It’s been two weeks since we drove out of Molveno and still the stories keep rolling in. And while we wish we could share them all, none could be more deserving than those who earned the right to officially call themselves XTERRA World Champions.
In this two part series, we meet some of the incredible amateur athletes who won age group XTERRA World Championship crowns in Trentino, Italy to find out when they took the lead, how their day unfolded, and what the win meant to them. Here is what they had to say…
“It was the most beautiful day of my life, sportingly speaking,” exclaimed Raymond Ferry, who spent the week leading up to the race in a van at the Molveno campsite with his friends and family.
Ferry was the 20th man in his division out of the water and then passed everyone on the bike and took a 6+ minute lead into the run. He held on to that lead against a hard-charging Francois Consentino, the 2021 XTERRA World Champ in the 60-64 division, to win his first world title.
Here he reminisces on his magical day (thanks to Google translate)...
“Woke up at 6:30am and had a good breakfast, a bowl of white rice with a generous drizzle of honey and basta as our Italian hosts would say. Time flies this morning. It's the long-awaited big day for so many of us, and the tension is palpable. At 10:10am, as promised, the 50+ wave I am in throws itself furiously into the water. Despite the cold, the buoys arrive quickly. My arms far ahead, it’s easy to concentrate in such perfect water. As I dive in for the second loop, now the water is not even cold. The last buoys swallowed, I arrived at T1. “Top 15” shouts my wife, Nathalie, always my first supporter. The gaps are small, so it’s up to me to play now. The mountain bike is my strong point, and this circuit pleases me, even the wet conditions of these last hours suit me well as I come from the Vosges. I live in Epinal, precisely a stone's throw from the mythical XTERRA France race in Xonrupt. I knew I had to have a big bike, and I did. On my first lap around I crunched my opponents one by one...what a kiff!
On the second lap I broaden the gaps. I love this type of terrain, and especially these tracks made by real specialists with a mix of everything. Arrived at T2 with 6 minutes ahead of François in 2nd position. A good little cushion, but no question of loosening. I still have in mind XTERRA Worlds in 2019 when I was in the same position, but then fell back after a very painful cramp (Note: He endup up 3rd by 30 seconds!). So, I must not lose focus by thinking about a possible victory. The end is the line. Fortunately, the trail also pleases me a lot, well thought out and built for all types of runners. I galloped at the rupteur without ever turning around. The final stretch will remain engraved forever, an unforgettable moment, assured and inevitable tears of joy. Finally, at 63-years-old and free of any professional constraint, I hold this coveted title.
This is my first and hopefully not the last.
"The final stretch will remain engraved forever, an unforgettable moment, assured and inevitable tears of joy."
By choosing Molveno for Worlds, the whole philosophy and values of the concept are represented. What better ambassador than a country where the bear still thrives and in the morning the deer slab resonates. How not to be blown away by this unreal emerald lake, and the brightness of its waters that challenge the pupil to a higher point. Now, raise your head and it is the grandiose spectacle of the needles of the Dolomites that enchants. Trentino...I didn't know. Here we have discovered another little jewel of our planet to absolutely preserve. And finally...it's not a legend..pizzas are excellent in Molveno 😉 Thank you XTERRA family, you have it all figured out.”
It’s long been an XTERRA tradition for the sports’ brightest young stars to win an XTERRA World Championship in their age group before going pro. As proof, a remarkable 15 of the elites who raced in Trentino won an XTERRA amateur World Championship crown first. Legends like Suzie Snyder, Alizee Paties, Loanne Duvoisin, and now … Solene Marnoni.
The youngest female in the field at just 18-years-old, Marnoni posted the fastest swim, bike and run times in her division, was the second amateur overall behind only Carole Perrot, and had the 15th best finishing time ahead of 15 elite women.
With speed and maturity beyond her age, here is what Solene had to say about her day…
“I am still far from being the best swimmer, but yet from the swimming part I was leader of my category with a few seconds ahead of my runner-up and 7th woman. I had a lot of fun on this very complete bike circuit which required good physical and technical skills. The weather of the day didn't make things any easier with long muddy sections that caused me to slip up on the descent and to derail three times. The XTERRA’s are - in my opinion - races where it is important to know how to manage your effort, your nutrition, your hydration, and above all, your emotions when this kind of incident happens to you.
