A world-class, international field featuring more than 20 elite triathletes from 10 countries are on the start list for the inaugural event in mainland China. XTERRA Kunming off-road triathlon will be held at the OCT Yangzong Lake Resort in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, this Sunday, September 22, 2019.
As the grand finale of the 2019 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour the event offers $25,000 USD in prize money for the race plus $10,000 in tour bonuses to the top elite performers in the series, as well as 51 qualifying slots into the XTERRA World Championship for amateurs.
Headlining the men’s race is three-time XTERRA World Champion and four-time ITU Cross Tri World Champion, Ruben Ruzafa from Spain.
“I am very excited for this weekend, it’s my first time racing XTERRA in the east, and I know it will be a huge experience,” said Ruzafa, a former world cup mountain biker who has won 34 races on the XTERRA World Tour since capturing his first championship in Maui back in 2008 as a 24-year-old.
“XTERRA is growing around the world, and to be part of the first-ever XTERRA in mainland China is special. It’s also a good time to test my form before XTERRA Worlds next month.”
Ruzafa has been first off the bike at Worlds in each of the last six years, winning two of those races (2013-2014) and finishing in the top four at the others.
“My year has gone well so far. I had surgery on my injured wrist in November, and feel I’ve recovered strongly and am at a good level now,” said Ruzafa, who finished 2nd at ITU Cross Tri Worlds, was third at XTERRA France, won XTERRA Italy-Scanno, and was second at the XTERRA European Championship in the Czech Republic last month.
“In Czech I felt great on the bike and also in the water, so I feel like I’m in a good way for Worlds. On Sunday, I’ll push hard to be competitive and finish as high as can on the podium.”
The three-time XTERRA European Tour Champion will have plenty of challengers, as seven of the top eight men in the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour standings are on the start list, including a pair of French speedsters, Brice Daubord and Maxim Chane.
Daubord finished third at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race earlier this season in Kenting, behind only Brad Weiss and Sam Osborne – who finished 2nd and 3rd at XTERRA Worlds last year. He also won XTERRA Tahiti and was 5th at ITU Cross Tri Worlds. His countryman, Maxim Chane, is fresh off top five finishes at Europe’s toughest races in France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
“I know it will be a hard race, but if I’m patient I think I’ll do well,” said Chane, who won the 15-19 division XTERRA World Championship in 2014 before going pro.
“I felt really strong during the second half of the season in Europe and trained hard to get ready for this so I’m excited for the day. Also really exciting to visit Kunming, and discover the culture.”
XTERRA Europe director and 2005 XTERRA World Champion Nico Lebrun, who helped design the course, thinks Ruzafa, Daubord, Chane, and Kieran McPherson from New Zealand all have a chance at the title.
“The question here will be who can adapt quickly to the altitude, and I think Ruben has an altitude tent, so he might have the advantage here,” said Lebrun, noting the base elevation at the swim start is about 6,000-feet. “Maxim, Kieran, and Brice will all be fighting for the podium, and it’s hard to say how they will do here in the thin air. Brice is always strong and fast as he races in the very competitive French Grand Prix series, and here the mountain bike course is not very technical so that will suit him well. Maxim had a big bloc of training leading up to Maui, so could be in good form and is a strong biker, and we’ve seen Kieran perform at high levels and with a really good run, so it will be interesting to watch.”
McPherson just won the XTERRA Japan title on Sunday, and last year captured three world tour majors and the XTERRA Pan American Tour Championship. He’s also one of the fastest runners in the sport, so if he comes off the bike in striking distance of the leader, he has the ability to chase down a win.
XTERRA veteran Ben Allen from Australia, who captured many of his 18 career XTERRA wins in Asia, is a really strong swimmer and can set the tone early, and on a good day, stay up front the whole way.
“So far my year has been developing and the form is slowly coming together,” said Allen. “I’m 100% healthy and ready to race. Goal is to execute my game plan to the best of my ability, and doing so will result in a podium position.”
