A classic battle between XTERRA’s “old guard” and “new blood” is coming to the XTERRA World Championship on December 5 in Maui.
Brad Weiss (RSA), Ruben Ruzafa (ESP), Mauricio Mendez (MEX), Josiah Middaugh (USA), and Rom Akerson (CRC) have combined to win every XTERRA World Championship since 2013. Collectively, they’ve got 70 years of experience racing off-road.
There’s also a trio of seasoned and superfast Frenchman - Arthur Serrieres (2nd in Maui, 2019), Maxim Chane (2021 XTERRA France Champ), and Brice Daubord (2019 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champ); a former ITU Cross Tri World Champ and Olympian, Francisco Serrano (MEX), and the “Falcon” – bronze medalist Hayden Wilde from New Zealand.
That’s a tough top 10 to crack, but an exciting collection of first timers are headed to Maui to give it a shot including American’s Eric Lagerstrom (pictured), Seth Rider, and four rising stars from USA Triathlon’s Project Podium squad: Austin Hindman, Keller Norland, Drew Shellenberger, and Darr Smith.
Lagerstrom recently finished 7th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and put his mountain biking skills on display a week later at XTERRA Nationals to place third behind only Sam Osborne and Middaugh. He swims up front, can hold his own on the bike, and has the endurance to finish strong.
Rider (pictured below) showed he’s got some serious speed this summer when he finished just nine seconds behind the fastest triathlete in the world right now, Kristian Blummenfelt, on his way to a fourth-place finish at the World Triathlon Championship Finals in Edmonton. Also of note, he grew up going to XTERRA races to watch his dad, Walt, who also qualified to race in Maui this year.
“I remember going to XTERRA Richmond in 2005 to watch my dad and I only had my road bike with me, but I wanted to do the kids race, so I just did it on my road bike,” said Rider, who is training for Maui by mountain biking around Girona, Spain where he is based.
“I have never done a full distance XTERRA, so I really don't know what to expect. I am physically in good shape, so I really want to just test myself on this new style of racing and see where I stack up. I will try to take advantage of the swim as I think I can gain some time on the XTERRA circuit athletes. Hopefully I can get out onto the bike with clear trail ahead and see how far I can make it before getting caught by whoever is chasing and then go from there.”
And then there’s the “kids.”
“Project Podium is an Olympic Development program designed to train the best young talent in the USA to medal winning World Triathlon performances in the future,” explained Project Podium Head Coach, Parker Spencer.
Austin Hindman just finished his season with a fantastic result at the PATCO Americas Championships in St. George. He was 3rd U23 and sixth overall. Austin also won the U23 National Championship in Long Beach, CA, this year, and the junior world championships in 2016.
Darr Smith was 4th U23 in the U23 national championships this year. He is currently ranked in the top 100 in the World Triathlon rankings and just won the 2021 Americas Triathlon Cup in Santiago, Chile on November 14.
Drew Shellenberger is the 2021 Junior National Champion. He was on the podium in every Junior Elite Cup event he raced in 2021.
Keller Norland, 18, is the youngest athlete on Project Podium. He had a breakthrough 2021 having won the Sarasota and the Wasatch Junior Elite Cup races. He finished the 2021 Junior Elite Series ranked 3rd.
“Norland is the most experienced mountain biker on the team having grown up with his dad being a former elite mountain biker and his mother racing XTERRA’s, and Austin Hindman is also a very skilled mountain biker,” said Spencer, who is also racing in Maui and believes the skills involved with mountain biking can carry-over to on-road pursuits as well.
“Draft legal racing requires a great deal of skill, bike handling skills, and tactics to race well,” he explained. “We incorporate mountain biking regularly into our weekly training program for our athletes because mountain biking is a great way to develop bike handling skills while also keeping training interesting and fun. We also live in two places throughout the year that are incredible for mountain biking in Tempe, AZ and Park City, Utah.”
As for his hopes on what the team can do in Maui, Spencer is simply excited to provide his team with the opportunity to compete against the best off-road triathletes on earth.
“The past two years have been incredibly hard for everyone but especially hard for the athletic community with many events canceled, training facilities closed, etc., due to COVID19. Our team has done an incredible job staying resilient, focusing on what matters and continuing to train hard. 2021 has been intense for our team with racing resuming again but now learning how to navigate COVID19 protocols in many different countries throughout the world. Our guys have competed in Portugal, Tunisia, England, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, and Chile this year. It has been great year, but we could not think of a better way to end an intense season and crazy two years with throwing our guys in the mix with the best off-road triathletes in the world in Maui. This is an amazing race opportunity and also a chance for us to celebrate how far each of these young men have come, the resilience they have shown as young professional athletes in a COVID19 world and enjoy the comradery of their teammates in an amazing part of the world.”