Our look back in time at every XTERRA World Championship race broadcast since the sports’ inception in 1996 is now complete.
This week we re-live last year’s race where Ruzafa’s reign continued and the rise of Flora Duffy began; and all that’s left is 37 days of anticipation until the 20th running of the XTERRA World Championship on November 1, 2015.
2014 Race Review: One elite became an instant legend in her home country and another solidified his status among XTERRA’s all-time greats at the 19th running of the XTERRA World Championship.
Flora Duffy, who first dreamed of becoming a world champion when she was 8-years-old, became the first pro triathlete from Bermuda to win a world title and Ruben Ruzafa from Spain captured his third XTERRA World Championship and wrapped up a perfect season that featured nine straight wins, the XTERRA European Tour Championship, the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship and the XTERRA USA Championship.
More than 800 endurance athletes from around the world participated in the off-road triathlon, which started and finished at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua hotel on Maui. The course consisted of a 1-mile swim, a 20-mile mountain bike, and a 6- mile trail run.
RUZAFA REIGNS: It used to be all about the bike for Ruben Ruzafa, who has now posted the fastest bike split at all three XTERRA World Championship races he’s entered (and won) , but now he’s almost just as strong at swimming and running.
“I feel great, it’s incredible. Until you finish the race you don't know if you are going to win. Today, I knew it was going to be hard because Josiah was really good. I am surprised because I swam very well… but Josiah did really well in the ride, and running of course he was very fast. So, it wasn’t until the end of the course that I knew he was not there.”
Ruzafa came out of the water less than one-minute behind the leaders and made all that up and more to take the lead on the bike by the six-mile mark when he passed the other 11 riders in front of him and finally Ben Allen. More importantly, his 20:51 swim split was 1:45 faster than his toughest opponent, Josiah Middaugh.
He extended the gap on Middaugh by 50-seconds on the bike and even though the American XTERRA icon ran more than a minute faster in the final leg of the race, it wasn’t enough. Here’s how Middaugh explained it…
“I knew I had to have a really good swim. I had a great start today and I had the best swim I’ve ever had here. I was a little over two minutes behind the lead, but really close to the people I was racing with but Ruben was off ahead with an even better swim. He wasn’t too far off the front. I caught the top 5 on the bike really early and I put together the best race I have done here. It wasn’t quite enough to win but I'm very happy with second. I feel like I pushed really hard all the way through. I feel like I emptied the tank like 50 times and put every single thing into this race. Best day I’ve had.”
Aussie Ben Allen came out of the water up front with Mauricio Mendez, was the first out on the bike course after a quicker transition and held the lead until Ruzafa caught him at around mile four. Middaugh passed 33 people in front of him before he passed Allen at mile 13 and moved into second. Allen stayed in third the rest of the way. Here’s what he said after the race:
“I’m so stoked to back up my third-place last year. It’s been a roller coaster ride but I’ve finished top 5 in every race and to come here and back it up, it just goes to show it wasn’t a fluke last year and shows me that I’m a force to be reckoned with in the sport of XTERRA. I mean, I really dug deep today and had the attitude that I had nothing to lose and gave it a crack.”
Dan Hugo, who won seven races on the XTERRA World Tour this year, also came in to the main event in fine form. Much like Middaugh, he was happy with his effort, if not the result that came with it.
“The guys set the bar exceptionally high, maybe the best expression of XTERRA we have ever seen,” said Hugo. “Salute and credit where due, especially my friend Joe in second, so sublime, he’s in the best shape and he must be recognized for that. Personally, I came in digging and I really wish there was more but it felt great. I wish it felt this way but I went quicker.”
In a finish for the ages, Mauricio Mendez from Mexico City (who turned 19 earlier in the week) edged Bart Aernouts and Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz by two seconds. Aernouts went on to finish 6th and Stoltz was 7th.
“Being fifth place in my first year as a pro is unbelievable. When I started running I just told myself that this was a fight with me, nobody else,” said Mendez, who moved up eight spots from 13th to 5th with a blistering run split of 38:50 that was second only to Middaugh.
DUFFY DOMINATES: It was only a little more than a year ago when Flora Duffy finished out of the top five at the XTERRA Mountain Championship and told herself, “never again.”
There was an again, fortunately, at Maui last year where she surprised herself with a 3rd-place finish. After that she went to South Africa – where XTERRA roars - and honed her skills in the craft of mountain biking and the results were remarkable. Combine the fitness she already possessed with some mad skills and Duffy turned into a dominant racer. She won everything except XTERRA Germany, and by big margins.
Nothing could stop her today, not a mechanical, not even a wicked crash that sent her flying into the bushes and ripped holes in her racing kit.
“I crashed so hard, I literally don't know how I got back on my bike,” said Duffy. “You know how it’s a steep gnarly decent, I hit a root awkwardly and just flew into the trees head first with the bike on top of me. I was lucky I landed in the bushes. Then, five minutes later I had a mechanical. It was a hard day out there.”
It was even harder for all the elite women trying to keep up with Duffy. Last year’s women’s winner Nicky Samuels did her best, but said she lacked the fitness after her break from ITU racing.
“I had a break after the ITU season so I think 3rd is about where my fitness is, and to hold on to 3rd place was good enough for me,” said Samuels. “Flora probably pulled away at the 1k or 2k mark on the bike, so really soon. And I think she was pulling the same ground going down, so huge difference in her bike fitness and mine. Barbara (Riveros) passed me on the last descent and then pulled away.”
Riveros, who was the runner-up two years ago and finished fourth last year, worked her way back into the second spot this year.
“I’m very, very proud of Flora,” said Riveros. “I'm happy for her for getting the title for her country. She’s a role model. She’s very strong and I knew she was the big contender here and she more than proved that today so clap for her and congratulations to everyone.”
Emma Garrard continues to shine bright as America’s top female racer and improved on her fifth-place performance of a year ago with a fourth-place showing today.
“I was about 12th out of the water but there were some girls not too far ahead so that was kind of helpful,” said Garrard. “By the ridge I had kind of caught up to Jacqui and Susie but didn’t pass them and on the next climb I could see Melanie. Before we got to the single track at the end I made a move on Melanie and Kathrin. Susie wasn’t too far in front but I couldn't catch her on the last section coming into transition. I was side by side with Susie and had no idea if Helena was behind us. I really hoped I could make it on the podium on the run but…”
Helena Erbenova was several minutes behind the leaders after the swim but coupled a great bike and run to work her way into fifth despite crashing on the bike.