What an epic weekend it turned out to be.
The XTERRA European Championship held alongside XTERRA Czech and round 2 of the XTERRA Short Track series packed so much into a single weekend that it would be impossible to list everything that happened.
But after a week of letting it all sink in, sharing stories, and reliving the moments with those who were there, 4 undeniable truths stand out from a European Championship in Czech that saw a raucous crowd cheer local hero, Lukas Kocar, to a Short Track win on home turf and a double title defence from the reigning European champs, Arthur Serrieres and Sandra Mairhofer.
Put on your tourist cap for a minute and look at a map of Europe or any guidebook and it's unlikely that a town like Prachatice will be on your radar.
But less than just 2 hours away from the capital city of Prague, the small bohemian Czech town that is Prachatice has everything that an off-road athlete could dream of - open water swimming, incredible off-road cycling and running trails leading right from the centre of town, and a sports centre with multiple swimming pools and athletics track. But more importantly, it's a town rich in history and dripping with culture. From the architecture to the food to the spirit of the town, around every corner there is something to see and be in awe of.
In summary, come for the race, but stay for the town.
Being the outright favourite for a championship event is difficult.
Balancing your best effort against the weight of expectation is a difficult path to tread, especially in XTERRA where not only do your competitors do their best to derail your route to victory, but when the ever unpredictable mother nature also joins the party it takes a true champion to not crack under pressure.
Sandra Mairhofer was exceptional, managing her expectations in the swim before setting a blistering pace on the bike to reach the front of the race before the halfway point. From there on the Italian was in total control creating separation between her and the rest of the field to the finish line.
And Arthur Serrieres yet again showed why he is the hottest property in XTERRA racing right now. In the mix all day with top swim and bike splits, he destroyed the field on the run using his signature speed that nobody can match.
Every time the Frenchman races, he looks more and more dominant and reinforces the fact that he is the favourite whenever he steps up to the starting line. I don’t think we’ve seen an athlete like this since the era of Conrad Stoltz.
XTERRA Short Track was a concept designed for one reason and one reason only: Action.
And boy did we get it.
You can watch the full race replay here but you may have to hit rewind a few times to keep up with the number of overtakes and passes between the athletes that had thousands of fans screaming themselves blue. Especially in the men’s race, where Lukas Kocar held on to give the home fans the best possible result, while not a single position below him was safe until the finish line was crossed.
Check the charts below to see just how manic those races were.
But one thing that could not be missed was the atmosphere that consumed the entire town for three days straight.
With the event taking over the centre of Prachatice for the entire weekend, the transition and finish became the focal point of the town, where the tables and chairs from the surrounding restaurants and bars spilled out onto the streets to make it almost impossible to see where the town ends and the race begins. Young and old, athletes and fans, local and beyond, everybody was all in.
And around those tables people continued to gather all weekend to cheer, eat, drink, get tips and share stories. Tables of 8 quickly became tables of 25 as the XTERRA community showed why we never stop coming back for more.
It wasn't uncommon to see some of the best elite athletes in the world breaking bread with first-time age groupers, while veteran athletes spun tales of adventure and imparted words of hard-earned wisdom to wide-eyed juniors.
And if friendships weren’t already strong enough, they were cemented for sure at the post-race party, where athletic status doesn't matter anymore and dance moves count for everything.
Congrats to Arthur Serrieres and Sandra Mairhofer for taking the honours, but in truth we’ll all be taking a little something from that weekend.
Thank you Prachatice, we'll see you next year!
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