It may seem that Filippo Rinaldi is enjoying beginner’s luck in his first official XTERRA season.
He won XTERRA Cyprus in April, becoming the first Italian elite to win a major on the XTERRA World Tour.
In his next race he was third at XTERRA Italy - Lake Garda in May, and again third at XTERRA Belgium in June. However, Rinaldi isn’t such a beginner. In fact, he has been preparing for the off-road most of his life.
Rinaldi fell in love with motocross at a young age. His uncle is Michele Rinaldi, the 1984 World Motocross Champion and his father is the 1984 Italian Motocross Champion and team manager of the official Yamaha Motocross Team.
“I have been immersed in motocross since I was a child,” said Rinaldi. “My brothers and I went to races with my father and it was the most beautiful gift in the world. The motocross riders were our idols.”
As a child, Rinaldi was a football player until he was 16, and was nudged into triathlon by his mother, who was the family’s first triathlete.
“When I started high school in Parma, I had the opportunity to choose which sport to play,” said Rinaldi. “My mother said one day, “Filippo, do you know there is a sport where you can swim, ride a bike, and run?’ I knew how to swim – well, not very well – and I ran a lot in soccer, and sometimes I rode my bike. I didn’t know about triathlon, but I immediately liked the idea and said, ‘Well, let’s try.’”
Rinaldi began competing in road triathlons but was a bit frustrated with his swimming.
“I couldn’t get out of the water with the lead pack and the race was already lost,” he said. “I could never catch up to the leaders and then run like them.”
Rinaldi has high standards. The athletes he wanted to catch were on the Italian National Team, but he was determined to reach the highest levels of the sport and began to train in earnest in the water. He saw a dramatic improvement but put sport on hold for almost five years while he went to university, where he collected degrees in physical education and physiotherapy.
When Rinaldi returned to triathlon, he returned to ETU and ITU cross triathlon. In 2017, he competed in the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championships in Targu Mures where he finished 14th and in the ITU Cross World Championship in Penticton, where he moved up to 11th. In 2018, he competed in the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in Fyn, where he was 15th and the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championship in Ibiza, where he placed fourth. This season, he was 10th at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in Spain.
“I really like being in nature,” said Rinaldi. “I like the dirt and the uneven terrain, the jumps, the climbs, the curves, the banks, the mud, and the descents. Who knows, maybe I just like it because it looks like a motocross track.”
In 2018, Rinaldi competed in XTERRA Italy - Lake Garda and XTERRA Scanno, where he placed in the top five. This year, he opened his season with guns blazing and took the win at XTERRA Cyprus. As a result of his dedication to swimming, he was in the lead pack out of the water and rode away from the field on the climb, creating a gap of four minutes on Switzerland’s Xavier Dafflon, who was a rookie sensation himself back in 2016.
In May at XTERRA Italy – Lake Garda, Rinaldi was riding with the eventual champ, Arthur Forissier, before a crash. Despite losing time, Rinaldi was second going into the run and finished third overall. At XTERRA Belgium in June, Rinaldi was again riding with the lead pack and again finished third, just 33 seconds behind France’s Arthur Serrieres.
“This year, my goal is to keep improving in XTERRA,” said Rinaldi. “The road is still long, and I can’t run as well as I would like at the end of the race.”
Indeed, at Garda, he admitted his legs were done after the bike and he was struggling with cramps.
“Taking five years off from competitions to study isn’t recovered in one season,” he continued. “But I always do my best and try to find the positive. I do what I can for the conditions of the course and then look ahead to the next race.”
Rinaldi is quick to point out that he could not be an athlete without the support of his family.
“They are fantastic and come to many races,” he said. “At the same time, they taught me the value of other things, like relationships with others.”
This summer, Rinaldi will return the favor by cheering for his mother at Ironman Austria in July. A serious trail runner, Rinaldi's mom has also competed in the Lavaredo Ultra 120K, and his brother has just started triathlon as well.
For now, Rinaldi is focusing on running, especially on the trails, and working with his coach to balance his training. He is not a morning person and likes to sleep until 8:30 and enjoy Italian pastry or bread and jam for breakfast. He usually trains a few hours, has lunch (pasta of course!) and puts in another three hours of training in the afternoon.
When he’s not training, he still spends time on two wheels on his motocross bike.
“I also love to spend time with my girlfriend,” he said. “As an athlete, I have a strict schedule, so when I have time off, I let her choose what to do. If you ask what I want to do, it is always to spend time with the people I love. And eat mountains of ice cream.”