Guillaume Meunier of France (25-29) won the overall men’s amateur XTERRA World Championship by combining the eighth-best first-run time with the second fastest bike and final run splits. His winning time of 2:38:34 was more than four minutes quicker than his compatriot, Adrien Pascal, who placed second overall and won the 35-39 division.
“I was very near the first group of my wave at the end of the first run, had a very fast transition where I passed many people, and took the lead at the end of the first bike lap,” said Meunier, who ended up coming into the bike-to-run transition about 20 seconds behind American Anders Johnson from Utah.
“Once on the second run I took the lead after 500 meters and ran solo the rest of the way. I didn’t see anyone behind me, but I felt cramps, so I tried to stay focused on my running technique. Then, when I was on the beach, I saw nothing and I passed the final line with lots of emotions,” said Meunier.
Pascal placed second, and Johnson, who had the fastest age group bike split of the day (1:37:40), finished third overall and won the 20-24 title. Javier Megia Ciudad from Spain and Brandon Nied from Nevada rounded out the top five.
Of note, there were several repeat age group world champions in the field led by Canadian Cal Zaryski (50-54) who picked up his 10th title to tie Peter Wood with second-most all-time. Only physically challenged star Ed Fattoumy has more with 11.
Bruce Wacker (75-79) from the Big Island won his sixth World Championship, he won his first in 2008 in the 60-64 division, and both Carl Peterson from Canada (70-74) and Grzegorz Zgliczynski of Poland (55-59) won their second.
We caught up with some of this year’s champions to hear how their race was won…
15-19 XTERRA World Champ: Sullivan Middaugh (Eagle-Vail, Colorado)
The next generation is here! On Friday night before the race Sullivan’s dad, Josiah, was inducted into the XTERRA Hall of Fame to celebrate his illustrious 20-year XTERRA career as the fastest American to ever race off-road.
In his first go at XTERRA Worlds, Sullivan proved he’s poised to carry-on the family tradition of excellence by posting the fastest first run split of the day (11:20), then mixing it up with the leaders on the bike.
“There were a lot of variables, and I was not sure if I could race that long,” said Sullivan. “The weather was very unpredictable and changed the race completely from almost perfect trail conditions before the race to super muddy with tons of water during.”
Middaugh started in the second age group wave about one-minute back but worked his way to the front on the bike quickly.
“The race went well. I felt strong on the first run and ran through most of the first wave ahead of me. I found myself at the front of the race right behind the leader. I started a minute back so I may have had the overall lead in the age group. However, after the first lap of the bike going onto the second, I started to bonk and drop places. I had not been training to race for over an hour with cross country, so I really began to struggle to survive halfway through the race. At that point, I was just focusing on finishing. I took in a lot of nutrition at the end of the bike going onto the run and started to feel much better at the end of the run into the finish.”
55-59 XTERRA World Champ: Grzegorz Zgliczynski (Aurora, Colorado via Poland)
Grzegorz Zgliczynski coaches a USA swim club at Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming, so you might think he was thrown off his game when the swim was cancelled due to massive surf and current.
“Swimming is one of my strengths, so naturally one would think I would be upset with the canceled swim, but instead, I embraced it and knew we are all in this together,” said Zgliczynski, who won his first XTERRA World Championship in 2017.
“The day ended up being epic and awesome. The funny thing is, I struggled horribly in the mud in 2018 and swore I would never race this again in the mud. And, then I found myself in a muddy duathlon. My wife took a video of me running up the hill out of the bike to run transition and in it, I turn to her and smile and say, ‘this is awesome.’”
It was exactly the attitude racers needed at this year’s Maui mud-fest.
“As I wrote above, I struggled in the mud in 2018. I worked hard this past year to better my technical skills and understanding of how to ride in these challenging conditions. I was nervous, but it paid off.
I am not sure when I took lead. I knew I was up front, but one ever knows for sure- there was so much mud that you can't read people's numbers and ages. So I kept pushing. This one was special because I feel like I really grew as an XTERRA athlete. It is a very different experience than road racing, and I love the XTERRA community, my fellow competitors, and the entire experience.”
Zgliczynski brought a little community of his own to Maui this year, with five other athletes he coaches joining him for the weekend.
“I brought another XTERRA racer, three women who did the 21K trail championships, and one who did the 10K. It’s all about community, and I hope XTERRA continues hosting the trail championships on the same weekend as it is great pooling all these athletes together.”
50-54 XTERRA World Champ AGAIN!: Cal Zaryski (Calgary, Canada)
“Coach Cal” is an XTERRA legend, a certified coach, and undeniably part of the fabric of off-road triathlon.
