This Saturday the XTERRA New Zealand Championship will celebrate its 10th birthday.
At the inaugural event in 2002, 900 people took part, since then over 18,000 people have taken to the stunning trails around the beautiful Blue Lakes area in Rotorua, and over the last 10 years, 237 athletes have gone on to compete at the XTERRA World Championships in Maui after qualifying in Rotorua.
The event now attracts people from all over the world, and organizers are expecting more than 2,500 entrants this year, each taking part in a walk, run, mountain bike or off-road triathlon.
The Paymark XTERRA Rotorua Festival is one of the single biggest multisport events in the world and is part of the XTERRA World Tour which host events in 17 different countries.
Representatives from seven countries are expected to this year’s race, including some of the world’s best XTERRA athletes to compete for the Payment XTERRA New Zealand title and their share in the $10,000 prize purse.
Ben Allen of Australia is returning after a fourth place finish at last year’s event. He comes into this race on fire having swept the XTERRA Asia Pacific tour with wins at the XTERRA Guam, Philippines, and Saipan Championship races on consecutive weekends in March.
"I'm feeling recovered, refreshed & ready for XTERRA NZ," said Allen."It's always a tough battle for an Aussie crossing over the tasman to race in NZ, though, and I'm sure the local boys aren't going down without a fight! One thing is for sure, the course is world class in Rotorua which makes racing fast, fun & hard. I love NZ and all that it has to offer. It's the adventure capital of the World!"
Like many entrants Allen is making it a family day out with his girlfriend Jacqui Slack from the UK, who will race in the elite women’s field. Slack also took part in the Asia Pacific swing, placing 2nd in Saipan and the Philippines and 3rd in Guam.
Taking on the Australians will be some of New Zealand’s best.
In the men’s field, Mark Leishman (Rotorua) and Scott Thorne (Hamilton) with be flying the Kiwi flag and each hoping they can fly it the highest by the end of the day.
Thorne comes to the race with a full complement of XTERRA medals, including two silvers, and will be looking for nothing less than another gold to add to that collection after finishing second to Richard Ussher last year.
Leishman was third in 2011 with Allan less than a minute behind. The top three seeded men this year are all expecting a tight tussle once again.
Locals will have a professional female to cheer for also with Leishman's partner, Nic Leary (Rotorua) the number one Kiwi contender. 2012 is a comeback year for Leary, after exploding onto the scene in 2009 as one of NZ’s most exciting mountain biking prospects, she has been absent from the national scene for most of the last 15 months battling illness and injury.
In a stellar 2 year period she emerged to won multiple mountain biking titles, as well as two XTERRA New Zealand Championships. She will be hoping her comeback period is complete in April with another XTERRA New Zealand title to her name.
While the professionals are out there battling themselves and each other for the title, there will be thousands of others taking part in what is an awesome day out.
XTERRA is about everyone living a little more, getting out there and giving it a go. There is an event option for all ages and abilities, including an 11km or 21km walk or run, a 29km mountain bike as well as a team or individual triathlon.