The third of seven stops in the inaugural XTERRA World Cup starts Saturday, June 10, as the Citadel of Namur hosts the XTERRA European Championship full-distance race for the first time. Then on Sunday, June 11, the World Cup continues with the second of five invite-only XTERRA Short Track events that will be streamed live on xterraplanet.com.
With €30.000 euros and 130 points up for grabs, the Belgian XTERRA weekend of events has attracted 90 elites from 20 countries including the world’s top five ranked men and women, the reigning XTERRA World Champions Arthur Serrières and Solenne Billouin, the current World Cup leaders Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Alizée Paties, and the recently crowned World Triathlon Cross Champions Felix Forissier and Sandra Mairhofer.
It’s the pinnacle event on the 2023 XTERRA European Tour and the second of three continental championships in the World Cup. Arthur Forissier and Alizée Paties won the first one at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Taiwan in April, and could put themselves in perfect-score contention with another victory in Namur.
In the chase for the Cup, elites add their best four scores from the first six full-distance races with their best three-of-five Short Track scores, and whatever they get (or don’t get) at the XTERRA World Championship. The highest points’ scorers at the end of the year will be the first to ever lift the XTERRA World Cup trophy, and will take home the lion's share of the series’ €350.000 in prize money.
The competition has never been greater, and the showdown in Belgium is worthy of the hype.
In the women’s race, Paties will wear the gold swim cap and post the leader plate on her bike once again. She won the first two full-distance races and placed second in the XTERRA Short Track race at Oak Mountain last month to put her atop the standings following the first three of 12 races.
“Keeping my golden cap is the goal for this one,” said Paties. “I love this kind of battle and will do my best here in this beautiful place which is the first World Cup race in Europe. It’s my first time in Namur, so I’m very excited to discover the race.”
Following the first stop in Taiwan in April, and the second round in the U.S. in May, this weekend marks the start of the World Cup's European swing as four of the next five stops are in the EU. XTERRA Czech (August 12-13) and XTERRA Germany (August 18-19) are up next. Round six heads to the Rockies in Avon, Colorado for the XTERRA USA Championship (August 26), and the Cup concludes in Trentino, Italy with the final XTERRA Short Track race on Sept. 21 and then the World Championship on Sept. 23.
Solenne Billouin comes into Belgium as the XTERRA World Champ and World’s No. 1 ranked female, but sits in sixth position in the Cup standings after coming away with zero points at Oak Mountain last month due to mechanicals. Still, she enters the weekend undeterred and with the ultimate goal in mind.
“I had a good start in Oak Mountain, was feeling strong and leading the race with Alizée but punctured halfway through the bike,” explained Billouin, who placed 2nd at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship to start the campaign. “It was frustrating, but now my bad luck is behind me. I’m in good shape, and want to take my revenge here in Belgium. I still have a chance to perform well in the World Cup and I’m motivated to keep fighting until the end of the season.”
The most formidable opponent for both Paties and Billouin is undoubtedly Sandra Mairhofer, the reigning and two-time World Triathlon Cross Champion and winner of the last two XTERRA European Championship races.
“I’m really motivated to defend the title,” said Mairhofer, who won in Germany two years ago and in the Czech Republic last year. “It’s never easy to win, and especially to defend, but I look forward to the challenge. The course is awesome, and I’m happy to race here in Belgium for the first time. It’s special to have the chance to confirm the crown on different kinds of courses.”
The course in Belgium has a reputation for being tough, with a river swim that can be tricky with the currents, and a steep up-and-down bike course that will require a full tank of both stamina and skill.
The field is full of noteworthy competitors up to the task, such as Marta Menditto, Loanne Duvoisin, Suzie Snyder, and Lizzie Orchard, who are ranked 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the XTERRA World Cup standings in that order.
“I suspect the European Championship will feel a bit like the World Championship with athletes coming from all over the world,” said Snyder, a 5x XTERRA U.S. women’s champ. “I've never seen a women's elite start list this long, it’s exciting to see such a big turnout. It’s my first time here, so I don't know who or what kind of athlete this course will favor, but I know it’ll be a great preview for Worlds, as I expect many of the competitors here will also be in Italy for the grand finale. It's a chance for everyone to see who everyone else is and what they're capable of.”
