The eight-stop XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour kicks off Saturday at the XTERRA Motatapu off-road triathlon on the South Island of New Zealand.
The race will serve as a celebration of sorts for reigning XTERRA World Champion Nicky Samuels and Braden Currie (5th at XTERRA Worlds) as both live right there in Wanaka. As a child Samuels used to ride her mountain bike to get to and from the school bus stop.
“It is an amazing place, although looking a little chilly this year with some fresh snow on the hills!” said Samuels, who may have caught herself by surprise when she won Worlds in October, but not her supporters in Wanaka.
“I think I was more surprised with the win than they were, it was almost like they expected it back home. Some of my immediate family were there watching so they were thrilled I pulled it off…I was thrilled just to still be standing at the end,” said Samuels, who called XTERRA Worlds “honestly the toughest race I have done.”
While the ultimate goal for Samuels is the Rio Olympics in 2016, which calls for an ITU focused schedule, she hopes XTERRA is a big part of her program going forward.
“I am contemplating the Asia-Pacific Champs but will have to see how training goes, and I’d like to get back to the World Champs again this year as well,” said Samuels. “It’s a great event. To go to Hawaii to do a race is the first positive, and the course was hard. That bike is a slow grunt but having a beach swim with waves is awesome, something we miss out a bit on in triathlons. American’s always know how to put on a good event, it is definitely a must do race. This year if I return I would have finished with my ITU races at the end of August so would have two months to prepare on the mountain bike – so for sure I’d be looking forward to it a bit more than last year!”
While this is just the third year XTERRA Motatapu has been part of the World Tour and offered up 14 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship, it’s the 10th anniversary for the iconic weekend of events that attracts some 4,000 competitors with races in mountain biking, an off-road marathon, adventure runs and triathlons.
“It is out-of-this-world gorgeous,” said XTERRA Hall of Famer Jamie Whitmore, who took part in the mountain bike race last year.
“The scenery is just incredible,” added Mexico’s Leo Ricardez, a long-time and well-traveled XTERRA Warrior, after the inaugural race. “It’s like riding in the Lord of the Rings movie. And the run was even more epic than the ride, very tough and technical with lots of climbing and lots of very steep descending. The trail went through alpine environments so it was grassy, wet, dry, steep, and super scenic. All in all, this was one of the best XTERRA runs I´ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of them!”
The race is longer than your typical XTERRA, combining a 2km swim in Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka, 47km Mountain Bike and a 15km mountain run over the historic Miners Trail course. Samuels, who won last year’s race in her first-ever XTERRA, describes the course as “an awesome iconic event, but the run is a killer on the legs.”
“The mountain bike goes through Shania Twain’s property on a four wheel drive track through many river crossings and over continuous rolling tussock covered hills then you end up in Arrowtown (20km out of Queenstown), transition on the flats then head up a four wheel drive track that turns into a rugged goat trail,” said Samuels.
While the Kiwi is the sure-fire favorite in the women’s race, XTERRA legend Renata Bucher from Switzerland – winner of 31 XTERRA majors in 10 seasons including last year’s NZ Championship in Rotorua – will certainly keep her honest. Bucher just posted an insightful look into her first impressions of Motatapu on her Facebook page with a series of pictures exploring the root of why “Kiwis are so fit & have world champs in triathlon and XTERRA.” You can check it out here.
Other elite women racing on Saturday include Kiwis Sara Backler – who was 2nd to Samuels last year, the 2011 25-29 division XTERRA World Champ Lizzie Orchard, Jess Simson, and Simone Maier.
In the men’s race Currie, who captured the first two XTERRA Motatapu crowns, will try to make it a hat-trick against the likes of Tony Dodds, Olly Shaw, Ryan Sissons, and David Esposito. His 5th-place showing at Maui last year was the best for a New Zealander since Hamish Carter won the 2006 XTERRA World Championship, but it came at a price. He crashed into a tree on the bike and needed six stitches to his chin after the race.
The 10th anniversary event is even more special as for the first time the race is under new ownership by the Queenstown Trails Trust and all net proceeds from the event go to the maintenance and future development of the Queenstown trail network (read the release). Have a look at the amazing scenery from Motatapu and follow along this weekend on their Facebook page, and race website.