The world’s fastest off-roaders are headed to Kenting to race for the sixth annual XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship crown on March 30.
The star-studded elite field includes the reigning XTERRA Asia-Pacific men’s champ Bradley Weiss from South Africa, two-time and reigning APAC Tour Champ Sam Osborne and defending Kenting race winner Lewis Ryan from New Zealand, Aussie standouts Ben Allen and Brodie Gardner, and some of Europe’s finest triathletes like Maxim Chane and Brice Daubord from France, who both finished in the top 10 at XTERRA Worlds.
“Having Brad and Sam, who finished 2nd and 3rd at XTERRA Worlds last year, is a big deal,” said XTERRA Europe Director Nico Lebrun, who has played a big part in designing the course in Kenting. “Those guys like to train together, and they push each other to be stronger. With those two fighting in the front, the race will be really fast.”
The women’s line-up is equally impressive with reigning XTERRA Asia-Pacific women’s champ Carina Wasle from Austria, reigning APAC Tour Champ Penny Slater from Australia, XTERRA’s Pan Am Tour Champ Fabiola Corona from Mexico, defending Kenting race winner Nicole Walters plus XTERRA NZL and Tahiti winner Jacqui Allen from the UK, XTERRA Albay winner Samantha Kingsford from New Zealand, Belgium Champ Morgane Riou from France, and a host of others. In addition, road triathlon standouts Luke and Beth McKenzie, who are competing at Ironman 70.3 Taiwan alongside Weiss the week prior, have just thrown their hats in the ring, adding a dash of intrigue to the mix.
“Man, that’s one heck of a world-class field,” exclaimed Lewis Ryan, who won his first XTERRA World Tour major on the Kenting course a year ago. “It’s got some of the best swimmers in the sport, so you know it’ll be cut throat from the start. It also has some of the best mountain bikers with the likes of Brad and Sam and you know the run is going to be nuts. What an epic showdown it’ll be, and Kenting is a great stage for it. It’s a beautiful location, has a vibrant culture, energetic locals, and a truly challenging course.”
For Weiss, the 2017 World Champ who just won XTERRA’s season opener in South Africa, the event provides the opportunity to perpetuate his dual racing strategy for the season.
"With my focus now split between IM 70.3 races and XTERRA I feel like I have found a good balance to be competitive in both formats," said Weiss, who captured the IM 70.3 South Africa title on January 27. "I am excited to be racing against a very competitive XTERRA field at the Asia-Pacific Championships this year, and happy to see the collaboration between IM Taiwan and XTERRA Kenting organizers in an effort to allow athletes such as myself an opportunity to take part in both events as they are scheduled just six days apart. I have absolutely no idea how my body will respond to this new challenge and attempting to race both formats at the highest level will no doubt take me some time to get right. However, I am very excited at this new venture and I hope to use the opportunity in a positive way to grow both my own personal profile as well as that of XTERRA athletes worldwide."
On the women's side, Walters, who ran away with the race in Kenting last year, says she’s ready to defend her title.
“After winning Taiwan and the ETU cross triathlon champs at the back end of last year I needed some proper downtime, so took almost a month away from structured training before heading to the island of Lanzarote for a three month block of training,” said Walters, who also won at XTERRA Greece and had top three finishes at XTERRA Cyprus, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and Finland last year.
“With the XTERRA season lasting from March to October, it’s important to build a big base of fitness, but to do it slowly. I’m feeling aerobically quite fit now, but my race fitness is difficult to quantify. That said, I did race in the Lanzarote UCI 4day mountain bike stage race at the end of January, mixing it up with elite mountain bikers into 7th place in an Olympic qualifying year, so I must be doing something right.”
And just like Lewis Ryan, Walters had nothing but great things to say about the destination of Kenting.
“It was amazing last year. I’d never experienced such friendliness and warmth from the locals in all my travels,” said Walters. “It’s always nice to visit new places, but it’s the people that make them special.”
The XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race offers $25,000 USD and 100-point scale scoring towards elite and amateur Tour standings, plus 51 qualifying spots for age groupers vying to race at XTERRA Worlds.
The race combines a 1.5-kilometer, two-lap warm water ocean swim, followed by a challenging 25-kilometer point to point mountain bike and a 10-kilometer trail run through jungle-like canopies and rugged oceanfront trails.
“It was a fantastic event last year and will only get stronger with the prestigious designation as the Asia-Pacific Championship and the strong field headed out for it,” said Jacqui Allen, who finished second to Walters last year. “Kenting National Park is the perfect location for an XTERRA. It has a beautiful ocean to swim in, the bike course is hilly and technical in parts with a fun river bed to negotiate, and it has some stunning mountainous scenery if you get time to look around. The run has a bit of everything as well with technical, steep uphill’s, fast descents, and some road sections where you can pick up speed if you have anything left towards the end of the race.”
Long-time XTERRA elite Ben Allen, with 18 career XTERRA wins under his belt, finished second last year and carries a unique perspective into this year’s race.
“Last year’s race broke me in pieces (literally, two fractured ribs), so I’m coming back to redeem myself and my performance,” explained Allen. “Despite the crash, I found Kenting to be amazing with its lush green mountains, sandy beaches, and interesting food options. It’s an experience not to be missed.”
Fellow Aussie Brodie Gardner said he watched the highlight video and knew he had to come experience it for himself.
“I've never been to Taiwan, and from the footage I watched it looks absolutely incredible,” said Gardner, who finished sixth at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship which was held in the Philippines last year. “After several years of what I feel have been below par performances at the APAC Champs, I'm looking forward to getting out there and seeing how I go. Then I'll head over to XTERRA New Zealand before hopefully racing XTERRA Japan and XTERRA China later in the year.”
Elites racing the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour count their best three scores over the course of five events, and it’s mandatory to count their score at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship as one of the three (full rules here).
“XTERRA Kenting will be the first big battle for this 2019 XTERRA season,” said Lebrun. “In the men’s race, in addition to Brad and Sam, I think we should look for Ben Allen, who knows the race already and looks like he’s back in good shape. I’ve been coaching Max Chané, and am excited to see his winter progress. He was 8th in Maui and turns 23-years-old on race day so for sure he will fight for top three birthday present! Frenchman Brice Daubord is also a world-class athlete, and if he’s in good shape can be on the podium. Last year’s winner, Lewis Ryan, will be out to prove his win wasn't luck. And I don't know how well Luke McKenzie can mountain bike, but it's nice to have a big name in the road tri world racing here. I will have also my eyes on my Taiwanese ‘protégés’ Cliff and Svenson (Chung-Yi Lin) as they have played a big role building XTERRA in Taiwan by working for the event, coaching athletes, and racing. They will not fight for the podium but are putting their soul into this adventure and are a huge help every time I go there. Like all of the XTERRA Taiwan crew, they are beautiful people, it’s why I love this place.”
For Fabiola Corona, who won four races and finished in the top three eight times last year on the Pan Am Tour, the goal this season is to become the “Queen of the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour.”
“I love to travel, to race in new places, exotic places, and especially for important races,” said Corona. “Last year my goal was the Pan Am Tour, and I loved the experiences in the Americas so that is why this year I plan to go for the APAC Tour titles and go on some more adventures to Live More. I also plan to race in China, Japan and maybe Tahiti. I’m super excited, to do what we love, meet people, enjoy world culture, the food, landscapes, and to create these wonderful memories.”
If Corona is to capture the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour crown this year, she’ll have to steal it from the young-gun Penny Slater.
“My off-season was really good,” said Slater. “My block of training leading into the APAC champs has gone well so far and I’m excited to test these improvements at the race. I’m very excited to visit Kenting as I have never been before, and I know the course is going to be unique and challenging. I’ve heard awesome things about the organization and location, so it’s for sure an A race for me this year. The plan is to try and place as high as possible in the APAC standings, and I’m hoping to defend my tour title!”
