XTERRA World Tour managing director is in Athens and brings us this report from his first day on the ground…
XTERRA Greece has a new home and has found new success. The race has a total of 350 participants which was the limit for this first year in Vouliagmeni.
The location is perfect being just outside Athens and less than 30 minutes from the Athens International airport. The organizing team of Kostas and Zoe have things well set and Nico Lebrun has been here marking the course. Everything was complete today with the exception of a few bike course markings removed overnight. "We go out and find the arrows laying on the ground but the local farmers like the wood stakes we use and keep taking them" laughed Kostas. Indeed, the stakes he uses are beautifully made, about 2" square and a meter high. "The ground is hard so we need heavy stakes like this" said Lebrun while holding a 2-pound hand sledgehammer. "I will have big muscles when this is over."
The pro start list is impressive. Three-time World Champ Ruben Ruzafa will be challenged by 2015 European Champion and recent Malta winner Roger Serrano, super-fast Frenchman Francois Carloni, 2015 Swiss winner Arthur Forissier, 2015 Malta and Denmark winner Kris Coddens, and a bunch of podium winners like Jan Pyott, Brice Daubord, Jan Kubicek and new pros Thomas Kerner, Julien Buffe and our first Bulgarian pro Kamen Tonchev.
For the women many time Euro Champion Helena Erbenova will start her pursuit of another Championship but she will have her hands full with Brigitta Poor fresh from her win in Malta. Young Frenchwoman Morgane Riou was 2nd on Malta and is looking towards a breakout year.
XTERRA European Tour technical director Nico Lebrun is also in Athens and excited for Saturday’s race.
“It will be good to see the battle between our two Spanish athletes, Ruben and Roger,” said Lebrun. “Roger won Malta so he will be full of confidence, but he knows the road is still long to be at Ruben's level. Still, he will be in the front early and will fight to stay. I know that Ruben is never at 100% at the start of the season, so Roger might be able to stay in the lead longer than he thinks. Carloni will exit the swim with Ruben and try to follow him on the bike as long as he can, like he did twice in Portugal and two weeks ago in La Réunion, and if they make a big gap during the bike, maybe nobody will see them anymore. But, there are many good athletes here. Forissier won Switzerland, and he could be coming off a good winter and crush everybody. Coddens is the defending XTERRA Greece Champion, so he’ll return with good feelings. Daubord had flats in South Africa and Malta and you can trust that won’t happen again and he’ll fight for a top five spot. And there are some new athletes I’m excited to see, and of course all the Greek will watch their champ Gregoris, he was tenth last year.
"On the woman’s side Helena is back, and like last year she already has done a few adventure races so for sure she will be in good shape, but maybe a little bit tired after all the travel. She won the Tour last year in front of Brigitta so this will be their first race together this year. We’ll see if Brigitta is now ready to stay in front the whole race and be the Europe’s best. To play with our two favorites we will look for Morgane, especially me, because she is an Organigirl and I was happy to see what she did in Malta. We also have Louise Fox and Ladina Buss in the mix. It will be a fun day to watch for sure.”