Lewis Ryan from New Zealand and Nicole Walters from Great Britain captured the elite titles at the inaugural XTERRA Taiwan off-road triathlon on Sunday, September 30 with times of 2:37:32 and 3:10:30, respectively.
The victory was Ryan’s first as an elite, and Walters second this season.
The event combined a 1.5-kilometer, two-lap warm ocean swim, followed by a challenging 23-kilometer point to point mountain bike, and a 10-kilometer trail run through jungle-like canopies and rugged oceanfront trails.
XTERRA European director Nico Lebrun, who helped designed the course, was onsite to assist with this first Taiwan race and made this report:
Ocean swim specialist, Ben Allen, with 18 wins on the XTERRA World Tour, took an early lead in the swim with first year pro Lewis Ryan from New Zealand, on his tail. “I was surprised to see that Lewis was right behind me on the first lap, so I pushed more on the second lap to open up the gap,” said Allen.
Exiting the water, Lewis was in second position but only 24 seconds behind Allen.
“I was all right when the swim was smooth, but on the rough part, I was not able to follow Ben,” said Ryan. “He is on the next level, but I’m very happy with my swim today, as I’ve worked on it a lot.”
Making his elite debut, Australia’s Dean Cane was 3rd out of the water, with Doug Hall from the UK in 4th about 1:30 back. The fastest swimmer of the day was Australian age grouper Tyler Phillips who went on to win the amateur race.
Entering the National Park, cyclists faced the first of many steep climbs on the point to point bike course that included technical downhills, rocky river beds, lush forest, slippery grass from overnight rains, and two short flat, fast road sections.
Allen and Ryan rode most of the bike together. “On the very steep parts of the course, it was easier to find a good pace working with Ben” said Ryan.
Behind them, Cane was slowly closing the gap on the pair while Hall was losing time on all three.
However, on a technical and wet downhill, Allen, who was in second position a few meters behind Ryan, almost took himself out of the race.
“On one of the downhills, I saw a big drop too late, and crashed badly. The bike hit my ribs hard and I was in bad shape. Dean stopped to help me, but I told him to keep going as I was able to get back on my bike,” said Allen.
Cane’s assistance earned him the title of Hero of the Day, however, he wasn’t so lucky as few kilometers later he slashed his tire. Barefoot, he ran and pushed his bike for the last five kilometers and finished 6th for the pro men and 8th overall. Alone at the front, Ryan was pacing himself.
“I was so focused on my riding that I never realized that Ben had a crash, just that he wasn’t behind me anymore,” said Ryan.
The young Kiwi entered T2 first with the fasted bike split at 1:20:48 and a solid 2:40 lead over the down but not out, Allen.
Meanwhile, Hall passed Cane pushing his bike and was now in third.
“I didn’t feel great this morning and knew I had to pace myself and do my own race. I rode cautiously to avoid mechanicals and crashes, and the experience paid off today,” said the Brit who was 7-minutes back from the leader at that point.
The run back from T2 was mostly downhill to the finish line through some beautiful but rugged coastline trails.
“I never practiced the run as I came here on Thursday and decided to save some energy, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” said Ryan. “On the last part, I was beginning to cramp and had to back off to be able to finish.”
Behind him Allen was managing the pain in his ribs, “the uphill and flats were ok but not the downhill. The only positive was that the pain was not getting worse.”
With the fastest run split in 50:50, the barely 20-year-old Ryan took his first ever win.
“This is an incredible course and the win is a massive confidence booster for me,” said Ryan. “It’s a surreal feeling. The Taiwanese people are so welcoming, and it is a beautiful part of the world. It’s been a special trip and the win is just the icing on the cake.”
Allen crossed the line in second, despite injuries which resulted in no broken bones. Hall’s first-time podium for third was equally impressive.
Elite Men's Results
Place - Name (NAT) Time
1 - Lewis Ryan (NZL) 2:37:32
2 - Ben Allen (AUS) 2:44:05
3 - Doug Hall (GBR) 2:47:55
4 - Taylor Charlton (AUS) 2:52:44
5 - Takahiro Ogasawara (JPN) 2:56:10
6 - Dean Cane (AUS) 3:13:05
7 - Joe Miller (PHI) 3:17:01
8 - Jason Hseih (HKG) 3:17:53
9 - Akihiko Maeda (JPN) 3:32:41
In the women’s elite race Nicole Walters from the UK led the swim for the women with a time of 24:00. Fellow country woman Jacqui Allen was second 1:10 back, and 2018 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour runner up, Leela Hancox from Australia, was third out of the water.
“I had a very good swim today,” said Walters. “My husband, Doug, and I came here early and had the time to enjoy the place and the warm weather, and swim in the hotel’s pool.”
Like the men’s race, Walters and Allen, started the first uphill together.
“Nicole was a bit faster than me on the uphill and I lost some time, but I was a bit stronger on the technical sections and took back the lead on the tricky river bed,” said Allen.
Unfortunately, Allen flatted just before the last climb. Attempts to fix the tire were not completely successful, but enough to keep riding. Walters passed Allen again on the double track of the last long uphill.
Despite her tire troubles, Allen had the best bike split of the day in 1:41:12.
“Jacqui and I entered transition together, but I got out just before her and tried not to look behind me,” said Walters, who had the best run in 59:47 and took her second win for the year after XTERRA Greece.
Allen took second despite an injury sustained in May at XTERRA Tahiti. “There is no way I could push super hard on the run after such a long period of not racing, but there was no pain in my achilles and I was happy about that - it was a great feeling,” she said.
Hancox took third place, and after the race said, “I had a really good day. My swim split was good, I had hard time on the first climb on the bike keeping my heart rate not too high, then it all came together and I enjoyed the ride. And the run was amazing, especially the last loop around the ocean. It was beautiful.”
Elite Women's Results
Place - Name (NAT) Time
1 - Nicole Walters (GBR) 3:10:30
2 - Jacqui Allen (GBR) 3:13:19
3 - Leila Hancox (AUS) 3:33:19
4 - Kristy Jennings (NZL) 3:46:55
Kenting National Park and the surrounding area at the southern tip of the island of Taiwan provided a stunning backdrop for the race with its white sand beaches, volcanic mountain peaks, and lush forests, while race headquarters at the Kenting Youth Activity Center in Kenting Town featured a charming display of traditional Taiwan architecture and ease of access for ocean swimming and the National Park bike course, along with a wide variety of hotels and restaurants, and a main street lined with food stalls, bars, and nightlife.
Competitors representing 12 countries agreed that it was a challenging race, and that the local culture and hospitality, combined with breathtaking scenery, made it worthwhile. The natural beauty of Kenting National Park and its beaches are well worth the trip – not to mention the culture shared by local singers, dancers and musicians.
Next up on the XTERRA World Tour is the season grand finale, the XTERRA World Championship on October 28 on the Hawaiian island of Maui.