He won his first XTERRA World title in 2006 racing in the 35-39 division, and 10 titles in 15 attempts since. He also won the Ironman 70.3 50-54 World Championship earlier this year as well.
“I was very fit after my Ironman 70.3 win, but with three weeks before Dec. 5, I experienced a sciatic nerve strain during a trail running race. This injury prevented me from training intensely for the run, so I had to get creative with my preparation. I was very unsure about my ability to repeat my 2019 win, particularly with a solid American and Canadian field that just aged up to the 50-54 category (I’m 53). In particular, Henry Reed who won the USA 50-54 Championship. I knew he could bike and run very well, and I was hoping to earn a few minutes head start after a strong swim.”
The swim, of course, never happened.
“So with the cancellation of the swim and a 3.1K run added, I was concerned. Henry went out very fast and at the bottom of the steep hill, I was 30 seconds behind. By the end of the run I was one-minute behind but moved into second place in our AG and top five in our starting wave (45-54). I knew that if I rode the initial cart path climb strong, I would eventually close the gap. Before the first single track section, I was only 15 seconds back always keeping him in sight. Immediately after dropping into the single track, I crashed three times. I had to learn how to mountain bike again and my confidence was rocked. My mindset quickly shifted from urgency and aggression to cautious and safety. I kept telling myself that smooth is fast and actually was coaching others on the trails to do the same. Eventually, I relearned how to ride the greasy mud trails and started to push the power when possible.”
And those mud tires really helped!
“I woke in the morning actually pretty upset that it did not rain that night as the forecast suggested. The trail was dry, and I was committed to mud tires. But as good fortune would have it, the skies open up and my choice was priceless but not my tire pressure! Before the start of the race, I inflated my mud tires to a firm 25psi thinking I could manage higher pressure on dry trails. This was likely the cause of my three crashes early into the bike. But as luck would have it, both tubeless tires had a slow leak, particularly the rear. As the race went on and the course became wetter, my tires hooked up better and better. My second lap was much faster than my first. By the end of the race, my rear tire was completely flat.”
Zaryski passed Reed on the bike after he crashed on a slippery tree root, and never looked back.
“Once on the run, my legs felt good, the sciatic pain was present but not debilitating. I was wearing XC shoes with 9mm spikes which provided good grip for the uphill but still not great for the slippery downhills. I ran my own race, strong and steady. As I neared the end of the race, I tried to catch as many athletes as possible with the chance I could place top 10 amateur. I ended up placing 15th overall, top 40 plus master and first Canadian athlete. This 25th anniversary win certainly was special. I can’t believe I have been racing XTERRA for 15 years! Each year feels like the first, full of excitement and passion. I love to race…but I enjoy the training and preparation more! It’s so nice to be involved in such a great community of off-road triathletes. Hoping to stay healthy and fit for an attempt at 11 and maybe even 12:).”
45-49 XTERRA World Champ: Michael Dorr (Avon, Colorado)
Michael Dorr has long been one of the top age group athletes in the U.S., and now he can say he’s one of the best in the world.
“It feels great to win. Since my first XTERRA World's in 2015, I always wanted to finish on the podium and put a great race together,” said Dorr, who has raced XTERRA since 2012 and been to Maui five times.
Of course, it wasn’t easy – XTERRA never is.
“The rain started, and the course got real slick and started to clog up the tires and drive train. I crashed a couple of times on the first lap, then about 5-6 miles in my chain dropped inside my front chainring and my chain guide so I had to get off my bike and try to pull it through my chainring. After a minute or so the people behind me started passing me, probably 10-15 guys. I lost around four minutes and felt my race was slipping thru my fingers.”
Strengthened by the experience gained from 2016, another mud-year, Dorr pressed on.
“The conditions were brutal but 2016 really prepared me mentally for these types of conditions. Having a setback during the race doesn't mean you are out of it,” he said.
“When I came into transition Suzie Snyder said I was very close to Cal Z, so I knew if I could stay around him I was in good position. Did not know what position I was in, but I caught Cal at top of the first tunnel and pushed really hard up to the pond. The trails were rivers, but I had spikes in my shoes, so traction was actually really good. I really had no idea I had won until the announcer said he thought I had won my age group. I felt really good the whole race and my run off the bike has gotten much better. Josiah Middaugh "Coach" has really done a good job of preparing me throughout the season and especially into the last two races.”
Dorr also wanted to acknowledge the volunteers, as so many racers have expressed since the event.
