Felix Forissier from France and Saleta Castro from Spain captured the seventh XTERRA Portugal off-road triathlon elite titles with winning times of 2:25:35 and 3:06:23, respectively, on August 8, 2021 in Golega.
It’s the first XTERRA World Tour victory for both.
Kicking off the day with a two-lap swim, the young and talented home country favorite François Vie got out in front first in the men’s elite race. Having finished 5th at XTERRA France earlier in the year, Vie’s competitors focused on ensuring the 19-year-old didn’t establish too much of a lead, with Felix Forissier and Thomas Sauser (pictured above), along with Tiago Maia (PRT) and Ruben Ruzafa (ESP) exiting the water in quick succession behind.
The athletes worked hard to put the power down on the first section of the course out of transition, with Forissier and Vie making the most of the flat segment and entering the Eucalyptus Forest together with a one-minute gap on a big chase pack that included Kristoffer Visti Graae (DNK), Maia, Ruzafa, Menedez, and Sauser.
Known as ‘The Boss’ in the XTERRA world, Ruzafa (pictured above in orange behind Visti Graae) looked in good form as he bridged the gap on the leaders after just a few kilometers, showing his technical abilities over the single track. At the halfway point, he started to push the pace harder and Vie dropped back off the lead group by approximately 30 seconds, with Visti Graae, last year’s winner Rui Dolores, and Maia working hard behind.
Entering transition with a 1:40 gap on Forissier in second place, the question was whether Ruzafa had done enough to hold off the French athlete until the finish line, with Vie also heading into transition just 40 seconds behind.
A strong runner (and the brother of reigning ITU Cross Tri World Champ Arthur Forissier), Felix was quick to get up to speed with an impressive first lap, eventually catching Ruzafa and the two ran together before Forissier won the sprint finish to claim his first XTERRA major by just six seconds.
“I swam in a small group and was in control and able to see François just ahead,” said Forissier. “We were then together for the first 10km of the bike course but when Ruben caught us, it was another level. I made lots of mistakes trying to stay with him and then finally he dropped me so then it was up to me to try not to lose too much time on him before T2."
Forissier added, "I went really hard on the run and managed to catch him on the second loop. I had pushed too much though and was in the red zone at that time, but held on and ran with him before finding just enough speed to sprint ahead at the end. I am really happy to win.”
While Ruzafa narrowly missed out on the top step, it was great to see the off-road triathlon legend in good shape and ready to attack the upcoming XTERRA European Championship in Germany on August 21 in Zittau.
“I am happy with how today went. I exited the water in 7th and had to push hard to catch the leaders,” said Ruzafa, who has won four ITU Cross Tri World Championships and three XTERRA World Championships in his illustrious career.
“I stayed focused and was pleased to enter transition in first place before getting caught by Felix on the run. Still managed to stay with him almost all of the way, but he got away on the last attack.”
It was also a great race for Vie, who earned his first XTERRA elite podium finish and the Portuguese Cross Triathlon National Champion title as well.
“I was first in the swim but held back as I didn’t want to start the bike alone. It was great to work with Felix out on the bike but when Ruben caught us, I found it technically impossible to stay with him. I had no idea how far ahead or behind the other riders were, but I continued to work hard and felt good going into the run to secure third place.”
Top 10 Men
Pl Name, NAT Finish
1 Felix Forissier, FRA 2:25:35
2 Ruben Ruzafa, ESP 2:25:41
3 François Vie, PRT 2:32:55
4 Kristoffer Visti Graae, DNK 2:34:09
5 Rui Dolores, PRT 2:34:59
6 Tiago Maia, PRT 2:39:27
7 Tim Van Daele, BEL 2:41:22
8 Manuel Menendez Valledor, ESP 2:41:26
9 Andres Carnevali del Castillo, ESP 2:43:43
10 Colin Fleming, NLD 2:47:09
In the women’s race it was exciting to see Saleta Castro, who won Ironman Netherlands in 2017, exit the water first with Louise Fox (GBR), Inés Silva (PRT), and Pauline Vie (PRT) hunting her down behind.
Despite the Spanish athlete’s last XTERRA race being over 10 years ago, she was going well on the off-road mountain bike course, maintaining a 1:30 lead on her competitors after the first 10km.
Fox managed to close the gap to just 30 seconds at the 18km mark, having dropped Vie to 3rd on the downhill sections. With various sections playing to riders’ strengths, Castro managed to extend the gap again over the flatter sections before holding onto the lead all the way to the finish line on the run.
“It was a difficult race, but I enjoyed it,” said Castro. “I pushed hard on the swim but tried to play it safe on the bike, especially on the downhills. I got into more of a rhythm on the second half of the bike and then loved the run, the atmosphere was great. Winning the race is a big surprise, so I am really happy and hope to come back next year.”
It was also great to see Fox back on the podium and enjoying her first XTERRA race of the year.
“I managed the technical parts of the bike course well, but Saleta managed to keep pulling away on the flatter sections,” said Fox. “I put everything I had into the bike and then suffered some cramps on the run, but I had established enough of a gap to hold off Pauline.”
She added, “I am really happy with the podium and to have the chance to race again and come back to Golega five years after I last raced here.”
Having finished third here in 2019, Pauline Vie saw herself back on the podium but this time with the extra title of Portuguese Cross Triathlon National Champion alongside her brother.
“I was 5th out of the water but only 30 seconds back from second place,” she explained. “Then I caught up to Louise and we stayed close together for 15km. She was really good on the descents and after slipping twice, I slowed down to focus and survive the course without any issues. I loved the new run course as there were two chances to cool down when crossing the water, and there were also more opportunities for people to cheer which really added to the atmosphere.”
Top 10 Women
Pl Name, NAT Finish
1 Saleta Castro, ESP 3:06:23
2 Louise Fox, GBR 3:17:09
3 Pauline Vie, PRT 3:25:20
4 Zoe Van Dijk, NLD* 3:28:20
5 Beatriz Ferreira, PRT 3:32:39
6 Nathalie Olasagasti, FRA* 3:32:40
7 Susana Pontes, PRT* 3:56:05
8 Beatriz Van Dijk Avila, NLD* 3:56:20
9 Malvina Gomes, PRT* 4:05:07
10 Filomena Gomes, PRT* 4:09:30
All-time XTERRA Portugal Elite Champions
Year - Male/Female
2014 - Ruben Ruzafa/Coralie Redelsperger
2015 - Ruben Ruzafa/Kathrin Mueller
2016 - Ruben Ruzafa/Helena Erbenova
2017 - Ruben Ruzafa/Brigitta Poor
2018 - Ruben Ruzafa/Brigitta Poor
2019 - Rui Dolores/Eleonora Perioncini
2021 - Felix Forissier/Saleta Castro