The seventh-annual XTERRA Greece off-road triathlon takes place Sunday, April 21, in a seaside suburb of Athens named Vouliagmeni. It’s the second of 14 majors on the 2019 XTERRA European Tour and has attracted a strong field of elites including the reigning Tour Champs – Francois Carloni and Carina Wasle – the returning men’s elite champion Arthur Forissier, and the current XTERRA women’s World Champion, Lesley Paterson.
“Pretty pumped to race at XTERRA Greece this weekend,” said Paterson, a 3x XTERRA World Champ and 2x ITU Cross Tri World Champ. “It’s a beautiful course here on the outskirts of Athens. The off-season cobwebs are dusted off and I’m ready to rip it up!”
While Paterson is the clear-cut favorite to win the women’s elite race, Wasle has already shown great form early on with a third-place finish at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Taiwan and an impressive win at the European-opener at XTERRA Cyprus two weeks ago.
“I can't wait to come back to Greece, and sure, my win at XTERRA Cyprus gave me lots of self-confidence,” said Wasle, who is now in her 15th-year of professional XTERRA racing and managed 15 podium finishes last year.
“I feel good and I'll give for sure 100%. It's great that Lesley made her way to Europe, because that gives me a comparison of how good my training was in the winter time and where I should work more to improve. I’m looking forward to a great race with her.”
Four-time XTERRA European Tour Champion Helena Karaskova-Erbenova, who has won four of the first six XTERRA Greece titles and was 2nd to Nicole Walters here last year, is also expected to be a factor in the women’s elite race.
“It is the start of the season, so I don't have any expectations,” said Karaskova-Erbenova. “I am just happy to be back for one more season, and to spend a few nice days in Athens, see all other athletes and enjoy the race under the hot sun.”
Karaksova-Erbenova was rumored to have retired after the end of last season, but like many others the lure of XTERRA adventures proved difficult to walk away from.
“I have only eight XTERRA races on my schedule this year, and six SwimRun races, so I will see how it works. This winter I made one big change. I never rode my mountain bike during the five winter months. I only went skiing and skating and did a lot of swimming with paddles and a little bit running.
So, it will be exciting to see how I will bike this season. But really, I have no goal for XTERRA this year. I felt after the last season I must give something back to my swimrun teammate ...so he was very happy I decided racing one season more. Also, my family was on this side and they are happy to see me racing again.”
Nico Lebrun, the director of XTERRA Europe, thinks Paterson, Wasle, and Karaskova-Erbenova are the three to watch out for in the women’s race.
“Carina was strong in Cyprus two weeks ago, taking the lead quite quickly after a very good swim. In Greece, however, she will face the World Champion, Lesley Paterson. Lesley is in Europe getting ready for the ITU Cross World Championship, 10 days later in Spain, so I’d bet on her being ready for this fast race. For the podium fight, Helena should be the third one in the mix. She already won the first stage of Otillo SwimRun race in Croatia on a mixed team and should arrive quite fit. She won Garda, Czech and Poland last year, end even though she said she would retire this year, she looks ready for another year of strong results.”
In the men’s race the 2018 XTERRA Greece Champion Arthur Forissier from France is back and looking to defend his crown.
“I’m very excited to race this season, because the XTERRA elite field is growing year by year, so I’ll try to beat all these strong guys,” said Forissier, who also won XTERRA Switzerland last year and was second at Italy-Garda and France.
“This will be the first big test of the season for me, and I haven’t worn a tri-suit since last September so the most important thing will be to have fun, and to be safe. But, it’s also a way to see if the work I made this winter is enough to improve my level.”
For Carloni, the defending Tour Champ and 2014 winner of XTERRA Greece, his performance hinges on how well his body recovered from the grueling eight-day, 700+ kilometer Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa.
“Happy to be back and start my season at XTERRA Greece,” said Carloni. “After Cape Epic I want to see if I recovered well, and if that race will help me for the bike part this year. Really, my focus is the same as always, to enjoy the races, to enjoy the people, and if possible be competitive for some podiums. I didn't do a training camp this year, just Cape Epic, so we will see if it worked.”
