The 14th annual Paymark XTERRA New Zealand Championship race takes place Saturday at Blue Lake in Rotorua.
It’s a big race for a lot of reasons. It’s the fourth of six events on the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour, dishes out qualifying spots into XTERRA Worlds to the top amateurs, and qualifies Kiwis to race for their country at the ITU Cross Tri World Champs.
It’s also one of the biggest gatherings on the XTERRA Planet with thousands of participants taking part in the walk, runs, mountain bike races, and off-road triathlons on offer. And it all happens in one of the most magnificent locations on earth.
“It’s hard to stay focused during the race because it’s so beautiful out there,” said last year’s women’s winner Suzie Snyder. “It’s like no place I’ve ever been. You go from a tropical feel to a Redlands Forest-type scene to jungle action, and it changes all the time so it's just constant stimulation.”
A terrific pro field is on hand to contend for the top step, including the top three men from last year with defending champion Braden Currie, runner-up Sam Osborne, and third-place finisher Olly Shaw. XTERRA Asian Tour Champ Bradley Weiss of South Africa will give those three chase, as will Kaon Cho of Korea, and a deep cast of Kiwis including Clark Ellice, Kiley Momohara, Alex Roberts, and Lachlan Davey.
The race carries special meaning for both Osborne and Shaw, who hail from right there in Rotorua and would like nothing more than a big win in front of their family and friends. In last year’s race Currie came in just 13-seconds ahead of Osborne, who comes in confident having trained with New Zealand Olympian Ryan Sissons in his build-up to the Rio Olympics.
On the women’s side this could be the year for Lizzie Orchard from Auckland. She had a breakout race at XTERRA Worlds last year, finishing 5th overall, and won her first XTERRA major earlier this season at XTERRA Philippines. She’ll have her hands full with fellow kiwi and former age group XTERRA World Champion Sara Backler, Rachel Challis, and Mary Gray.
To get a sense for the beauty of Blue Lake, have a look at this video from last year’s race: http://www.xterra.co.nz/video.html
More information can be found at www.xterra.co.nz and on Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Paymark-XTERRA-Rotorua-Festival.