(Honolulu, HI) –Sam Gardner and Karyn Southgate captured the inaugural XTERRA Mauritius titles on Saturday.
“Bois Cherie itself is mind blowing,” said Gardner about the Tea Estate on the island nation situated in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. “The grounds are a work of art with countless grounds staff trimming the tea bushes continuously. They serve up an amazing variety of herbal and traditional teas too. Known in the UK as a honeymoon destination and a paradise Island, I was keen to see if they could put on an XTERRA here.”
Bordering the mountainous Black River Gorges National Park, the race started in a pristine mountain lake.
“You'd have expected a sea swim in the pristine waters and beaches that the Island is famed for, but instead the race starts in a lake high up in the famous Bois Cherie Tea plantation,” explained Gardner, pictured abover during the swim. “Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures with a large Indian population who started this great estate nearly 200 years ago, it’s where they make the famous St. Aubin rum (strictly for post race use)! When we arrived it was 26 degrees C (that's the metric system, it'll catch on in the US one day!) with 26 degree water too, they did warn us it was winter!
The race started with a large contingent of relay swimmers taking the lead out the water ahead of XTERRA pros like Gardner and former world champion Nico Lebrun.
The bike course is run over two 17km laps. The first 2km was grass and muddy and slippery from the recent rain, then the course was predominantly on fire roads through the Tea plantations and past bemused Tea pickers who had obviously not seen this sort of thing before, said Gardner. A couple of short single track sections were thrown in to test all the riders as well as a couple of dragging climbs. Towards the end of the lap the tea fields were swapped for sugar cane with the leaves slapping our arms as we whistled past at 20 mph.
“Nico and I set about picking off the relay teams and by the end of lap one we were riding neck and neck with the lead team. I got a bit sideways on some mud on one of the fast descents and ended up in a banana tree. As we started lap two I started picking some better lines and the good life after retirement that Nico has been living was maybe taking its toll and he faded slightly,” said Gardner. “This left me with a minute or so lead starting the run, which wouldn't have been enough against the former world champion a few years ago but on this occasion it was enough. The two-lap run course had it all and must be one of the best on the XTERRA circuit. The first km rolled through a deer park on the estate, then came a stiff climb followed by a very slippery narrow muddy descent through a stream and along a technical trail with an amazing canopy of bamboo. Some more fire road with a climb up and down a wooden ladder led to a gorgeous section alongside an irrigation channel then into an extremely slippery and steep second half, culminating with a lap of the lake at the very end. It was so nice you almost forgot the pain!”
Lebrun, who finished second, called the run “one of the best I’ve ever done at XTERRA for sure.”
Top three men: Gardner (2:37:33), Nico Lebrun (2:42:53), and Yannick Desfarges, (2:44:42)
Top woman: Karyn Southgate, (3:29:48)