Stop No. 2 on the 2019 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour heads to the enchanted Whakarewarewa Forest surrounding Lake Tikitapu for the 17th annual XTERRA New Zealand off-road triathlon and accompanying sports festival in Rotorua this Saturday, April 6.
XTERRA heavyweight Sam Osborne calls this magic spot home and said he’s looking forward to defending his turf for the third straight year against a strong and deep elite field this weekend.
“I’m turning up to go real fast,” said Osborne, who was second to Brad Weiss at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Taiwan last Saturday.
“The home race is always something special, and it’s the best course in the world in my opinion, but it's not so much my home course that makes it but the people,” said Osborne. “Racing past all the downhillers waiting for the shuttle bus that you see most weekends out riding, they get right in behind us and know how to give a good heckle. And then all the people out on the course marshalling and at the lake, the home atmosphere is what is awesome.”
Aussie Ben Allen, who won back-to-back NZ crowns in 2012 and 2013, agreed with Osborne about the atmosphere and added that he loves mixing it up against the hometown Kiwis.
“The race always starts with a traditional haka, which fires you up,” said Allen, who was fourth last weekend in Taiwan. “I think it’s a sacred place for everyone and having the opportunity to race XTERRA here is incredible.”
Allen and fellow Australians Brodie Gardner and Taylor Charlton will have to contend with a whole gang of Kiwi speedsters, including Rotorua’s own Lewis Ryan (2018 XTERRA Taiwan Champ) and Olly Shaw (who was 4th at the XTERRA European Championships last year).
“I’m excited to race, but also excited to have all my visiting friends over for a barbeque,” said Ryan, the 20-year-old who was also at the Asia-Pacific Champs last week where he finished sixth. “The XTERRA community is really an international family. Last week the crew from Taiwan took good care of me, so I hope to return the favor to those guys this week. It’s super cool.”
Two Taiwanese-based elite racers are in the mix with Chung-Yi “Svenson” Lin and Yuan Keng “John” Hsu. They’re both thrilled to race on the trails in Rotorua, which seem heavenly made with magic dirt on a course that twists and turns through towering redwoods and monstrous ferns.
“It will be a great honor to race against some of the fastest XTERRA athletes in the world at such a beautiful place,” said Lin.
Ryan Sissons, a member of the 2012 NZ Olympic triathlon team, is one of those ‘fastest athletes in the world’ and is no stranger to XTERRA. He’ll be joined by countrymen Sam Clarke, Clark Ellice, and Flavio Vianna, who won XTERRA Motatapu last month.
In the women’s elite race, it’s teacher vs. apprentice part II. Last week in Kenting, Penny Slater won a thriller against her coach Jacqui Allen, but she’s never raced with a bulls-eye on her back before.
“I’ve never been in this position, so we’ll see,” said Slater, who turned 23 on Wednesday. “I’ve just been trying to recover well so I can put in a good performance on Saturday.”
Allen, on the other hand, has won the last two XTERRA New Zealand titles and won her first-ever XTERRA major here back in 2012.
“I love it here, the Blue Lake is amazing, the trails are world-class and well maintained, and the run is my favorite on the circuit,” said Allen. “I do feel a little under pressure to repeat but am excited to rise to the challenge.”
The other three women’s elite racers – Samantha Kingsford (4th), Morgane Riou (6th), and Lydia Hale (7th), were also in Taiwan so the entire women’s elite field is racing their second XTERRA in as many weeks. Kingsford might have the edge as one who knows every corner of the course and is excited to race in front of her family and friends.
“It’s going to be a great race and fun to see who recovered the best from last week’s effort,” said Renata Bucher, the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour technical director who won this race herself back in 2013. “It’s been one of the warmest summer’s Rotorua has had in a long time and the lake feels warm, but it’s always a wetsuit swim. The trails are amazing right now for both the bike and the run. It should be a fast race, with the men’s winner in about two hours and the women in about 2.5. I expect a really tight race for both the men and the women.”
XTERRA New Zealand annually attracts some 2,000 XTERRA Warriors for a festive day of events that include family-friendly 5.5, 11, and 21km trail runs, mountain bike races, and short-and-championship distance off-road triathlons.
Learn more at xterraplanet.com/newzealand.
|XTERRA NEW ZEALAND ALL-TIME ELITE WINNERS|
|2003||Sam Mallard||Evelyn Willamson|
|2004||Hamish Carter||Sonia Foote|
|2005||Hamish Carter||Sonia Foote|
|2006||Hamish Carter||Gina Ferguson|
|2007||Tim Wilding||Gina Ferguson|
|2008||Terenzo Bozzone||Sonia Foote|
|2009||Richard Ussher||Nicola Leary|
|2010||Scott Thorne||Nicola Leary|
|2011||Richard Ussher||Karen Hanlen|
|2012||Ben Allen||Jacqui Slack|
|2013||Ben Allen||Renata Bucher|
|2014||Conrad Stoltz||Barbara Riveros|
|2015||Braden Currie||Suzie Snyder|
|2016||Braden Currie||Lizzie Orchard|
|2017||Sam Osborne||Jacqui Allen|
|2018||Sam Osborne||Jacqui Allen|