder Nathan Farrugia of Hellfire Events.
“The swim is held in the crystal blue sea of the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, with the bike and run in two side by side nature reserves, The Majjistral and the Gnejna Plateau.”
The XTERRA weekend will also feature a sprint and team relay event, as well as a kids swim-run-swim experience on Golden Bay (weather permitting).
Putting it all together is the passionate husband and wife team of Nathan and Deirdre Farrugia.
“We are avid outdoor enthusiasts that find inspiration in nature, so it came as no surprise that we looked at the XTERRA movement as the next stage in our Team Hellfire’s development. We are a family of athletes, organizers and friends above all, that aim to marry experience, nature appreciation and personal challenge through our events,” said Nathan Farrugia. “Organizing a Malta XTERRA, for us and our tiny but beautiful country in the Mediterranean, is the perfect way to reach all our goals as individuals and on behalf of our sporting friends.”