Alistair Brownlee (GBR) and Lizzie Orchard (NZL) won the inaugural XTERRA Weston Park off-road triathlons with winning times of 2:04:27 and 2:36:06, respectively, on a beautiful sunny day at the centuries-old Weston Park House in Staffordshire, England on Saturday, May 13, 2023.
It’s the first XTERRA World Tour win for the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who was making his XTERRA debut, and the fourth for Orchard, her first since winning the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race in Australia in 2016.
The event, which marked the fifth stop on the XTERRA EMEA Tour and first in England since 2015, combined a 1.5K lake swim with a 27K mountain bike, and an 11K trail run that weaved through the historic grounds of Weston Park.
In the men’s elite race, Brownlee was first out of the water in 19:18 followed by Maxim Chane (FRA) more than a minute back in 20:27, with Morgan Rhodes (GBR) another 20 seconds back in third.
Brownlee was able to maintain his lead and hold off the hard-charging Chane until the second of two laps on the bike, when the back-and-forth lead changes began.
“I had a hard swim, looking at Alistair fly over,” said Chane. “I didn't spend a lot of time in the water this winter and I felt it today with a world-class athlete on the start line. But I rode a strong first loop on the bike to close the minute on Brownlee.”
Maxim clocked a blistering 33:12 on the first lap of the bike, best of the day and one-minute 20 seconds quicker than Brownlee’s first lap.
“Max caught me on the second lap and we swapped positions for the rest of the ride,” said Brownlee, who posted the second fastest bike split of the day (1:09:42) behind only Chane’s 1:08:14.
“The conditions were good and the course had dried up a lot in the last few days,” added Brownlee. “I really enjoyed some of the fast single track through the wooded sections and the quarry on the run.”
Those drier conditions also led to a smoother ride, not what Chane was hoping for.
“I didn't have the technical parts to play my card because we got a wonderful sunny day that didn't help to make a tough mountain bike course, it was more about pushing watts on the wonderful green,” said Chane.
Still, the Frenchman was first out of the bike-to-run transition. Brownlee, however, was right behind and quickly put his amazing foot speed on display with a 16:30 first-lap to put him in front for good.
“I had to run hard out of transition to catch Max, after I spent too long trying to get my socks on,” laughed Brownlee, who took the lead after about 3K on the run.
The triathlon legend went on to post the fastest run split of the day (34:18) and took the tape with more than one-minute to spare against Chane.
“Winning is always special, but most importantly, I just really enjoyed racing hard and off-road,” said Brownlee. “Weston Park is lovely, it’s a great location for XTERRA.”
Brownlee says his next focus is on qualifying and then training for the Ironman World Championship in Nice, France, with an aim to perform well at the PTO Tour races.
“And if all goes well, I’d love to be in Molveno in September for the XTERRA World Championship.”
After the race, Chane said he was pleased with the runner-up performance in 2:05:13 and loved his XTERRA experience in the West Midlands region of England.
“The location here is amazing, it’s a perfect spot for XTERRA, and it was special to race Alistair. I was scared I’d never see him again after the swim, so it was nice to race alongside the legend for a while there on the bike and run,” said Chane, who will next look to make his mark on the XTERRA World Cup when the series returns to Europe on June 10 in Namur, Belgium.
Morgan Rhodes finished third in 2:12:54, with William Draper and Benjamin Goodfellow rounding out the top five.
In the women’s elite race, home country favorite Megan McDonald posted the fastest swim (22:15) with Kerri-Ann Upham (GBR) a full two minutes back and Orchard another 40-seconds later.
Once on the bike, Upham took charge and made her way to the front halfway through the first lap, but Orchard was able to reel her in at the end heading into the bike-to-run transition.
“On the final descent of the bike I looked over my shoulder to see Lizzie and she took the lead into T2,” said Upham (pictured). “Heading out onto the run I could see her in the distance but I just didn't have my run legs today, so I just focused on maintaining my own pace and Bonnie passed me.”
Orchard, who has twice finished on the podium at XTERRA Worlds, was able to hold off a brilliant comeback attempt by Bonnie van Wilgenburg (GBR) who came out of the water three minutes behind Orchard but then posted the fastest bike (1:23:47) and run (42:43) splits of the day to close the gap to just 50 seconds at the finish line in second place.
“Being aware how talented the ladies here are at running, I certainly had to keep an eye out for any challenges,” said Orchard. “Victory today is pretty special as it's been awhile since I've lifted the tape, and this course was deceptively difficult, because it was possible to push hard most of the trail, and that really gets your legs fatigued before the fast run.”
As echoed by seemingly everyone in today’s race, Orchard was full of praise for the newest venue on the XTERRA World Tour.
“Weston Park is a great addition to the XTERRA schedule, complimentary to some of the more hill focused events, and I especially enjoyed the classic cross country style run,” she said. “We've had a beautiful week here in Staffordshire.”
Orchard will now make her way to the U.S. for stop number two on the XTERRA World Cup at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County, Alabama.
“Yup, headed to the U.S., so very happy we had such great weather here today, so we can quickly dry and pack the race gear,” she exclaimed.
For Upham, who placed third, it was a rewarding elite debut.
“This was my first race of the season and first race as a pro, so I was really pleased to be able to put together a solid performance,” she said. “It's still early in the year so I'm looking forward to building into the season and seeing where I stack up against the elite field.
Reaching the podium was incredibly special, and to share it with an XTERRA legend like Lizzie and double Olympic Champion, Alistair Brownlee, was just surreal!”
Megan McDonald was the fourth elite over the line (Mia Padmanabhan was top amateur and fourth overall) with Louise Fox rounding out the top five elites.
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