Women’s Elite Start List
XTERRA World Rank - World Cup Position - Name, NAT
1 - 6 - Solenne Billouin, FRA
2 - 1 - Alizée Paties, FRA
3 - 8 - Sandra Mairhofer, ITA
4 - 3 - Loanne Duvoisin, SUI
5 - 2 - Marta Menditto, ITA
9 - NR - Helena Karásková Erbenová, CZE
13 - 13 - Carina Wasle, AUT
16 - 4 - Suzie Snyder, USA
17 - 5 - Elizabeth Orchard, NZL
18 - NR - Ségolène Léberon, FRA
21 - NR - Daisy Davies, GBR
22 - NR - Carole Perrot, SUI
24 - NR - Emma Ducreux, FRA
27 - NR - Beatriz Ferreira, POR
32 - 12 - Carolyne Guay, CAN
33 - 14 - Georgia Grobler, RSA
34 - NR - Camille Jobard, FRA
36 - NR - Solene Marnoni, FRA
38 - NR - Kerri-Ann Upham, GBR
39 - NR - Bonnie Van Wilgenburg, GBR
43 - NR - Štepánka Bisová, CZE
47 - NR - Katerina Ježková, CZE
48 - NR - Lorena Erl, GER
49 - 19 - Irena Ossola, USA
50 - NR - Pauline Vie, POR
58 - 22 - Katja Krenn, AUT
61 - NR - Marine Echevin, FRA
NR - NR - Maisie Aubrey, GBR
NR - NR - Charlène Clavel, FRA
NR - NR - Mandy Dammekens, BEL
NR - NR - Anna-Lena Theisen, GER
In the men’s elite race, all eyes are on Arthur Serrières who has won the last three XTERRA European Championship races and swept the full-distance and XTERRA Short Track races at Oak Mountain to move into 2nd position in the World Cup standings.
“The European Championship is always a bit different,” said Serrières. “With so many strong guys it will be a good battle. I have extra motivation because I won three times in a row, and now I’m hungry for more, and happy to be here to defend my title.”
The current XTERRA World Cup leader, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen, says he’s also ready for the challenge and eager to keep his spot atop the standings.
“It feels good to be here as the World Cup leader, it’s a privilege,” said Sloth Nielsen. “There are a lot of guys coming to take the leader's jersey from me, so I have something to fight for. It’s a physically demanding course because there's a lot of elevation and climbs, but I’m ready to do it and racing in the Citadel is going to be iconic.”
The depth in the men’s field is unprecedented for a race not called Worlds, as the top eight ranked athletes in the world are on the start line and another handful pose serious threats to crack into the podium, if not the top step.
Arthur Forissier (pictured left) already proved his worth this season with a big win in Taiwan, where he put together the kind of smart, tactical race that it takes to win a big one. His brother, Felix (pictured right), and Maxim Chane were riding up front and sensing a 1-2 finish at that race before both got flats at the same place and finished well back. In XTERRA, that’s part of the game because mechanicals can (and do) wreak havoc on riders. Avoiding those pitfalls is the key, and can be some part luck, and some part skill.
Nobody has shown more skill on the mountain bike at XTERRA over the years than Ruben Ruzafa, first off the bike at Worlds for nine straight years despite being well-back coming out of the swim.
“The bike course here is very demanding because it has lots of up and down and very steep climbs, and if it’s dry, it’ll be fast, and powerful riders like Lukáš Kočař can have a great bike. I think we can for sure have some surprises at the end of the race.”
Kočař said he thinks a top three is within his abilities, and there are other great bikers who feel the same, including Olympic gold medalist Jaroslav Kulhavý and home country favorite Sébastien Carabin, who is third in the World Cup standings and 5th in the world rankings.
“I think that the first swimmers will stay together at least one loop on the mountain bike and then the different gaps will be made and the difference and win will be played on the run part,” said Carabin, the current World Triathlon Cross Duathlon champion who also happens to be the XTERRA Asia-Pacific and XTERRA Americas Half-Marathon Trail Run Champion.
“I hope to be able to battle with the best for all my supporters here in Belgium. I think the people around the Citadelle will make big noise to boost me so I can deliver the best of myself and I am really excited about this idea.”
The Middaugh duo, 2015 XTERRA World Champ Josiah and his son, Sullivan, the reigning US Champion, carry America’s hopes on their shoulders and are both great climbers so a course like this could play to their strengths. They'll be joined by another 50 professionals looking to show what they can do on the sports’ biggest stage of the season thus far.
