As the days tick down to the XTERRA World Championship on Maui on October 28th, athletes around the world are double checking shoelaces and flight times, packing up bikes, and going over their lists. Some athletes are leaving cold, snowy weather in the northern US and Canada while others are coming from Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Some competitors are flying halfway around the world from South Africa, while other athletes are taking a tiny airplane from Hawaii Island over to Maui. But no matter where these athletes – ranging in age from 15 to 76 – are coming from, one thing binds them all together. They are headed to the XTERRA World Championship, which means they are among some of the best amateur off-road athletes on the planet.
One noticeable trend this year is that the younger age groups are getting deeper and deeper with talent. In the men’s 15-19 age group, young U.S. phenoms Will Stacey, Robbie Day, and Jonah Kirkham will be facing off against equally talented teens from around the world, including Jack Direen from Australia, who won his age group at XTERRA Philippines in Albay and Paris Fellmann from Luxembourg who won his age group on the XTERRA European Tour for the second year in a row.
Moving up, Temu Kaneoka is looking to make a mark in the 20-24 age group after winning the first-ever XTERRA Taiwan race this year. He will be facing the 2017 XTERRA Age Group World Champ and arguably the best amateur in Europe, Ondrej Petr from the Czech Republic, as well as Anders Johnson who was the first amateur at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship last month in Utah. A former mountain biker and current student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Johnson is just beginning his XTERRA career (his race on Maui will be his fifth ever triathlon), but he’s doing so with fireworks.
In the 25-29 division, Pierric Brochet from France badly wants to win the age group title in Maui. He was fifth in last year’s race at the XTERRA World Championship and this year, he was one of the best amateurs in Europe and won the 25-29 division Euro Tour title. He was also second at the XTERRA European Championship in Germany. To win this year on Maui, he has to beat Brazil’s number one, Carlos Eduardo Kroth. Promising U.S. athlete Lukus Klawitter will be missed as he is out healing an injury.
In the 30-34 age group, Pierreck Page, who was the top in his bracket last year in Maui is looking to defend his title against scrappy U.S. athletes Michael Drackert and Tyler Guggemos. Drackert narrowly missed out on qualifying in 2017 and has been having an exceptional year. Guggemos has shown what he’s made of after competing in 11 races so far this season. Niels Vande Casteele, who placed second in his age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek, is also looking to mix things up.
Chile’s Francisco Gonzalez has been having another outstanding season. He won the 35-39 division last year in Maui and was the top amateur this year at XTERRA Beaver Creek. Additionally, he won his age group at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship and at XTERRA Chile. He and his family have been spending time in Colorado, training at altitude, and he is hoping this can give him an advantage over both Ignacio Guerrero, who won this division at XTERRA Mexico and Rafael Falsarella, who did the same at XTERRA Brazil. They all have to contend with Switzerland’s Stean Kumli, who won the age group division on the XTERRA European Tour this year and Argentina’s Pablo Ureta, who is doing the grueling “Double” once again. Several XTERRA America Tour Regional Champs are also jumping into the fray, including Matt Langella, who is returning to Maui for the third time, Luke Alexander, Oliver Shepherd, and Eric Johnson.
Moving up to the uber-competitive 40-44 division, Australia’s Tod Horton is looking to best U.S. athletes C.J. Castle, Chris McIssac, Mike Gommel, and Karl Stover. Horton won his age group at the XTERRA Asia Pacific Championship this year and was second at XTERRA New Zealand.
The 45-49 age group will be equally tight with David Boulous from France looking for another age group win after claiming that same title on the XTERRA European Tour this year. He competed in 10 XTERRA races in 2018 and made the podium at eight of them. Christophe Maury, who finished just behind him in the XTERRA European Tour standings, will also be joining him in Maui, making this his 10th race this season. And you can never discount firefighter Andy Lee who could quietly make his way onto the podium with his technical skills on the mountain bike to say nothing of his endurance and speed on the run.
In the 50-54 age group, 2017 XTERRA Age Group World Champ Grzegorz Zgliczynski will be back to defend his title. He will have to hold off Germany’s Bernd Kiesel, who made the podium nine times this year on the XTERRA European Tour. Canada’s Joost Van Ulden will be racing in this age group for the first time with fellow Canadian Michael Mazza, who will be making his fourth trip to Maui. This year Mazza was second in his age group at XTERRA Quebec and Costa Rica and fifth at XTERRA Victoria. Australia’s Simon Manson could be one to watch as he won his age group at XTERRA New Zealand this year.
