XTERRA Managing Director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas spent the entire summer overseas fine-tuning an XTERRA European Tour that has grown dramatically from just a dream to a full-fledged circuit with top riders, amazing venues, and sold-out fields.
Having just returned to the U.S. in time to take in Saturday’s National Championship race, he took a moment to look back on a remarkable summer of XTERRA racing in Europe…
The season started with a new venue on the island of Malta and ended with an epic battle between the living legend and the newest champion. 2015 had the most races and most participants of any year since we started in 2002 but it was not quantity that will make the year remembered as much as the quality and the diversity.
It all began on the ancient and charming island of Malta with two first time winners in Nicholas Fernandez and Brigitta Poor. Brigitta has raced with us for several seasons and has been steadily improving. This year, as series champion Helena Erbenova says, “She has grown up.”
Men: Fernandez came back after his Malta win and proved the victory was no error with solid and fast performances in Germany and England slowed only by mechanical troubles.
World Champion Ruben Ruzafa is still the undefeated King of XTERRA. He had 5 starts and 5 wins in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and England. The last was the toughest as 4-time World Champ and XTERRA icon Conrad Stoltz pushed him until the last ½ K and the strain showed on the young Spaniards face as he dropped to the ground at the finish. This may be Caveman’s last year, but he is still as fast as the fastest.
Switzerland saw a surprise winner in young Arthur Forissier who simply got out in front and held it until the end. Arthur, at just 20 years old on race day, has a great future. He followed his win with an excellent 4th overall in France a week later.
Just behind Forissier in Switzerland was Belgian Kris Coddens who broke through with two wins this season in Greece and Denmark. Somewhat limited by his work schedule, Kris is a dangerous competitor who we think has many more wins in his future.
Kiwi Sam Osborne came out of nowhere to win Sweden, another young one at 24 who finished just ahead of Coddens. Kris got his revenge by beating Sam in Denmark.
Aussie Ben Allen wandered into the European scene at the Czech race and promptly won two in a row, there and in Germany before giving chase to Ruzafa and Stoltz for a fine 3rd in England.
Notably, the top two in European Series points did not win a race this year. Bearded Spaniard Roger Serrano and Frenchman Francois Carloni podiumed everywhere and accumulated enough points to finish 1st and 2nd ahead of Ruzafa. Consistency and excellence paid off this season. Swiss Jan Pyott had a great season for 4th in points and Spains Albert Soley was 5th.
Women: Helena Erbenova is simply a force. She now has 4 European Titles to her CV and although the other women are getting closer, nobody goes into a race without worrying what she will do. The Czech mother of two had wins in Greece and Sweden in the Silver division and Spain, Italy, Czech and Germany in the Gold division.
Brigitta Poor added 4 second places and one 3rd to her win in Malta for second in points and diminutive Austrian Carina Wasle won Switzerland and Denmark to finish third in the standings.
Last years champion Kathrin Mueller came out twice and won both of those races in France and Portugal. Two time World Champ Lesley Patterson came to England and won the season closer and Jacqui Slack showed her speed with two thirds in Czech and England and a second in Germany.
Showing consistency does pay. Englishwomen Louise Fox and Jessica Roberts were 4th and 5th in the series championship outpointing the women who may have been faster but did not finish enough events.
The best part of the season was the outstanding duels. Serrano would often lead from the swim and then Carloni or Ruben would catch him. Then the duel on the run would bring Coddens into the picture. There was terrific passing and re-passing in every race. When Ruben showed up, he generally could get the lead on the bike and keep everyone back except when the Caveman did his best to upset the applecart in England. But the other men did not make it easy.
It was not any different for the women with Erbenova minutes behind out of the water but with such biking skills she could often catch or get within seconds of the lead off the bike and then run faster or simply take the pain to win. In Switzerland she saw the newfound power of Hungarian Brigitta Poor when she caught the younger woman on the run but then saw her pull away. Carina had great races but suffered bike troubles in others that pushed her back in the standings. Young Austrian Sandra Koblemueller is a definite rising star and is by far the fastest runner in the field often making up 3 or 4 places on the last leg. When she gets her mtb skills going the field had best be ready to see her at the lead.
For 2016 the races increase with new venues in Poland and Belgium. The sport is unbelievably healthy in Europe and with so many great races and historical, beautiful places to visit it will remain healthy for years to come.