Elite Men’s Start List
XTERRA World Rank - World Cup Position - Name, NAT
1 - 2 - Arthur Serrières, FRA
2 - 6 - Arthur Forissier, FRA
3 - 8 - Ruben Ruzafa, ESP
4 - 15 - Felix Forissier, FRA
5 - 3 - Sébastien Carabin, BEL
6 - 9 - Josiah Middaugh, USA
7 - 1 - Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen, DEN
8 - 16 - Maxim Chane, FRA
10 - 13 - Lukáš Kočař, CZE
15 - NR - Franco Pesavento, ITA
16 - 4 - Michele Bonacina, ITA
17 - 12 - Sullivan Middaugh, USA
19 - 17 - Xavier Dafflon, SUI
20 - NR - Sebastian Neef, GER
21 - NR - Jens Roth, GER
26 - NR - Scott Anderson, GER
27 - NR - Francois Carloni, FRA
29 - NR - Jules Dumas, FRA
32 - NR - Guillaume Meunier, FRA
33 - NR - Lucas Van Deynze, BEL
34 - NR - Mathias Cloostermans, BEL
35 - NR - Karel Dusek, CZE
38 - 19 - Dominik Wychera, AUT
42 - NR - Théo Dupras, FRA
45 - NR - Geert Lauryssen, BEL
48 - 17 - Keller Norland, USA
51 - NR - Tom Fisher, AUS
52 - NR - Jaroslav Kulhavý, CZE
54 - NR - Samuel Jud, SUI
55 - NR - Wouter Dijkshoorn, NED
56 - NR - Gaetan Vivien, FRA
61 - 21 - Andres Carnevali Del Castillo, ESP
69 - NR - Tomáš Strnad, CZE
71 - 24 - Branden Rakita, USA
75 - NR - Quinten Dewaele, BEL
77 - NR - Swiad Snieder, GER
78 - NR - Joeri Deleebeeck, BEL
79 - NR - Guillaume Desette, FRA
82 - NR - Quirijn Waaijenberg, NED
83 - NR - Gianfranco Cucco, ITA
85 - NR - Romain Loop, BEL
86 - NR - Tim Van Daele, BEL
87 - NR - Morgan Rhodes, GBR
89 - 27 - Pâris Fellmann, LUX
91 - NR - Matthias Gourgues, FRA
93 - NR - Thomas Sauser, SUI
96 - NR - Brian Tetard, FRA
99 - NR - Ruslan Farci, ITA
105 - NR - Lewis Williams, GBR
112 - NR - Bart Cooymans, NED
114 - NR - Colin Fleming, NED
120 - NR - Kris Coddens, BEL
NR - NR - Aaron Coppens, BEL
NR - NR - Thomas Epton, GBR
NR - NR - Joachim Libois, BEL
NR - NR - Anthony Pujades, FRA
NR - NR - James Shalvoy, USA
Saturday, follow the race on Instagram starting at 2:30pm local time.
Sunday, watch the live stream starting at 10:30am local time.
Find daily updates and full event coverage here.
All-time XTERRA European Championship Race Winners
Year Location - Men/Women
2006 Villacidro, Italy - Nicolas Lebrun/Renata Bucher
2007 Sardinia, Italy - Olivier Marceau/Eszter Erdelyi
2008 Sardinia, Italy - Olivier Marceau/Sibylle Matter
2009 Klopeinersee, Austria - Franky Batelier/Renata Bucher
2010 Sardinia, Italy - Franky Batelier/Melanie McQuaid
2011 Zittau, Germany - Olivier Marceau/Marion Lorblanchet
2015 Cranleigh, England - Ruben Ruzafa/Lesley Paterson
2016 Zittau, Germany - Ruben Ruzafa/Michelle Flipo
2017 Mons Klint, Denmark - Bradley Weiss/Brigitta Poor
2018 Zittau, Germany - Bradley Weiss/Brigitta Poor
2019 Prachatice, Czech Republic - Arthur Serrières/Morgane Riou
2021 Zittau, Germany - Arthur Serrières/Sandra Mairhofer
2022 Prachatice, Czech Republic - Arthur Serrières/Sandra Mairhofer
All-time XTERRA Belgium Elite Champions
2016 – Kris Coddens/Helena Karásková Erbenová
2017 – Ruben Ruzafa/Helena Karásková Erbenová
2018 – Francois Carloni/Morgane Riou
2019 – Yeray Luxem/Morgane Riou
2021 – Arthur Serrières/Solenne Billouin
2022 – Arthur Serrières/Marta Menditto
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