2023 has been a landmark season for multiple reasons, but it all comes down to one race as 750+ of the world’s best head back to Italy to compete on the biggest stage there is in off-road tri.
It’s been just short of a year since the first ever XTERRA World Championship to be held on European soil played out beneath the towering Brenta Dolomites in what many called the most epic race of all time. It was the year the elements conspired to give the world’s best the toughest test possible, where a dominant Arthur Serrières completed a near perfect season with tears in his eyes and Solenne Billouin shocked the world.
But what has happened in 11 months since then may have set the stage for something even bigger as the XTERRA World Championship returns once again to the chilly waters of Lake Molveno and the unforgiving trails of Trentino for the second of three years where Italy will host the pinnacle race of the season.
Since that day we have seen a deeper field of pros go head to head more times than ever before with the launch of the XTERRA World Cup. New names have risen to the top, season-long battles have formed, and the level of racing has reached record heights in both the men’s and the women’s division. Big on-road names have tried their hand in off-road, some able to add an XTERRA title to their trophy cabinet while others learned the hard way that nature can be one tough competitor, and more XTERRA races added in new locations around the world has increased the depth of talent in the age group division that is now set to descend on Molveno, Italy to settle the season once and for all.
As the sport of off-road tri progresses, so too does the level of every athlete. This will be the biggest difference in a year where XTERRA took a giant leap forward. Both reigning XTERRA World Champions and the large majority of age division World Champions will be standing on the shore of Lake Molveno, ready to defend their titles, but so too will a new wave of worthy competitors looking to take their turn to lead the pack.
This was the year where cross-tri shifted gears, and that will be on full display in the final race of the season. There are no second chances in a World Championship race. Come rain or shine, on September 23, a new class of Champions will stamp their names on a ground-breaking season of XTERRA racing.
If the XTERRA World Cup has shown anything, it’s the unprecedented rise in competition within the women’s field and that every single one of the top ranked athletes in the series has what it takes to get onto the top step of the podium come September 23.
The majority of the top half of the female leaderboard has gone shoulder to shoulder in no less than 10 races so far in the series, yet still it has come down to the wire as the final stop plays out at the XTERRA World Championship.
Alizée Paties is by no means a newcomer to XTERRA but 2023 will be remembered as her breakout year. Her decision to become a full-time pro athlete for the second time in her career was timed perfectly with the launch of the XTERRA World Cup, and since winning the opening race in Taiwan she has remained unchallenged at the top of the leaderboard.
The Frenchwoman’s technical skills on the bike and speed on the feet have seen her stand on the podium 8 times in 9 races in the World Cup series so far, with the only time she didn’t make the podium being the Short Track race in Germany where she clocked a DNF after breaking her handlebars. It’s also worth noting she has made 2 clean sweeps - winning both the Full Distance and the Short Track on the same weekend - in the 5 stops she has raced in the series.
“My preparation for the Worlds started in July and I’ve done good work. I’m confident and relaxed but it’s a race where you have to be at 100%.”
A win for Paties would be the perfect end to a career-defining season as she would also be the first double champ in history (World Champions and World Cup Champion), but she also has it all to lose as she is not out of reach in the World Cup and faces the stiffest competition yet in the World Championship.
The defending World Champion shocked the world last year when she was the first to run through the crowds and across the line to claim the title, but this year she proved that her 2022 win was no fluke. She may have only had a few XTERRA wins to her name at the time, but the race was just the beginning of a strong upwards trajectory for the French athlete who is now a podium regular.
Billouin holds immense power on the bike and feet, and that is exactly what is needed on a course with some large climbs and the potential to get muddy if it rains. That power has driven her to 6 podium finishes from 8 starts in the XTERRA World Cup, including a clean sweep of both the Full Distance and the Short Track at Stop #4 in Czech.
Now sitting in 3rd place in the XTERRA World Cup, the reigning World Champion is in a position to swim, bike, and run herself into becoming a 2x World Champion and the first ever Champ-Champ. The numerous battles between Billouin and Paties will undoubtedly make the highlights reel of the 2023 World Cup, and we’ll surely see the two go to war once again in Molveno.
