A Baker’s Dozen in Rotorua

Apr. 8, 2015

The XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour rolls into Rotorua on Saturday for the 13th year of racing around the famous Blue Lake.

In the elite men’s race Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz returns to defend his crown following one of his all-time favorite XTERRA experiences in Rotorua last year.

“What a phenomenal course and venue!” exclaimed the four-time XTERRA World Champ on his blog after edging Ben Allen to win it with 40-seconds to spare last year.  “Beautiful blue lake called “Blue Lake” surrounded by green mountains covered with dense tree fern growth 20ft tall … some of the very best and unique single track I’ve ever ridden. This is the adventure and adrenaline I’ve been looking for!”

Stoltz will once again have stiff competition awaiting, this time in the form of Kiwi adventure racing star Braden Currie from Wanaka – who will be making his Rotorua debut – and the 23-year-old hometown hero Olly Shaw from Rotorua who was third last year.

“For me to beat or even contend with both Braden and Conrad I will have to have an awesome day in all three disciplines and use my home course knowledge to my advantage,” noted Shaw, who’s been racing at XTERRA New Zealand since he was 15-years-old.

“As a young elite athlete these are the guys you look up to in the sport so it would be awesome to be racing alongside them. Braden is at the top of his game at the moment and Conrad has more pedigree, knowledge and experience than any other XTERRA athlete so I know it is going to be a tough race but I’m looking forward to the challenge!”

Shaw traveled all around the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour last year with stops in Motatapu, Saipan, Guam, and Australia but insists the Rotorua route is the most special of all.

“The course in Rotorua is a dream XTERRA course,” he says.  “A beautiful fresh water swim in the Blue Lake, surrounded by thick green bush on all sides, followed by both a physically and technically challenging mountain bike taking in some of the best tracks and views the world-class Whakarewarewa Forest has to offer. Then top that all off with a two-lap run around the Blue Lake that is both fast and hard, with an atmosphere that is hard to match anywhere. To make it even better the temperature at this time of year in New Zealand always makes for close, fast racing so Saturday will be exciting!”

In the women’s race American stand-out Suzie Snyder is fulfilling a bucket-list dream to toe the start line in Rotorua and will be up against a host of strong local elites like Sarah Backler, Lizzie Orchard, and Rachel Challis.

“I’ve been working really hard this off-season and I’m feeling good about my fitness going into the year so I’m really excited about the season,” said Snyder, the 2012 XTERRA U.S. National Champ.  “I’m really excited to be here, it’s been in my list for about five years now since bumping into Jay Shelgren at Worlds in 2010.”

Shelgren is an XTERRA amateur racer from New York who lives in New Zealand now and has been taking Snyder around to show her the trails.

For Backler, a 32-year-old industrial designer and creator of beautiful porcelain objects from nearby Tauranga, XTERRA was a passion brought on by her husband that has turned into more than just a hobby.

“I watched my husband get hooked by XTERRA in 2010, and decided that if he was going to continue I didn’t want to be a supporter and should give it a go,” explained Backler.  “2011 was my ‘taster’ at XTERRA Rotorua, AND 2012 was the chance to do it a little better and the trend has continued ever since.”

Indeed it has. In 2012 she won the amateur title at Rotorua then went to Maui and won the 30-34 XTERRA World Championship crown.  Turning pro was the logical “next challenge.”

Last year Backler finished third at XTERRA New Zealand behind ITU star Barbara Riveros and many-time XTERRA champ Jacqui Slack, neither of whom are on the start list this year.  As for being one of the favorites to win it, Backler humbly defers…

“It’s always hard to know who will be lining up on race day and what form they are in as there aren’t a lot of other XTERRA races in NZ. It hasn’t really been a scenario that I’ve given a lot of thought to as there are others I know who are very capable of that position. What I do know is if I can have the race I’ve been training for, leave nothing in the tank and enjoy it I’ll be very satisfied and happy with a job well done.”

Speaking of well done, organizer Frank Clark and his team from First Tier Sports Productions have been putting on a first tier event since 2003.  The Paymark XTERRA Rotorua Festival is one of the single biggest multisport events in the world, with more than 2,000 racers taking part in a variety of challenges including a 5.5 km, 11km or 21km walk or run, a 26km mountain bike as well as a team or individual triathlon.

“At XTERRA we want everyone to “Live More” so that means getting out there and giving it a go, whether it be doing the 11km trail walk or racing on an XTERRA team.  We have events for everyone, including a Kids Zone,” said Clark, a racer himself who went head-to-head against the likes of Conrad Stoltz in France back in the 90’s.

More information can be found at www.xterra.co.nz and follow along on race day, April 11, on their Facebook page atfacebook.com/pages/Paymark-XTERRA-Rotorua-Festival.