Other contenders include two-time adventure racing world champ Jacky Boisset from France, pro mountain biker David Escolar from Spain, Alex Roberts from New Zealand – who finished third at XTERRA Japan on Sunday – and a trio of elites from Taiwan, China all ranked in the top seven of the Tour standings to include Yen-Ching Chiang (3rd), Yuan Keng Hsu (5th), and Chung-Yi Lin (7th).
XTERRA APAC Tour Rank – Name, NAT
2 - Brice Daubord, FRA
3 - Yen-Ching Chiang, TWN, CHN
4 - Ben Allen, AUS
5 - Yuan Keng Hsu, TWN, CHN
6 - Maxim Chane, FRA
7 - Chung-Yi Lin, TWN, CHN
12 - Kieran McPherson, NZL
18 - Alex Roberts, NZL
NR - Jacky Boisset, FRA
NR - David Escolar, ESP
NR - Ruben Ruzafa, ESP
The women’s elite race features the top four women in the Asia-Pacific Tour rankings fighting for the race and the tour title, plus a handful of wildcards that could steal the show.
Australia’s Penny Slater won the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race in Kenting back in March and the APAC Tour title last year as well. She has 167 points, two more than her coach, Jacqui Allen, and with a win in Kunming she could secure the tour title for the second year in a row.
“It’s been a long year with a lot of travel but I’m really excited to race in China on what I’m sure will be a tough course,” said Slater. “I’m not sure how I will go with the altitude but I’m excited for that added extra element which I’m sure will shake things up. In terms of a strategy for the race I think it will be about saving energy especially with the altitude and to not go into the red zone for too long. My goal is to have another good performance and get experience racing in different conditions. Of course, I would always love to contend for a podium.”
The week after finishing second to Slater in Kenting, Jacqui Allen got the better of her at XTERRA New Zealand, which she won for the third straight year. Allen also finished ahead of Slater at the XTERRA European Championship (where she was 4th) and XTERRA Germany (5th) last month.
“My year has been fantastic, heading back to Europe after a 2.5-year hiatus reminded me what racing used to be like when I first started in XTERRA,” said Allen, who was a firefighter in England before she began chasing XTERRA races around the world. “It was special to catch up with my family and put more race experience into the bank, and also important for me to race against the European girls so I could be more prepared for this race and XTERRA Worlds at the end of October.”
Allen, alongside her husband Ben, has been quite the explorer with XTERRA over the years, traveling to all the stops on the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour.
“Super excited for this adventure and to visit a new location and race a new XTERRA course,” said Allen. “For us having another race in the region is a real plus. Since racing in Czech my training has been limited due to a minor shoulder injury, however, I am in great place mentally. There is an opportunity to win the Asia-Pacific Tour with a good showing, but my focus is always on performing my best on the day. China is at altitude and this is something I need to be mindful of.”
One elite who has proven she can race at altitude is five-time XTERRA Mexico Champion Fabiola Corona, who will be competing in her fourth XTERRA in four weeks in four countries.
“I feel healthy, motivated and ready to race, and my strategy and goal is simple. Race hard and fast and try to stand on the podium with my flag and my country as high as I can,” said Corona, who won XTERRA Dominican Republic on September 1, was third at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in Utah on September 7, and won XTERRA Japan on Sunday, September 15.
“I love to be a pioneer, my husband Aaron and I are adventure seekers, and it’s on our bucket list to be part of big and memorable events like this one in China,” said Corona, who won the XTERRA Pan American Tour Championship last year. “I can’t wait to ride the course, see the country, try the local food, and really enjoy this new adventure.”
Carina Wasle from Austria is also no stranger to adventure, having been the most traveled athlete on the XTERRA World Tour over the past decade. She’s also a two-time XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champion and the 2018 XTERRA European Tour Champion.
“I'm healthy, but I’m not sure how fast,” said Wasle. “I'm working on it, but it's been a difficult year with many injuries. It's a hard and long journey but I'm fighting for a strong come back, and ready to enjoy the race and the XTERRA spirit in China. Most of all I’m looking forward to this experience, the culture and the food. I’ve seen the pictures and it looks stunning, and I know how hard Nico and the crew have been working on this event, so I’m honored to be part of it.”