Sandra Mairhofer was the favourite to win last year, and many will have her pegged as the favourite again this year. The multi-sport queen has won the hearts and respect of the Italian Nation with podium finishes inside and outside of XTERRA this season, and will undoubtedly have the nation behind her when she steps up to the water of Lake Molveno.
The 2x XTERRA European Champion and 2022 World Triathlon Cross Champion has honed her skills on the bike to become arguably the biggest threat on 2 wheels within the women’s field, and backs that up with speed in the water and on the feet that is capable of matching any of the other top contenders.
Mairhofer got off to a slow start in the XTERRA World Cup but was largely on track to challenge for the top position in the second half of the series before a crash in Czech derailed her campaign. Since then the Italian has turned her focus to recovery and the World Championship race, where she will no doubt be up front in the leading pack.
“After my crash I had some weeks off from training to heal properly and prevent future injuries. But I will give my everything to show up and race hard at Worlds.”
The current XTERRA European Champion has beaten the best when it matters most, and the consistency she has shown this season will give her the confidence to do it again. Stop #3 of the World Cup was seen by many as a dress rehearsal for XTERRA Worlds given the depth of the Elite start list, yet it was the Swiss athlete who rose to the occasion to claim the title.
Duvoisin can lose time in the water, but she often more than makes up for it on the run. Multiple claims to the fastest run split would point to her being the fastest on the feet in the female division, and if she can hold the wheel of those up front, it’ll be on the run course that she takes the race.
Consistent strength in the XTERRA World Cup has seen Duvoisin on the podium 6 times in 9 starts, and she now finds herself in 2nd place - just 7 points above World Champion Solenne Billouin. Depending on how the race plays out, each of the top 3 - Paties, Duvoisin, and Billouin - have the opportunity to end the season as a double champ.
Marta Menditto enters as the second local hero in the top contenders and, much like Sandra Mairhofer, her current World Cup ranking can not be considered as an accurate reflection of the kind of performance the Italian is capable of delivering. She is a fighter till the end and will have the crowd behind her every step of the way.
Menditto claimed the top step of the podium in her first race this season at XTERRA Oman, but despite 3 podium finishes in the World Cup, she has not made it to the top step. Yet consistently competitive racing sees her in 4th position in the series.
“I will not change a lot about my preparation from last year: a lot of sleep, good Italian food, some little efforts to keep the body ready, and then full gas!”
The 24 year old is getting faster with each race and has shown that her greatest speed comes on the run. With two World Championships remaining in Italy before the pinnacle event finds its next location, Menditto will surely be motivated to find herself on the podium either this year or the next.
The men’s division has become increasingly fierce this season, with no room left for error anywhere on the course as the margins in all 3 disciplines grow slimmer.
There is not much that divides the XTERRA purists on the World Cup leaderboard, but their fight for those crucial points that will make the difference has just been made a lot more interesting as 2 big names from the on-road world have thrown their hat into the ring for the 2023 XTERRA World Championship.
The reigning XTERRA World Champion was basically unstoppable in the 2022 season and, after a bit of a shaky start in 2023, it looks like he may be unstoppable once again. One of the most driven athletes to ever compete in XTERRA, the Frenchman will start in Molveno knowing that he has what it takes to repeat what he did this time last year.
“I did 2 altitude training camps, 6 weeks before Czech and Germany and just over 2 weeks directly after. I am quite happy about the work I did up there.”
Serrières had an uncharacteristically bad start to the season with a 7th place finish in Taiwan and a 12th in Belgium, but he was quick to counter those mistakes by taking to the top step of the podium 5 times in the World Cup - more than any other athlete - including 2 clean sweeps of the Short Track and Full Distance races on the same weekend.
While the gaps may be getting smaller as the competition grows stronger, he is still the undisputed fastest man on the feet. His closest competitors are well aware that without a significant lead going into the run, he will hunt them down. The worrying part, however, is that Serrières’ improving swim and bike times are making it increasingly hard to create a gap ahead of the run.
