The second Gold event of the 2019 XTERRA European Tour is this weekend in the beautiful village of Scanno in the heart of Abruzzo.
Italy has a strong history with XTERRA. The first event was held in Sardinia in 2004, and won by Spain’s David Henestrosa and American Jamie Whitmore. The races have grown and changed over the years, and now there are three events across the country at Lake Garda, Sicily, and this weekend’s race in Scanno.
Those who have raced in previous editions of XTERRA Scanno will tell you the area is magical because of its outstanding natural beauty and the amazing atmosphere in the picture-perfect village. Combine this with one of the hardest races on the tour and you have a authentic “live more” XTERRA experience.
For a detailed look at the course, read the previous article here.
In the men's elite race on Sunday, two-time Scanno winner Ruben Ruzafa from Spain starts as the main favorite. Since he transitioned from mountain biking to XTERRA racing he has demolished bike courses around the world, and he has worked hard to develop his swimming and running to the same level. Ruzafa has had a quiet XTERRA season so far, only opening his account in France two weeks ago where he finished third. Typically a quiet season for Ruzafa means a calculated build up towards the XTERRA World Champs in Maui, so while we may not see a dominating performance, I expect we’ll see a winning one.
As we saw two weeks ago in France, the home advantage can have a massive effect on an athlete’s performance. Filippo Rinaldi has a serious chance to push Ruzafa for the win. Rinaldi won in Cyprus, and was third in both Garda and Belgium. 2019 has been a breakout year for Rinaldi as he became the first Italian athlete to win an XTERRA world tour event. He will swim at the front of the race and he might well stay there.
"I am getting better race after race as I didn't had a lot of experience," said Rinaldi. "I want to improve my run as I am losing some time in this discipline, but it's not easy during the season with so many races, one after the other. Scanno is a difficult race, but I will give 100%."
When the MTB loop is this hard and technical, there is one athlete with a big smile, and that's Xavier Dafflon from Switzerland. He will have to make some time up after the swim but the long race (with a chance of rain!) will allow him to work his way towards the front group. His run is just as good, so if he manages to lead off the bike, he will be difficult to catch.
XTERRA European Tour leader Rui Dolores will look to extend his series lead with a good result in. He has already won two races this year and with a 5th place in France, he has proven that he is one of the best in Europe.
"I'm recovering very well from the last races and I'm feeling ready to race again at my best," said Dolores. "The level will be high and my goal will be to achieve the best possible result for a good ranking points and keep fighting for the leadership of the Euro Tour."
Teammates François Carloni and Maxime Chané, both from France, will play a big role on this race. Carloni had a bad day with 10th position in France two weeks ago and will want to put that behind him. Chané will try to break away in the swim and find himself alone with the same legs he had in France. Chané has another weapon to use in Scanno, his downhill MTB technique is perhaps the best in the sport and this race is perfect for it. If he reaches the top of the last climb still at the front of the race then the other guys will be in for a tough run to catch the young Frenchman.
"I think I am in good shape," said Carloni. "I trained well and I'm definitely stronger than last year. I just have to accept that XTERRA is growing with more athletes and also a new generation that are very strong, which is good for our sport. So for me to be on the podium or in the top five would be great."
Another Italian should be strong on this race, Filippo Barazzuol, who was fifth at XTERRA Italy Lake Garda in his debut XTERRA. Barazzuil is a ski mountaineering champion, so he will love the steep climb where his big VO2max will be a huge help. Xavier Jové Riart from Spain is somewhat of a XTERRA long distance specialist, having won both Graveman and Sicily. This race might be a bit short for him, but I will not be surprised to see him fighting for a top five. Doug Hall from UK had a fantastic result in France, finishing 11th in the middle of a huge field, so he will look to repeat on another hard race.
XTERRA Italy Scanno Elite Men
XET Rank/’18 SCA Position / Name, NAT
|21||NR||RUBEN RUZAFA CUETO||ESP|
|NR||NR||XAVIER JOVÉ RIART||ESP|
XTERRA Europe director Nico Lebrun’s favorites:
***** Ruben Ruzafa
*** Flippo Rinaldi, Xavier Dafflon, Max Chane
* Rui Dolores, Francios Carloni, Filippo Barazzuol
With the dominant Morgane Riou taking a break, the women’s race is wide open. The top three from last year all return for another chance to win this epic race. On the paper the standout is Helena Karaskova from the Czech Republic, a winner four times already at this race. She is a strong cyclist both physically and technically so will be hard to beat on Sunday.
"I am looking forward to Scanno, "said Karaskova. "This village with the beautiful lake and mountains around it is magnificent. The courses, both for the bike and the run, are crazy difficult but very nice too and the organizers are always doing a great job! I hope for nice weather there and really wish for better legs than I had in France."
Last year’s winner Eva Garcia from Spain shares a similar profile to Karaskova. She will lose some time in the swim, before using a solid bike/run combination to move towards the front of the race. With less racing in the legs than Karaskova, Garcia could recreate her surprise win of last year.
Carina Wasle leads the 2019 XTERRA European Tour and is looking to defend her tour title. Walse races a lot, but races consistently. Perhaps with less racing in her legs she might challenge for the top spot, but Wasle lives the XTERRA way, embracing the travel and the adventure and wouldn’t have it any other way. A good result in Scanno will allow her to extend her lead in the series.
"Scanno is one of my favorite races," said Wasle. "I love this little town in the mountains, the friendly people and the hard course. I struggled at the last races for a strong come back, but I feel that I'm getting stronger again. I know that there are some fast girls on the start line, but I hope I can also be in the mix for the podium."
It is worth keeping an eye on two young Italian athletes who can both ride hard and have some great technical skills. Sandra Mairhofer was third last year in Scanno. She was on her way to a good result in France before suffering a flat tire, so she will be on a mission to right that wrong and podium again or even better. Matilde Bolzan was fifth in Cyprus in her debut XTERRA, then bettered that with second in Belgium.
Nicole Walters will lead during the swim and exit “il lago di Scanno” with a healthy advantage, however, she is still managing an Achilles issue which caused a DNF in France.
XTERRA Italy Scanno Elite Women
XET Rank/’18 SCA Position / Name, NAT
|2||NR||HELENA KARÁSKOVÁ ERBENOVA||CZE|
|20||1||EVA GARCÍA GONZALEZ||ESP|
***** Helena Karaskova
*** Eva Garcia, Carina Wasle
* Sandra Mairhofer, Matilde Bolzan