Another top contender is Lizzie Orchard, who finished third at XTERRA Worlds last year and is just now getting back from injuries she suffered earlier in the year.
“This women’s race is going to be really exciting,” said Lebrun. “Lizzie is starting to be back in shape, Jacqui and Penny are consistently strong, and they’ll will have to be careful of Myriam Guillot-Boisset. She is here at 2500-meters in Yunnan training and is ready for the altitude. And don’t count out Fabiola or Kate, both are fired up coming in here fresh off a win.”
Indeed, Kate Bramley won XTERRA Netherlands on Saturday in just her second elite start on the XTERRA World Tour. And Myriam Guillot-Boisset has won big races before and is an adventure racing world champion as well. Also of note is South African Johandri Leicester, Aussie Leela Hancox, and China’s first XTERRA elite female racer, Leti Tang.
“It’s such an honor to be one of the first elite XTERRA athletes in China,” she said. “I’m going to keep participating in XTERRA and telling everyone about it. I think it will be amazing to watch XTERRA grow in China.”
XTERRA APAC Tour Rank – Name, NAT
1 - Penny Slater, AUS
2 - Jacqui Allen, GBR
3 - Carina Wasle, AUT
4 - Fabiola Corona, MEX
7 - Leela Hancox, AUS
NR - Myriam Guillot-Boisset, FRA
NR - Kate Bramley, AUS
NR - Johandri Leicester, RSA
NR - Elizabeth Orchard, NZL
NR - Leti Tang, CHN
Leti isn’t the only one who is optimistic about XTERRA’s international expansion into China.
“I'm very excited for this moment,” said Lebrun, who spent many months in China helping design the course and hosting educational clinics in China on coaching, training, and course management. “This is the first time I created so many parts of a bike loop, with many local workers to help out. We were totally free to dig and create trails where we wanted thanks to OCT, and it's been a very good experience. The bike loop is now very nice, and maybe a bit short and not as technical for our top elites but the perfect balance for locals and still very hard for most of them.
The race combines a 1.5-kilometer swim in the azure-colored Yangzong Lake with a 30K two-loop mountain bike through the regions’ famous purple sage flowers, and a 10K trail run that twists along mountain and lake trails.
“Seeing the course totally finished is very nice,” said Lebrun. “We also have all these beautiful flowers, with many places looking like Maui. I really think it will be perfect.”
XTERRA Global LLC, owners and producers of the XTERRA World Tour, are producing the event in partnership with Yunnan Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Industrial Company, LTD. The venue is well known for its mountains, lakes, forests, grasslands and caves; and boasts a bird’s eye view of the centuries-old Yunnan-Vietnam Railway.
“Kunming is a great destination for XTERRA,” said Lebrun. “The course itself is beautiful and has a good mix of single track, big climbs, and open spaces for passing. It’s a real adventure. There is a small town to explore the local shops, culture, and restaurants, and the food is delicious. The whole experience is fascinating, and I look forward to celebrating the event with everyone this weekend.”
As the top tourist attraction group, Overseas Chinese Town Group (OCT) was founded in 1985, headquartered in Shenzhen, is a central enterprise directly managed by SASAC of the State Council. OCT Group has the largest number of theme parks and resorts in China including Beautiful China, Window of the World, Happy Valley and East Overseas Chinese Town. It receives more than 40 million visitors each year and is the only Asian tourist attraction group that ranks among the top four in the world.
OCT Yunnan is a large-scale comprehensive vacation project created by OCT Group and Yunnan City Investment Corporation. OCT Kunming Yangzong Lake resort covers 7 square kilometers with total investment of more than 6 billion RMB and positioned as an ecotourism demonstration area and an international class leisure resort. Learn more at www.chinaoct.com.
XTERRA® is a global lifestyle brand and off-road triathlon race series. What started in 1996 as the world’s first off-road triathlon in Maui, Hawaii, is now an endurance sports lifestyle with a racing presence in over 30 countries worldwide and expanding. XTERRA® cultivates a passionate and dedicated community, celebrated by intrepid triathletes, trail runners and outdoor adventurists around the globe.