The battle between Felix Forissier and Arthur Serrières will be the one to watch as the two Frenchman left World Cup fans with the ultimate cliffhanger in their final race before XTERRA Worlds. Forrisier is the stronger biker while Serrières is the stronger runner, but neither was able to drop the other on the bike or the run as the two finished the Germany Full Distance race with just 7 seconds between them.
There was a lot of speculation at the beginning of the season that this would be the year of Felix Forissier, and so far that speculation is proving to be true. The French athlete has quietly claimed the titles of 2023 World Triathlon Cross Champion, the 2023 XTERRA European Champion, and now has his sights firmly set on the 2023 XTERRA World Title.
The 25 year old is in 2nd place in the XTERRA World Cup, and a win at XERRA Worlds would be enough to see him claim double-champ status. He can hold almost anyone on the bike and last time out he showed that he can keep pace with the fastest runner on the circuit. There is a new race for Fastest Frenchman in town, and it’s bound to deliver fireworks.
Ruben Ruzafa has already written himself into the XTERRA history books by being the first off the bike in 9 consecutive World Championship races, and there’s a high chance he’ll make it a perfect 10 this year.
The 3x XTERRA World Champion and 4x ITU Cross Tri World Champion is unarguably the best biker on the circuit and, despite being considerably older than the likes of Forissier and Serrières, he still sets the pace on the bike whenever he races.
His World Cup campaign took a turn for the worse when a broken wheel in Germany left him with a DNF and without a 4th scoring Full Distance race, but a last minute trip to Beaver Creek in the USA saw him race his way into 4th position and within range of becoming a double champion if he can hold the gap when he inevitably starts the run alone.
Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen has established himself as a household name amongst XTERRA fans this year. Finishing 4th at last year’s XTERRA World Championship, he went on to become a podium regular in the XTERRA World Cup. He led the first half of the series through consistently good results, but without ever making it to the top step of the podium, he eventually lost that lead and now sits in 4th position.
The Danish athlete ranks alongside Ruzafa as one of the best bikers in XTERRA and has shown more than once this season that he is capable of overtaking 20+ elites to get to the front of the race. He is vocal about his weakness in the water, but you can expect him to push to the front of the race in Molveno as he looks to be the first into the run. Sloth Nielsen is getting faster on the run, and if he can head into the final 10K with enough of a gap, he could hold it to the end.
Sloth Nielsen is measured in his approach to training and racing, and there is a feeling that once he starts to find himself at the top of the podium, it may be the start of many, many more to come.
The first of the big on-road names to make things difficult for the XTERRA purists in Molveno this year. Lagerstrom hardly needs any introduction in the on-road community and made himself known in the off-road community too this year with 2 XTERRA races so far.
Lagerstrom raced on home soil for his first XTERRA race at Stop #2 of the World Cup in Oak Mountain USA, where he famously took XTERRA World Champion Arthur Serrières down to the wire and showed that he has what it takes to push XTERRA’s best. At Stop #5 in Germany he finished 5th in the Full Distance against a far more competitive field.
Lagerstrom does not have the experience on the XTERRA World Championship course that the returning athletes do, but he does hold the potential to cause a huge upset for those with podium plans.
A last minute entry that will no doubt send a ripple of worry through each of the male top contenders.
Bradley Weiss enters as the second of the big on-road athletes to contest for the biggest prize in off-road tri, but unlike Lagerstrom, Weiss comes with a proven XTERRA track record. Of the last 3 XTERRA World Championships the South African has raced, he’s won 2 of those and come 2nd in the other.
Weiss is an incredibly strong biker, with his roots in cross-tri before he shifted his focus to a career in road triathlon. The 2x XTERRA World Champion and 4x IRONMAN 70.3 Champion just finished 7th in the IRONMAN World Championship after suffering a 5 minute penalty, and now looks to bring that speed to Molveno as he challenges for the XTERRA World Championship.
It’s hard to know what form the South African athlete will be in when it comes to off-road, but the showdown between Weiss, Serrières, and Forissier is a frighteningly exciting thought.
On what will undoubtedly be a crispy morning in Trentino, Italy, a total of 750 off-road triathletes will take to the shore of Lake Molveno in search of greatness. No less than 56 nationalities will be represented, coming from as far afield as Zimbabwe and Aruba, with the French once again showing up in numbers with 144 athletes looking to bring championship crowns back to French soil.
Of the 28 reigning elite and age group champions, 22 will be returning to defend their title.
Leading the race will be the fiercely competitive elite field, where 105 professional athletes will look to make their mark in off-road tri. Of these, 69 make up the male division with 39 contesting the female division. Reigning Champions, Arthur Serrières and Solenne Billouin, will both be on the line in the hopes of back-to-back Championship wins.
A clear indicator of a growing sport, 372 athletes - 111 women and 261 men - will be racing their first ever XTERRA World Championship, bringing fresh energy and a new challenge to those returning.
But special mention goes to those who have always returned, with 6 athletes rightfully claiming their place in the 20+ XTERRA Worlds club. The legendary Josiah Middaugh, 2015 XTERRA World Champion and 15x National Champion, will be returning once again to make it a total of 22 XTERRA Worlds races. Lorenn Walker, at the age of 71 years young, will be making it 23 this year. At the age of 80, G L Brown will be racing his 24th, while Cliff Millemann and Jay Heller will soon have 25 championship races to their name.
But nobody can compare to the one man who has raced them all. Steve Fisher first raced XTERRA when it was called Aquaterra back in 1996. Since then he has raced every single XTERRA World Championship, including last year when the event rotated to Italy. Fisher has faced incredibly difficult times recently following the Maui fires, but we are overwhelmed with emotion to know that, against all odds, Fisher will be in Molveno to make it an incredible 27 XTERRA Worlds Championship races to his name.
But no matter whether it’s your first race or your 15th, every athlete has a story that has led them to that starting line. A story that makes just getting to the start an achievement and the finish even more meaningful - even if only to yourself.
Many of the 2023 World Champs qualifiers were kind enough to share those stories with the XTERRA community through our Celebration of the Human Spirit series. Through the series we received an inspiring open letter to athletes over 50, we heard of unbreakable spirits and eco warriors, we heard of the power of family, how XTERRA is family, how couples who qualify together stay together, and so much more. You can read each of these in part #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6 of the series.
These are the stories that truly inspire us all, and athletes are encouraged to share any meaningful Molveno experiences with us by writing to email@example.com so we can share that inspiration with the greater XTERRA community.
The swim course is "M'' shaped with a start on the left side of the beach facing the lake. After a first buoy, athletes will swim back to the beach for the Australian exit and jump back in the water from the pontoon for the second loop. Water temperatures should be between 16°C to 19°C according to data from previous years and the water itself is expected to be flat but it could be choppy in the event of windy conditions.
The bike course is 2 laps of 16K each. After a 3K flat loop around the lake on a narrow single track, the course rises for the next seven kilometres with a mix of large gravel trail and some more rocky, steeper parts, sometimes with rocks, to hit the highest point of the course at the 10K mark. It’s all downhill from there until the end of the loop. The first part is quite easy with good grip and the second part is more technical with roots and rocks that can be slippery in rainy conditions, before riding through Molveno Village and getting into the field of play with wooden ramps and all the spectators cheering athletes on.
The run course starts on the shore of the lake, then follows up with a nice gravel flowy trail with gentle ups and downs for the first 1.5K. Then runners will enter the technical part of the course with single tracks featuring roots, technical ups, technical downs with some steep and slippery parts. After a short but steep downhill the end of the course will be very fast on a large fire road back to the finish.
The 2023 XTERRA World Championship will livestream direct and for free right here on xterraplanet.com via the XTERRA Live page. Please note, social media is rife with scammers during this period, so fans and spectators are encouraged to only follow and watch through verified channels.
Updates and stories will be posted throughout the race on the XTERRA IG page, as well the links to follow live timing
The Elite race starts at 10:00, with age group athletes beginning their bid for World Championship glory at 11:15 local time.
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