Another top performer on the men’s elite list is Belgian Kris Coddens, the 2015 XTERRA Greece Champion, who is coming back from Lyme disease.
“Last year I had to stop the season here, because I was struggling with Lyme disease,” explained Coddens. “I lost a whole year on it, but I’m feeling 100% healthy again so it will be something special to make the comeback where it ended last year. I'm looking forward to the race because it will be good to see where I am with the comeback, and to see the changes in the elite field, because I see some others are growing and getting strong too.”
Like the others, Coddens explained that he’s coming to Athens for more than just the race. “I will especially enjoy the venue here in Greece to spend a full week here with the family, I think it will be a nice start for a good season.”
Of course, Lebrun likes to share his advice to all the athletes coming to Greece for a bit of fun.
“Coming to this beautiful place they might think they are on vacation and just want to go to the beach for a sun bath and eat some good souvlaki with a light fresh local beer,” he joked. “But Guys and Girls, you will have to wait a few days, and for now stay in the shade, legs up! But you can enjoy the Greek salad and amazing Olive oil, that’s not so bad!”
As for his prognostication on the men’s elite race, Lebrun said, “You may say I’m being patriotic, but I think it will be a French athlete again for the victory. Of course, Forissier will have a big target on his back. The one who can push him, who is also French, and an Arthur, he won Garda and Romania and was third at this race last year, is Arthur Serrieres. I bet those two will fight hard on Sunday. Another French can disturb them, he won the Euro Tour last year and Belgium, he had a solid winter training, especially a big mountain bike block during the famous Cape Epic race, I think he will be very strong or dead from this big race a few weeks ago. Others in the French gang include Pierric Brochet, Mathurin Boutte and Corentin Duclos. And I’m sure the German team will play in the front as well, which is not hard to predict when you have Jens Roth at the start, as we know that he will be in the front for sure half the race, but we’ll have to see how long he will keep up. Maximilian Sasserath, also from Germany, did well last two years in his first race of the season, so I’m also sure he will play in the front. The Swiss team is also here, and after a solid race in Malta Xavier Dafflon was 2nd and with a top 5 here, he will lead the Euro tour after two races. His teammate Samuel Jud also started the season well with a 6th in Cyprus, and he will fight for another top 10 in Greece. I’m so happy to see Kris Coddens back, and hope he is in good shape. Like Lesley Paterson a few years ago, he had to fight Lyme disease last year and never performed, so I hope this is behind him and he comes back strong in this race. Also from Belgium, Yeray Luxem is back, but for this young father is he coming in Vouliagmeni for the beach or to show the XTERRA racing world he is back to contend. Even though I think the French team should be a little bit above the rest of the field at this event, I think it will be a very tight race, and a place in the top 10 will really mean something and I can’t wait to see the show.”
2019 XTERRA Greece Elite Start List
2018 XET Rank – Name, Nationality
1 - Francois Carloni, FR
4 - Xavier Dafflon, CH
7 - Arthur Serrieres, FR
9 - Dominik Wychera, AT
10 - Arthur Forissier, FR
17 - Tomas Kubek, SK
30 - Yeray Luxem, BE
43 - Maximilian Sasserath, DE
49 - Kris Coddens, BE
51 - Jens Roth, DE
88 - Tiago Maia, PT
NR - Mathurin Boutte, FR
NR - Pierric Brochet, FR
NR - Samuel Jud, CH
NR - Will Kelsay, US
NR - Szabolcs Kovacs, RO
NR - Oliver Kreindl, AT
2018 XET Rank – Name, Nationality
1 - Carina Wasle, AT
3 - Helena Karásková Erbenová, CZ
6 - Anna Tomica, PL
14 - Maud Golsteyn, DE
24 - Lesley Paterson, GB
34 - Maria Döring, DE
41 - Marta Menditto, IT
NR - Monica Cibin, IT
NR - Charlotte Deldaele, BE
NR - Corentin Duclos, FR