For Carina Wasle, the goal isn’t the Asia-Pacific Tour title as she’ll be out to defend her XTERRA European Tour crown instead, but she does want to defend the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race title she won last year in the Philippines.
“I love racing at new places, and I want to defend my APAC title,” said Wasle, who is entering her 15th year of XTERRA racing and is coming off a remarkable season in 2018 that included 15 podium finishes and wins in South Africa, the Philippines, Finland, and Norway. “My off season was very relaxed with tons of snow. I did lots of cross-country skiing, but now it's time to exchange my skis for the bike. I haven't touched it since Maui (where she placed 6th).”
Lebrun thinks Wasle could be the favorite in the women’s race.
“She had an amazing season last year, and is the reigning XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champ, but even if she is the strongest on paper, she will have to fight hard against her competitors coming from the south who might be more fit and acclimatized to the weather,” said Lebrun, noting that Wasle is coming from a very snowy Austrian winter and also coming back from injury.
“Jacqui just won the Aussie cross tri race and I’m happy to see her back in good shape after an injury-plagued season last year. Penny is also looking motivated and ready to fight in the front. I think Samantha should be strong, and I will be not surprised to see last year’s winner, Nicole Walters, crush this race. She is from the UK but has been training in Lanzarote for a month already, so I'm sure she will arrive fit and ready to win again. On paper, Morgane Riou, should also be a solid contender, but she broke her collarbone in January, so it will just be the start of training for her.”
Walters partner and training buddy, Doug Hall, is another wily veteran of XTERRA who is now entering his second decade of racing off-road. Hall spent a good amount of time in Kenting last year before the race and said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“I’d never been to Asia before, so it was a huge experience for me,” explained Hall. “The food, culture, and landscape were just mind blowing. I especially loved how the local community really got behind the race. Coming from the UK where the general public is really against events taking over towns, it was a breath of fresh air to be so well-embraced by the locals. I’m especially looking forward to racing the XTERRA trail run the day after the triathlon this year, because the buzz I got just from watching that event last year was incredible.”
Also of note is XTERRA’s fastest man from the Philippines, Joe Miller, who said he can’t wait to get back to Kenting.
“My experience last year was awesome. The people are so calm and warm, and the culture and location are perfect,” said Miller. “I also loved the food and the great support from the volunteers. My goal for this race is to come into it in the best shape of my life, meet new people, and enjoy this fabulous destination.”
Learn more at xterraplanet.com.
XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship Elite Field (As of 2.26.19)
MEN - 2018 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Rank / Position at Kenting – Name - NAT
1/NA – Sam Osborne, NZL
2/NA – Bradley Weiss, RSA
3/2 – Ben Allen, AUS
6/7 – Joe Miller, PHI
10/NA – Fabien Combaluzier, FRA
12/NA – Brodie Gardner, AUS
13/NA – Maxim Chane, FRA
17/1 – Lewis Ryan, NZL
NA/3 – Doug Hall, GBR
NA/4 – Taylor Charlton, AUS
NA – Cliff Chiang, TWN
NA – Brice Daubord, FRA
NA – David Escolar, ESP
NA – Yuan Keng Hsu, TWN
NA – Chung-Yi Lin, TWN
NA – Luke McKenzie, AUS
WOMEN - 2018 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Rank / Position at Kenting – Name - NAT
1/NA – Penny Slater, AUS
2/3 – Leela Hancox, AUS
3/NA – Samantha Kingsford, NZL
5/2 – Jacqui Allen, GBR
6/NA – Carina Wasle, AUT
12/NA – Lydia Hale, NZL
NA/1 – Nicole Walters, GBR
NA – Fabiola Corona, MEX
NA – Beth McKenzie, AUS
NA – Morgane Riou, FRA