“The XTERRA family put on a great race, the volunteers were incredible especially on race day in those conditions, and all the spectators were amazing cheering us on in the rain. It was quite the day out there!”
65-69 XTERRA World Champ: Walt Rider (Germantown, Tennessee)
It was a big day for the Rider family in Maui with Walt winning the 65-69 division and his son, Seth, placing fourth overall and top American in the men’s elite race.
“This race was so special, it was a great day to share with him,” said Walt, who has been racing XTERRA for nearly 15 years (and taking Seth along to the races). “I raced Maui in 2007, second in my age group at that race, and was so happy to move up to the top step on Sunday!”
20-24 XTERRA World Champ: Anders Johnson (Hunstville, Utah)
Anders Johnson had the best bike time among amateurs at XTERRA Worlds, which was not a surprise for those who watched him do the same thing on his way to winning the overall amateur title at the XTERRA USA Championship in September.
“I prepped my bike setup for mud - aggressive narrow tires and low pressures and then prayed for rain,” said Johnson. “As the start came closer, it seemed like the rain might hold off but just 5 minutes into the run it was apparent that was not the case. The run started fast and furious and I let the front group of my group go and settled into my own pace. I knew I’d lose time but that not going too deep would pay off on the bike.”
Johnson worked his way to the front of the race by the top of the first climb on the bike.
“From there the descent was beyond slippery but I did my best to keep it on the rivet the whole time. The descent was summed up when a Frenchman behind me yelled “STAY ON YOUR BIKE MAN.” At that point, it was a group of three of us, me and two Frenchmen (both in different categories) who could descend very well. I rolled into the second lap climb and dug deep. I was alone off the front by the top of the climb and knew I just had to keep it together on the long grueling run.”
Once on the run Johnson battled the elements, and cramping legs, to will his way to the finish.
“Pushing through the cramps was very painful but I tried to keep my legs turning over as quickly as possible. At this point, rain was coming down like I have never seen before. We ran through rivers of mud, splashing our way along. I ran the final hundred meters with a huge smile on my face and in my heart. I had put together a race that I was extremely proud of in the gnarliest of conditions. I gave it my best and it really showed when I could hardly walk for two days after. I have always wanted to win world championships and to put this one together after a few years of mishaps felt extremely good - especially in front of my entire family.”
30-34 XTERRA World Champ: Brandon Nied (Reno, Nevada)
Brandon Nied got back from the Cape Epic mountain bike race
“It was a pretty awesome day,” said Nied, a former professional triathlete turned cyclist who raced in the Cape Epic in October. “As for the race itself, I was in the lead after the first run, then fell back on the bike. I passed quite a few people on the second run, running used to be my strongest, and apparently still is even with all the bike work, but I didn't know where I was in terms of my age group at the finish so was thrilled when the announcer said I was first.”
75-79 XTERRA World Champ: Bruce Wacker (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii)
Bruce Wacker did his first-ever XTERRA in 2007, won his first XTERRA World Championship in 2008, and has since adventured all over the world racing off-road including trips to Brazil, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Tahiti, Canada, and a number of XTERRA European Tour events.
His 2021 expedition to Maui, where he picked up his sixth world title, could be his most exhilarating yet.
“I sailed up from Kona and had a difficult time keeping the boat safe in the storm, even missing the pre-race dinner,” explained Wacker. “I also broke the anchor line and lost the anchor just before the storm hit! Lahaina doesn't have visiting boat facilities, so I had to keep moving around to keep the boat safe. I recovered the anchor after the race and am now safely back in Kona. This is not a good time of year to be sailing inter-island, but I've dreamed of sailing to XTERRA Worlds for a while.”
Once on land, Wacker faced even more wet conditions but was well-prepared.
“It could have been worse as winter in Hawaii has its moments,” he said. “My time was better than 2018 and the bike course was looking good during the pre-ride. It looked like it had been ridden throughout the year and was "broken in" compared to before. I managed to stay upright except when I slipped and fell trying to walk the bike up a steep hill and took a complete mud bath, but riding Big Island wet and rooty trails was good preparation.”
His favorite part about the weekend, however, was the re-connecting with the XTERRA community.
“It was good to see old friends, especially Melanie reappearing.”
70-74 XTERRA World Champ: Carl Peterson (Penticton, Canada)
Carl Peterson, who won XTERRA Worlds for the second time in four attempts, called it a “tough slog of a race … felt great though, it was fantastic, and unforgettable!”
Read XTERRA World Championship Amateur Women’s Race Recap Here