The raucous sounds of native Cockatoo’s and laughing Kookaburra’s fill the air around Callala Beach in New South Wales, Australia – home to the third annual XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race on Saturday.
The weather has been perfect in the days leading up to the main event with lots of sunshine and bright blue skies, although threats of rain fill the forecast for Friday and as we’ve learned from previous years, rain soaked trails turn the forest roots here into slippery rails and intermediate routs into technical tracts.
Braden Currie thrived in those conditions last year, posting the fastest bike split of the day and crossing the line nearly three minutes ahead of the speedy Courtney Atkinson. He’d like nothing more than a repeat of that performance to end a grueling schedule full of racing on a high note.
“Think I’ve race nine times in the last 13 weeks,” said Currie, who after finishing second at XTERRA Worlds last year, did his best to make the New Zealand Olympic team for triathlon thus never did have an off-season. “It’s been a lot of time on the road, traveling and training. I’ve had heaps of good learnings though, and think there is great cross over to it and it will benefit me in XTERRA.”
Courtney Atkinson was also chasing an Olympic spot in hopes of representing Australia for the third time. It didn’t work out, but said he’s happy to be back in the bush and have the chance to win a fourth straight XTERRA Australia title.
“Got back off-road last weekend and had a win, and had so much fun racing on the mountain bike again,” said Atkinson, who won the Queensland Cross Tri on Saturday. “There’s a great international field coming to Callala Beach for this one, and it’s good for off-road tri.”
Among that great international field is Bradley Weiss from South Africa, last year’s XTERRA Asian Tour Champion and winner of XTERRA South Africa and XTERRA Philippines already this year.
“So great to be back in New South Wales,” said Weiss, who finished 4th here two years ago in the inaugural event behind fellow countryman Dan Hugo, Atkinson, and Currie. “Should be a really fast and furious race out there on Saturday. I’m looking forward to going against these guys. I’ve been very focused on this particular race, not just the prize purse but the prestige that comes with the event. I’m going to be giving it my all out there. I feel like I’m in really good shape at the moment, it’s just going to take some execution on my part to get it right.”
Weiss said he also looked forward to reigniting the friendly rivalry with Asia-Pacific Tour nemesis Ben Allen. Those two have gone back-and-forth for years now in the regional races, flip-flopping places between first and second.
“The field toeing the line this weekend is no joke,” said Allen, who won the Australian Cross Tri National Championship earlier this year. “Braden won New Zealand. Brad won the Philippines and has had some time now in this part of the world. It’s great to see the guys are traveling all the way out to these destination races in the Asia-Pacific area to take the sport to the next level. I’m sure the quality and depth of the field will make it one heck of a race.”
Others of note include Kiwi Sam Osborne, who was second to Currie at XTERRA New Zealand last weekend and won XTERRA Sweden last year; Olly Shaw who won the XTERRA Motatapu off-road tri earlier this year; Brodie Gardner who won XTERRA Saipan in March, and the best off-roaders from Malaysia (Barry Lee), Hong Kong (Jason Hsieh), and Korea (Kaon Cho).
WOMEN’S ELITE RACE UP FOR GRABS
Reigning XTERRA Asian Tour Champion Jacqui Slack has finished third at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in each of the last two years. In 2014 she was 3rd behind XTERRA World Champions Flora Duffy and Nicky Samuels. Last year she was third behind Duffy and two-time Maui runner-up Barbara Riveros.
Since all three of those speedsters are now focused on the Rio Olympics and not on the start list for Saturday’s race, Slack is hoping that, well, she can pick up the slack.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Slack, who had eight podium finishes last year. “They’re not here and it’s wide open. It’s going to be a really good race for that number one spot, and it’s such a huge race, huge prize money, Asia-Pacific title on the line. All the girls here are pretty similar and anyone could take it, so I think it makes it pretty exciting.”
Slack is also happy to come into this race fully charged and ready to go for the first time in three years.
“I’ve got three, four months of really solid training in me and I can’t wait to get out there and see what’s going to happen on the day. We’re all super close and have our own strengths and weaknesses, so it’ll come down to who’s the strongest at the finish.”
Indeed, the women’s field is full of familiar faces and top-level pros that have each gotten the better of one-another at a myriad of championship races through the years.
Renata Bucher is the most decorated of the bunch with 33 big XTERRA wins spanning 14 countries over her illustrious 13-year career. Just last year she won the ETU European Cross Tri Championship and was second to only two-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson at the XTERRA European Champs.
Lizzie Orchard might be the most improved, and has run down victories at XTERRA Philippines and XTERRA New Zealand just last weekend.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday, and really determined to see a Koala,” joked Orchard.
Carina Wasle from Austria is coming off a win of her own at XTERRA Reunion last weekend, and she took home the XTERRA Saipan title earlier this year. Kiwi Sarah Backler, who won the XTERRA Tahiti title last year, finished just 27-seconds behind Orchard at XTERRA New Zealand last weekend. American Catherine Sterling is a fantastic swimmer and should hit the trails right alongside Jacqui Slack and those two could take off together.
