The 24th XTERRA World Championship off-road triathlon this Sunday, October 27 in Kapalua, Maui is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing events of all-time.
It features the sports best racers from every region including six past world champions with a wealth of experience and a mob of young, talent elites with unbridled energy on a buzz-worthy new bike course and if all that’s not enough, a looming Northwest swell that might bring big waves into play.
In the men’s race it’s impossible to pick a favorite, and as proof, in a casual polling of the elites themselves asking who they thought should be the favorite, seven different men were mentioned, five of whom received multiple votes. South African Brad Weiss, the 2017 Champ, got the most.
“I guess I consider myself to be the race favorite but there are plenty of men out their capable of winning this title so I will have to be perfect come race day,” said Weiss, who was second to Rom Akerson of Costa Rica last year. “I believe the French duo Arthur Forissier and Arthur Serrieres are incredibly dangerous athletes who will come on strong in the back half of the race. Sam Osborne has shown to be nearly unbeatable on the Pan Am Tour and will no doubt be a huge contender this year. Ruben Ruzafa has proven himself to be the most consistent athlete out in Maui and I believe he will be a decisive factor on the mountain bike as he has shown in prior years. Add 2018 World Champion Rom Akerson as well as 2015 World Champion Josiah Middaugh to the mix and its rather stacked up front!”
Stacked indeed. To put it in even clearer perspective, we turn to Josiah Middaugh, who is on the start line in Maui for the 19th consecutive year and has been the top American finisher each of the last eight years. He understands well how pre-race hype correlates to race day reality.
“I agree, this could be the most competitive men's field ever assembled for the XTERRA World Championship,” he said. “Early in my career I would be a little intimidated reading through a start list full of Olympians and world champions and wondering if I belonged. XTERRA is not based on resume submission, and this race more than any other chews people up and spits them out. I realized if I just turned my focus internally and gut it out from start to finish, then my finish is not predetermined, but up to me. This year we have a new two lap bike course and we don't know for sure who it will favor. It would be a mistake to think that this year's course will be any less challenging and I actually think the changes will make the race more demanding. Expect more attrition on the second lap of the bike and even more on the run. My calculation is that the new bike course will be longer and if it is hot, people will be wilting on the run course. This year my expectations of a finish place are not as clear because I have done less traveling to test myself against the top contenders. Personally, I just want to be a part of the excitement and keep these young guys honest. No matter what happens, it will be exciting to watch!”
For the past six years it’s been exciting to watch Ruben Ruzafa from Spain race from behind out of the water and work his way into the front by the bike-to-run transition. Ruzafa has been a model of excellence through the years, ever since his first appearance as a 24-year-old in 2008.
“Maui is a very special place for me,” said Ruzafa, a three-time XTERRA World Champ (2008, 2013-14). “When I won here the first time it changed my life. From that day I decided to give the rest of my sporting life to XTERRA, and every year my main goal is to win this race and every year there are more strong guys, guys that train as hard as me to get the title. This year, I’m prepared to give my best, be focused, and go fast, no more.”
One man that has gone really fast this year is Sam Osborne from New Zealand, who won six races on the World Tour, the most of anybody. He’s been based out of Boulder, Colorado and in 2019 raced around the Americas collecting titles.
“I am feeling good, Boulder really does feel like home now. I have good people to train with, know training loops well, and feel like I am in a good place,” said Osborne, who was third last year. “The goal is to win, and to do it I’ll have to execute a consistent race across all three disciplines and make good decisions at key times of the race. I don’t think there is an all-out race favorite, because there are many who will be on form & flying this year.”
And when you talk about flying, the image of Arthur Serrieres running comes to mind. “It’s like his feet never even touch the ground,” said one observer at the XTERRA European Championship where he reeled in both Weiss and Ruzafa on the run to take the title.
You’ve also got his counterpart Arthur Forissier, who won the ITU Cross Tri World title this year, the Canadian Karsten Madsen, the young-guns Maxim Chane, Dean Cane, and Filippo Rinaldi, and of course, the reigning champion Akerson, a Costa Rican full of confidence who was made for this sport.
“I was born on the beach, raised on the beach, grew up on my mountain bike and running in the sand and on the trails. XTERRA comes naturally to me. The vibe, the community, the scenery, it all fits into who I am,” said Akerson, who IS the reigning XTERRA World Champion.
The women’s elite race is every bit as heavy when it comes to the top 10. But when it comes to the favorites, there’s two who stand out among the rest; four-time winner Flora Duffy from Bermuda, and the reigning and three-time champ Lesley Paterson from Scotland.
“The goal for everybody is to win a world championship,” said Duffy, who won her last XTERRA race here in Kapalua two years ago. “After having to sit out last year, I might be a little rusty, and I’ve been injured more than healthy since my last XTERRA, but I’m healthy now and that’s added fuel to my fire and I really want to win a race. It’s been a while.”
The three-time Olympian isn’t taking anything for granted in her pursuit of history.
“With XTERRA, there is always an adventure out there waiting for you and I’m out of practice with this style of racing, but I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I had a chance to win my 5th.”
For Paterson, aka the “Scottish Rocket,” the fire burns just as bright.
“The season for me has been up and down, but my fitness now is the best it’s been in years, so hopefully I can throw down on Sunday,” said Paterson, winner of the Pan Am Championship for three straight years. “My plan is simple, go as hard as I can and never give up.”
In addition to Duffy and Paterson, the talent level in the women’s elite field has gone to the next level in speed and strength. Morgane Riou from France went on an incredible run this year, winning four straight against the best Europe has to offer.
Penny Slater won her first major against a stacked field at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Taiwan back in March, the same month she turned 23-years-old. She credited her coaches, Ben and Jacqui Allen, for making her into a stronger, smarter athlete. Jacqui herself has shown no signs of slowing down.
All of the major tour champions are on the start list, including the legend the Euro Tour Champ Helena Karaskova and her 34 career wins, Carina Wasle who won the Asia-Pacific Tour yet again, and Samantha Kingsford who took the Pan Am Tour by storm.
The Americans are well represented with Suzie Snyder, Julie Baker, and Maia Ignatz. South America has its champs on the start line too with Erika Simon, who won XTERRA Argentina, and Valentina Carvallo, who captured the XTERRA Chile crown. Lizzie Orchard from New Zealand finished third last year in Maui and came on strong at the end of 2019. North America has a hero to cheer for with XTERRA Quebec winner Katie Button. And there’s the other speedsters from Europe like Loanne Duvoisin from Switzerland and Alizee Paties from France who have proven their turn up front isn’t far away.
So let’s race.
Start time 8am Hawaii time on Sunday, October 27. That’s 11am PST, 2pm EST, 8pm Paris, 2am Monday in Shanghai, and 5am Monday in Sydney. Follow the pre-race hype and race day live at www.xterraplanet.com which will host all the various links to our Facebook.com/xterraplanet and Twitter @xterraplanet feed.