Another returning XTERRA World Champ, Greg Ball from Australia, is looking to defend his title one rung up in the 55-59 age group. Ball wasn’t even at the top of his game last year as he suffered a broken scapula last July, so there’s no telling what he can do with two working arms. He will be joined by Americans Karl Edgerton and Bruce Wilson. Edgerton won this age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek and the XTERRA Pan Am Championship while Wilson was second to Edgerton in Utah and second at XTERRA Oak Mountain back in May.
In the 60-64 bracket, Keiji Matsuba – the first Japanese athlete to win an XTERRA Age Group World Champ title - is looking for another one. However, German Cortes Gutierrez from Mexico, who won his age group at XTERRA Mexico this year, will also be looking for that top step. And then there is Cliff Millemann, who will be returning to Maui for his 20th year and Tom Monica, who is also doing the “Double,” will likely make a bid for the podium as well.
Moving up to the 65-69 division, look for American Richie Schneider and New Zealand’s Allen Caird. Schneider, who lives in Germany, competed in 14 XTERRAs this year and Caird won his division at XTERRA New Zealand. Also, expect Alan Moore to be strong as well.
In the 70-74 division, Laurence Goddard and Andrea Latrofa will be fending off Daryl Stanley, Bruce Wacker, and John Pickard. Last year’s 75-79 XTERRA World Champ Roger Kern will be doing battle with last year's 70-74 XTERRA World Champ Peter Wood and XTERRA Warrior Award winner GL Brown, who has been to Maui 20 times.
In the Physically Challenged men's division, four athletes will be competing, including blind athlete Jose Manuel Candon Ballestero, "One-Arm" Willie Stewart, 16-year-old Maui star Jerone Samari who has cerebral palsy, and Michael Gonon with just one hand. We look forward to sharing more of their remarkable stories with you next week.
The women’s 15-19 age group is just as deep as the men’s. At 15, Staci Lovell is the youngest female competitor. She has been training with fellow Hawaii Island resident Wendy Minor, who is the oldest at 73. Lovell will be going head to head with 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Sophie Allen and France’s Lola Chane, who won her age group at XTERRA Greece and was second at the XTERRA European Championship. Emiline Tanet, who won her age group at XTERRA France will also be tough to beat.
The Europeans are also strong in the 20-24 division with France’s Marine Echevin and the Czech Republic’s Jana Brantlova near the top. Echevin was second at XTERRA France and won her age group at XTERRA Switzerland, Belgium, and Greece. Brantlova won XTERRA Czech Republic as well as the European Championship in Germany.
In the 25-29 division, Bruce Wilson’s daughter Heather has been having a great year and has made the podium at Maui a goal for 2018. She may have to fight hard against Irene Klongorova, who won her age group at the XTERRA European Championship and XTERRA Czech Republic. Matilde Debray, who won at XTERRA Italy (Scanno) and XTERRA Greece will also be vying for a spot on the steps as will France’s Camille Simon. Brazil’s Isadora Reis and Chile’s Alejandra Vergera will be strong as well. Colorado’s Katarina Marks will be missed but she is out for a health issue. True to form, she is calling upon her abundance of good cheer and is already planning her 2019 season.
In the 30-34 age group, Amelia Van Dyke and Melanie Willard are the top women from the U.S. in contention for the podium. This year Van Dyke won her age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek and Lake Tahoe and was second at XTERRA Oak Mountain. This is a tough group to predict as it’s full of excellent off-road athletes including Australia’s Kate Bramley, Tahiti’s Kylie Vernaudon, Mexico’s Marisol Franco Acevedo, and Germany’s Silvia Hackner.
One bracket up, in the 35-39 division, look for Courtney Hill to wow just as she did in Utah when she seemed to come out of nowhere to win this division at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship. As in Utah, she will be joined by 2018 Ms. XTERRA Kristen Wade, and Sian Turner Crespo, who were both at the top of their game on the XTERRA America Tour. Wade was second at XTERRA Costa Rica, second at XTERRA Oak Mountain, and third at XTERRA Pan Am Championship. Turner Crespo, who is excellent on the bike, won her age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain, was second at the Pan Am Championship and won XTERRA Victoria.