There’s also Aussie Cross Tri National Champ Penny Hosken in the field, the reigning XTERRA Australia Champion Jessica Simpson, and a newcomer to the sport named Holly Khan.
There’s one thing for certain … this race is anybody’s to win.
XTERRA ASIA-PACIFIC ELITE START LIST
Name (Alphabetical) - Age, Hometown
Ben Allen – 31, North Wollongong, NSW, Australia
Courtney Atkinson - 36, Mermaid Waters, Queensland, Australia
Kaon Cho - 33, Jeju, South Korea
Braden Currie – 29, Wanaka, Otago, New Zealand
Aiden Dunster - 25, Mount Maunganui, New Zealand
Brodie Gardner - 29, Marcoola, QLD, Australia
Jason Hsieh – 31, Tai Po, Hong Kong
Barry Lee - 23, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kieran McPherson - 24, Matamata, New Zealand
Sam Osborne - 25, Rotorua, New Zealand
Cameron Paul - 25, Taupo, New Zealand
Alex Roberts – 26, Taupo, New Zealand
Olly Shaw - 24, Rotorua, New Zealand
Robert Skillman - 32, Tarlo, NSW, Australia
Bradley Weiss - 27, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Noah Wright - 41, Austin, Texas, USA
Name (Alphabetical) - Age, Hometown
Sarah Backler – 33, Tauranga, New Zealand
Renata Bucher – 38, Lucerne, Switzerland
Penny Hosken – 28, Ringwood North, VIC, Australia
Holly Khan – 30, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia
Elizabeth Orchard – 30, Auckland, New Zealand
Jessica Simpson - 27, East Corrimal, NSW, Australia
Jacqui Slack – 32, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, GBR
Catherine Sterling – 38, Ayer, Massachusetts, USA
Carina Wasle – 31, Kundl, Austria
XTERRA ASIA-PACIFIC COURSE OVERVIEW
XTERRA managing director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas has high praise for the venue set to host the 3rd annual XTERRA’s Asia-Pacific Championship race.
“The area is gorgeous, and we’ll be racing and riding through the Nowra State Forest,” explained Nicholas. “All in all it will be a total Australian experience. They call it bush – and it is. Not a lot of total elevation change, but some steep, short stuff and it’s quite sandy in places that will require some tough pedaling.”
The bike and run trails are native bush, undulating and fast. There are some sandy trails, even miles from the coast, and it’s also rooty in spots. The trails get narrow, winding thru trees.
“The run course is going to have nearly a mile of sand/beach running and it will be tough,” said Nicholas.
Even locals marvel at the soft, white sand that stretches for miles. “Better than Kailua Beach sand,” exclaimed XTERRA President Janet Clark, a Canberra-native who lives near the famous Kailua Beach in Hawaii.
Of note, the ocean temperatures measured at 20 degrees on their visit, which would make it a wetsuit-legal race.
“It’s also worth noting the ocean should be fairly flat, with no surf to speak of during the race,” said Nicholas.
No surf, but plenty of wildlife.
“Birds squawking and yodeling everywhere – sulfur crested cockatoos, parrots, kookaburras, it is a cacophony of a racket. We named one of the run trails “Squawking bird” as a result,” said Nicholas. “The range of colors and sounds is unbelievable, and the huge white gum trees (currently in flower) are spectacular.”
Of course there is no doubt visitors will be eager to experience the Kangaroo culture.
“The Kangaroos are the same color as the tree trunks and it’s hard to see them until they move,” said Nicholas. “On the golf course you can see a dozen at a time and walk right up to them.
Swim Distance: 1.5-kilometers (0.93 miles)
Location: Callala Beach at the end of Callala Beach Road. A long, white sand beach facing the mouth of Jervis Bay. The Bay is renowned for its white sand beaches and clear turquoise water. Jervis Bay is sheltered from most open ocean swells. Full course athletes will swim two laps of a 750-meter triangular course with a short beach sprint between laps.
Swim to Bike Run (T1) - A notable 670-meter run from beach to T1. There is even a shoe transition set-up for it.
Mountain Bike Distance: 30 Kilometers (18 miles)
Location: Nowra State Forest, Private Land. The bike course follows jeep trails from the RSL and crosses Forest Road to access some great single track which are portions of Superbowl and Butterfly trails. There will be short technical sections, flat twisty blasts, some short, sharp climbs, a couple of short twisty downhills and a great wha-hoo downhill.
Trail Run Distance: 10 Kilometers (6.2 miles)
Location: Race courses will be a combination of beach, jeep trail and single track – starting and finishing at the RSL. This year's course replaces the second long-stretch of sand with some undulating forest terrain.
XTERRA ANZ DOUBLE PARTICIPANTS
Dozens of racers are taking on the XTERRA ANZ Double, which recognizes the pro and age group male and female racers who post the fastest combined times at the XTERRA New Zealand and XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship races.
Here's a look at the times of those who raced at XTERRA New Zealand last weekend and are on the start list for Saturday's race in Australia: