Two days out from the 2018 XTERRA World Championship, the air is buzzing with excitement. Without a doubt, the 23rd annual event has some of the most impressive men’s and women’s elite fields ever assembled.
This year, the women’s field is filled with talent including 3-time XTERRA World Champ Melanie McQuaid, two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson, two-time XTERRA European Champion Brigitta Poor, and two-time Pan Am Tour Champ Suzie Snyder.
One name we haven’t heard much about is Michelle Flipo, from Mexico, but she has won four of the five XTERRA races she’s entered. In 2016, she won XTERRA Switzerland and the XTERRA European Championship in Germany and went on to finish sixth in Maui that year in very muddy conditions. The only elite woman who beat Flipo out of the water in that race was Flora Duffy, and after the grueling mountain bike, Flipo had the seventh fastest run split, despite the fact that she suffered from terrible blisters.
In 2017, Flipo won XTERRA Switzerland, and this year, she won the XTERRA European Tour finale in Denmark in September.
What's surprising is that Flipo didn't begin swimming competitively until she was 18. And she is comfortable in the waves which will could her at XTERRA Worlds.
"I don't like swimming so much in the pool but I really like open water," she said. "I don't mind if there are waves. In fact, I'd like that."
Flipo is also passionate about mountain biking, which she often did with her family when she was growing up in Mexico.
"I stopped mountain biking when I went to study at university, but I've always loved it," she said. "I don't have any fear. I especially love letting go on the downhills"
Although Flipo loves competing off-road, she chooses her races strategically. Since 2016, Flipo has been competing on the ITU circuit in an effort to make the Mexican Olympic Team to represent her country at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
This year, she was second at the Barranquilla Central American and Caribbean Games where she came out of the water with leader Claudia Rivas, stayed with her on the bike, and was just outpaced on the run in this standard distance event. Earlier this month, she finished ninth at the Sarasota-Bradenton ITU Triathlon World Cup, where she clocked a 17:37 5K after the bike.
As carefully as Flipo chooses her competitions, she races with that same level of precision and attention to detail whether it's sighting on a swim, running the tangents, and making sure her transitions are as smooth and fast as possible.
You might expect that this precision comes easily to Flipo, but in fact, it's the opposite.
"I used to be one of the slowest ones in transition so this wasn't natural to me," she admits with a laugh. "I have concentration issues. So I've worked on this a lot because I love the challenge. My goal is to always finish a race saying I couldn't have done it better."
One aspect of her last race on Maui that gave her trouble was the mud, which will also be a factor in this year's race.
"In 2016 I was very mad with the weather," she said. "I made a lot of mistakes on the bike, like not stopping to clean off the mud and I had problems with my gears. I was very mad all the time. This year I am concentrating more on technical things that will make a difference."
She said that this year she is going to take the time to put on socks as well as mountain bike shoes to avoid the blisters she suffered from in 2016. She will also wear her elephant necklace, which brings her good luck.
While anything can – and will – happen in Sunday’s race, expect Flipo to be out of the water with or ahead of fast swimmers like Julie Baker and Suzie Snyder. She has already proven her ability to both endure and handle the technical difficulties of riding a mountain bike in challenging conditions, and she certainly has the speed on the run to get the job done. The only question is whether her determination and proven speed and strength will be enough to beat her competition.
But that is why we are here, after all. One of the most exciting aspects of the XTERRA World Championships is that they are so unpredictable, making a title extremely difficult to defend. As Josiah Middaugh said, “There is no resume that works for XTERRA and the race doesn’t happen on paper. It happens out there, where anything can happen.”
Here is a look at who she'll up against in the women's elite race today:
Bib#/2017 Position – Name NAT
51/4 - Brigitta Poor HUN
52/5 - Lesley Paterson GBR
53/6 - Suzie Snyder USA
54/7 - Lizzie Orchard NZL
55/9 - Carina Wasle AUT
56/11 - Penny Slater AUS
57/12- Julie Baker USA
58 - Allison Baca USA
59 - Katie Button CAN
60 - Michelle Flipo MEX
61 - Leela Hancox AUS
62 - Kristy Jennings NZL
63 - Melanie McQuaid CAN
64 - Angela Niklaus SUI
65 - Heather Zimchek-Dunn USA
66 - Renata Bucher SUI