In the 40-44 age group, look for XTERRA Beaver Creek, Oak Mountain, and Pan Am Champ Deanna McCurdy to shine in Maui. She was third in this race last year behind New Zealand’s Tanya Sharp and Canada’s Heather Pady. Pady has moved up to the 45-49 group this year and Sharp will not be racing this year. But even if they were, McCurdy seemed to have found her rhythm during the last two years and she will be tough to beat. But winning this age group will be no walk in the park, even for the most talented athlete. Courtney Kaup is representing in Maui, and this Vermonter is fierce. She was second to McCurdy at XTERRA Oak Mountain, but she has been working with a coach for the first time this year, and if anyone can come up with a secret sauce, it’s Kaup, who won the 35-39 World title in 2016. To add to the excitement, France’s Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun will be returning to Maui with seven races and six podium places under her belt this year in Europe. The wife of XTERRA World Champ Nico Lebrun, Alex has an experienced coach and she's also XTERRA's go-to nutrional expert. Australia’s Kelly Linaker and Argentina’s Paola Aldison and Georgina Aimaretti could also be quite successful if the course is to their liking. Also, look for Lindsay Jackson, Angie DiFilippi, Alissa Magrum, and Kathryn Lockwood to be solid.
In the 45-49 age group, Heather Pady is in it to win it. Although she is coming from Canada, neither pain nor the Maui heat bothers her. Brazil’s Magdalena Mihura won’t let anyone get too far out in front of her though. This year she won this age group at XTERRA Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile and was second at XTERRA Argentina. Similarly, Germany’s Tina Hoelscher is coming off a strong season of seven races and five times on the podium. Fellow countrywoman Tine Vogt and Americans Jeanne Hoffman and Kiki Silver will also be strong on the hills. Mimi Stockton usually rises to the top in this division – especially at Maui – but she is injured this year and will be using her mental toughness to heal her injured foot.
Moving up to the 50-54 group, last year’s XTERRA Age Group World Champ Catherine Gance is back to defend after a strong win at XTERRA France. Germany’s Rita Harteis also had an amazing season with wins at XTERRA Denmark, the XTERRA European Championship in Germany and Italy (Lake Garda). Australia’s Karen Ward is coming off an age group win at the XTERRA Asia Pacific Championship, while American Celeste St. Pierre had a win at XTERRA Quebec. Basically, the winner of this age group will have earned that top step, no question. The Americans are fielding a strong team with Paula Maresh, Christina Halioris, Gina DeTolve, Linda Matheson, Alyssa Lutz, Michelle Blankenship, and Kate Lucas.
In the 55-59 division, Switzerland’s Silvia Brandstetter is coming to Maui after a win at XTERRA Belgium and second place at XTERRA Switzerland. And count on Americans Tamara Tabeek, Nancy Hopf, and Sharon McDowell-Larsen to bring their A-games as always.
The 60-64 bracket will likely feature strong performances from Lucia Colbert and Kathy Grauer while in the 65-59 division, Lorenn Walker and Jo Garuccio will be duking it out for the number one spot. Expect both of these amazing women to have lots of fans out cheering for them. The same goes for challenged athlete Jodi Pettit and the oldest woman out there, Wendy Minor. Wendy missed last year because of a life-threatening infection that she recovered from with her typical grace, but we don't think anything can stop her from picking up an unprecedented 10th women's age group XTERRA World Championship crown this year.
The challenge all these athletes face is still to be determined, as the race in Maui is completely dependent on the whims of Mother Nature. Mud, wind, heat, and dust all change the dynamics of the day. The one constant of XTERRA athletes though is that they always rise to the occasion, embrace the challenge, and revel in success, whether it’s theirs or their biggest rival’s. And rest assured we missed a whole bunch of age group favorites, because in Maui, anything can happen and it usually does. So if you're racing, and dream of winning a world title but didn't read your name here, carry on, do your thing, and we'll be sure to include it in the list of champions on Sunday night! We can’t wait to watch the race and the day unfold and reveal the magic that October 28 will bring.