The XTERRA European Tour rolls on with stop number seven of 14 in Imatra, Finland on Sunday.
The inaugural XTERRA Finland Championship race takes place at Lake Sainaa, a three-hour drive from Helsinki airport. The lake is the largest in Finland, a country that boasts more than 1,000 lakes.
“From here in Sainaa one can navigate nearly 300K on water,” said XTERRA World Tour managing director Dave Nicholas. “This lake alone is over 100K in length. The wind was whipping up some small waves yesterday that reminded me a bit of Lake Tahoe. Our event coincides with the 100th anniversary of a free Finland. On December 6, 1917 Finland became independent from Russia who had taken Finland from Sweden in 1809. Prior to 1809, the area now Finland was under Swedish rule from the 13th century. The Finns are a very proud and very strong people and are celebrating the entire year of 2017.”
XTERRA is held near a big resort named Holiday Club Sainaa, an all-inclusive club with a fantastic indoor swim park complete with slides, sauna's, and fountains.
“There are game rooms, kids activities, even a full bowling alley with 6 lanes,” said Nicholas. “It’s really quite amazing. Three restaurants, a sports bar and a huge sundeck complete about everything you could want. There are dozens of small "Norwegian" fishing village houses all connected and near the lake and other condos that surround the resort. A big choice of places to stay. In winter, the huge lake is frozen over for skating or fishing. Cross country ski, snowmobiles and sauna are the big features. Yes, there are sauna's right at the lakes edge. Sweat it out and jump into the frozen lake. As I said - the Finns are tough people.”
The mountain bike course in Finland features a very unusual three-lap course. Transition is very close to the lake and bikes will ride up and past the resort before entering the forest, which is home to brown bears, fox, wolves and lots of moose. The run goes in a different direction and is two laps and dishes out more than 300m of climbing in just 10K.
In the elite men’s race Olli Miettinen, who won the Finnish Cross Triathlon Championship on this same course, will be the local athlete everyone is cheering for. Czech veteran Jan Kubicek will be strong, he was 7th last week in the middle of a big pro field at XTERRA Belgium. He will have competition from Pavel Andreev, the Russian winter triathlon champion who has done well in other XTERRA's and Cross triathlons. Like Kubicek, he is not a strong swimmer but will be very strong on the bike and run. It will be nice to have him back, maybe again directly from Siberia where he lives.
Another strong athlete with the same profile is Oivind Bjerkseth from Norway.
“He started in Malta and almost sank on his first open water swim,” joked XTERRA European Tour director Nicolas Lebrun. “But then he finished second at XTERRA Cyprus, which was a duathlon.”
Other contenders include Pavel Jindra, and Barret Fishner from the USA who is hopefully recovered from an injury he had at XTERRA Portugal.
“I’m also curious to see the other four Finnish elite men, Nieminen, Heikkilä, Mustonen and Lieto, who might just surprise us on Sunday,” said Lebrun.
There are just two elite women in the field; Cecilia Jessen who has competed at Malta, Cyprus and Belgium and is 6th in the Euro Tour rankings currently. She can jump to 3rd after this race if she wins. Louise Fox from England will get her season started on Sunday, and could very well take the lead out of the swim and stay in front all day.
“We have about 20 age group women who will start and we may find some strong local mountain bikers or trail runners in the field. This can happen when we start in a new country, as athletes new to our sport come in and compete quite well,” said Lebrun.
“We have also some famous European Tour age group racers coming here to chase some big points,” added Lebrun. “Didier Bucheler, despite a bad day at home in Belgium, is leading the 50/54 category, and will come here to secure even more points to add to his top ranking. Same with Christophe Maury, who was not in Belgium, but did the first five races on the tour. The "The Frenchman" is smart and knows where he can get big points. Marco Lanzetta from Switzerland is leading the 55/59 division with four races in his basket, and with another good race here in Finland could be almost untouchable. For the women we have Maria Kring and Maria Sturluson, who were 2nd and 3rd on the 40/44 Euro tour ranking last year and are coming from Denmark.”
Follow the race online at Facebook.com/xterraeurope.
XET Rank – Name, Nationality
13 - Øivind Bjerkseth, NOR
14 - Jan Kubicek, CZE
NR - Olli Miettinen, FIN
NR - Barret Fishner, USA
NR - Pekka Nieminen, FIN
NR - Simone Calamai, ITA
NR - Samuli Heikkilä, FIN
NR - Pavel Andreev, RUS
NR - Jonne Tuomas Mustonen, FIN
NR - Panu Lieto, FIN
NR - Pavel Jindra, CZE
XET Rank – Name, Nationality
6 - Cecilia Jessen, SWE
21 - Louise Fox, GBR