The off season is over and the XTERRA World Cup is officially on. It’s a huge step in the progression of off-road tri and guaranteed to deliver some of the most competitive elite racing the sport has ever seen. Taiwan is the first stop on the 7-stop, 12-race circuit and already the start list reads like that of a World Championship race. But there is one name to beat in Taiwan, a name that was almost unbeatable in 2022. That name is the reigning XTERRA World Champion, Arthur Serrieres.
If there is one thing that every pro athlete will know about Arthur Serrieres, it’s that he’s frighteningly fast on the feet. Without a big enough lead going into the final section, he will hunt down the leading position and almost never fails to catch his prey. At the 2022 XTERRA World Championship in Italy, Serrieres started the run in 3rd but still finished more than 2 minutes ahead of second place to claim the only title to elude him so far.
To put the speed of Arthur Serrieres into perspective, he is the reigning XTERRA World Champion, the reigning and three-time XTERRA European Champion, and the reigning and two-time World Triathlon Cross Tri Champion. He has a total of 21 XTERRA full distance wins so far, with 14 of those just in the last two seasons. Adding to all that, he also has two XTERRA Short Track wins to his name.
He undoubtedly enters the XTERRA World Cup as the favourite, but he’s also never been tested by the continuously high level of competition the new series promises to deliver.
“It’s a big step for XTERRA. It’s the best way to improve the level, to make it more professional,” Serrieres says about the new World Cup circuit. “There will be more money, more communication, more light on the event. So for me, it's the best way to improve the level of XTERRA and everything with XTERRA—it's great news.”
"It’s a new season and the first race so there will be a lot of surprises.”
The 28 year-old French athlete says he is curious to see “who will be in good shape” in Taiwan. Although the start list includes all his biggest rivals from the 2022 season, after winter and time away from racing, Serrieres says you never know what to expect from other competitors.
“Everybody works during the winter. Some people can just have the same level; some people can improve a bit. Some people are just not ready for the first race or can train a bit too much and not be ready. It’s a new season and the first race so there will be a lot of surprises,” he says.
Serrieres is already one of those surprises. While most of the top professionals will be in Taiwan a week or two before to adjust to the time zone and acclimate to the humid weather conditions of the tropical island, Serrieres only plans to arrive a mere three days before the race.
Training all winter at his home base in Montpellier, France, the stark climate difference will come as a shock to anyone who has ever taken on the heat of Taiwan. However, Serrieres explains that his travel decision was all about keeping the season in perspective.
“It’s the first race of the season and I don’t want to deal with jet lag. I just want to come, do the race, and stay on European time, to stay focused for the rest of the season. If Taiwan came later in the season, maybe I would make a different choice; but, right now, I think for me it’s the best way to start my season,” he explains. “Maybe it’s not a good way. We will see,” he laughs.
He keeps laughing when pressed about the humidity: “Yes, I am concerned!” But with the conviction you would expect from a world champion, Serrieres simply replies: “I’m ready for everything.”
None of the external factors of what lies ahead seem to shake his confidence, even the realities of the intensely tough and technical 29K bike loop that he has never ridden before.
Not only will it be his first time racing in Taiwan but it will also be his first time racing his new bike. Serrieres announced his partnership with Factor bikes for the 2023 season in February and will be riding the Factor Lando XC, Lando HT, as well as the Ostro VAM road bike for training and, possibly, the Slick, Factor’s road time trial machine. For Taiwan, he will be on the Lando XC which, he says with a sly smile, “It’s really good. I have 120mm of suspension so it’s a little bigger.”
He says he’s “in love” with the bike so Taiwan will be the first test to see if it’s a match made to take the tape.
With access to a Slick from Factor, Serrieres eventually admits he is looking to include some long distance road triathlons in the season but, he is quick to add, “I will focus on XTERRA and the World Cup.”
For him, off-road triathlon is still more interesting. “I think XTERRA is more fun than the ‘classic' triathlon because you play in nature and the vibe is more family— I will say ‘cozy.’ It’s totally different in 70.3 or something. People come and just do the race and go to the landscape of a big city and it’s not really attractive. XTERRA is more like a small family with really beautiful places, good vibes, good food, and, yes, maybe it’s hard, but not harder than other races, and it’s open to everybody.”
Road or XTERRA, World Cup or not, Serrieres speaks confidently about his ability to perform in any format. Arguably, there is nothing more validating than a world title but Serrieres says his confidence was really built in the years leading up to his world championship winning performance.
"If I am the favorite, I think I deserve it."
Throughout the years he was building his career, he says he always focused on his own progression, not the results: “I'm not a talented guy who has some facility in one sport, like running, cycling or swimming. I just work, work, and keep the process, and try to just improve my level. I think this is resilience for me. Sometimes I have a bad result and then I go back to training, train hard, and say, okay, maybe in five years I will be strong— and right now I think I am.”
His approach to training and racing isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a conviction. Since becoming XTERRA World Champion, Serrieres says he hasn’t changed. “I train the same way. I think the same way. My philosophy is just to push as hard as I can and try to give my best. For me, it's more about giving my best,” he explains.
Still, Serrieres admits he does feel pressure.
“I have the pressure of the biggest competitor, the favorite. At the same time, I have the pressure of being World Champion for the first time. So it’s mentally challenging. But it’s my own pressure, it’s not from outside. I don’t care about what people can say or like at a press conference and everybody says you are the favorite. If I am the favorite, I think I deserve it. If you don’t like this kind of pressure—I don’t know, you just have to be bad at races and you then never have to deal with it. It’s more about trying to be proud of myself,” he says. “That's why at the end of the finish line I cry,” he adds.
Referencing his emotional finish at the 2022 XTERRA World Championship, his tears show how heavy inside pressure can be. “I never thought I could be a world champion. Only two years ago I start to think I can be… Ten years ago or 12 years ago, if somebody said to me, you will be a champion, I will say, uh, you are joking.”
So, what has he learned from reaching the pinnacle of off-road triathlon that he is taking into the new season? Perhaps only that everything he already knew was right.
“With dedication and hard work, you can do so many things,” he says.
Whether those things include a win at the first-ever XTERRA World Cup, it remains to be seen but, in Serrieres’ mind, regardless of the outcome, there’s definitely no self-doubt.
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