The running part was also very pleasant: both hilly and technical, but sometimes also with flatter areas ideal for resetting your stride and boosting. It was with a lot of euphoria that I crossed the finish line and got the world champion's title in my category. And also to be ranked 2nd Age Group and 15th - on time - in the elite women's category which allowed me to get my place on the start line for the XTERRA Short Track race the next day.
I was coming off the European Cross Triathlon Championships the week before in Bilbao (Spain) where I took second place. A week later, I was in Molveno and won this magnificent W18/19 World Champion title, which marks the end of a beautiful and rich 2022 season for me!
"I am also very happy to join the professional elite category next year on the XTERRA circuit!"
This is the first year I discovered this race format and I already hope to continue for many years to come. I am also very happy to join the professional elite category next year on the XTERRA circuit!
The valleys of Molveno were beautiful. It was really ideal to have such a beautiful XTERRA circuit not far from home. The organization was top and the atmosphere was crazy! In spite of the cold weather, our superb speaker Chun and all the Italian public warmed us up and made this weekend an unforgettable one!”
From an 18-year-old phenom to a 22-year-veteran of XTERRA Worlds, the sport spans generations.
Lorenn Walker, the second “oldest” in the field at 70-years-young, is one of the true pioneers of XTERRA. She won her first XTERRA World Championship in 1999, and her ninth on October 1, 2022.
In between, she’s raced 100’s of XTERRA’s all over the world and inspired a generation of adult women to get up, get outside, and go off-road!
Here is what this year’s title means to her…
“It’s thrilling that so many more women are doing XTERRA Worlds today! When I started in 1999 at age 46 on Maui, there were only eight women in age groups 40 and above. In Italy, there were 91 women aged 40 and over!
Having done 22 Worlds (missed one due to a broken shoulder), my main concern this year racing in Italy was swimming in cold water. Thank goodness my awesome Orca wetsuit and neoprene cap made swimming in 61 degrees just fine! Fortunately too, the air temperature warmed up race day and the bike wasn't freezing (but I did see my breath high on a mountain pedaling uphill hard).
While the bike course was wet, muddy, pretty steep, and technical in sections, my Santa Cruz Tall Boy with mud tires kept me going when others stopped. The run was absolutely beautiful. Careful to not get hurt, I was pretty conservative on the bike and run (and sorry for those who had to lap me on the bike in the fun berm section!).
What made the race extra special this year was traveling with my XTERRA friend and competitor, Barbara Peterson. We met doing Worlds in Wailea over 20 years ago and became friends for life!”
2022 brought back-to-back titles for the 20-year-old from the Czech Republic, and despite the target-on-her back going into the race, Barbora Stupkova came through!
Here is a glimpse into her day, in her words…
“I went into the race with a lot of humbleness. I won the 15-19 category last year in Hawaii, so a lot of people expected me to try to defend my title. But I kept my feet on the ground. I was hoping for third place at the most, but I didn't believe I could win again. Even in a higher category.
I didn't find out I'd won until the finish, until then I thought I was second or third. And when my parents told me that I was in the lead for most of the race, it took my breath away. The whole time I only knew about the one girl which I overtook down the hill, but I thought someone was ahead the whole time. Having been around the XTERRA circuit this year, I know where the girls are at, so I wasn't expecting it, not really.
I went to Molveno with my friends, Kuba, Martin and Misha, who were all racing too. We stayed in Andalo in a beautiful family apartment. We arrived on Monday, a week before the race, because I like to be able to ride the bike course more than once because I want to know what to expect.
I really liked the accessibility of this race. My family could come to see me and there could also be a stronger Czech team. I fell in love with the Italian mountains during the week and I look forward to more races in this country. I really liked the race in Molveno. Amazing atmosphere, lots of familiar faces and beautiful scenery for the whole race. I was quite scared of the cold water, but in the end it was okay, and I even enjoyed the jump into the water on the second lap.
I don't really like the cold, but honestly this weather was perfect. If only there wasn't so much mud up the hill I would have enjoyed it more, but at least I practiced putting the chain on quickly. Going into this race I was having major restlessness going downhill, my head didn't want to listen too much. That was the main thing I had been working on during the preparation before the World Championship, and it also rubbed off in the race because on the downhill I was riding all by myself, and didn't care about any mud. I dropped my chain a few times (if my service guy saw me trying to clean the mud off with a joint drink he'd kill me), but I'm off to the depo and out for a run.
Running is my favorite discipline, and I was really looking forward to it in Italy because the course was awesome and nutritious. I was smiling the whole time. I was running and not stopping till the end. When I reached the finish line, I was happy to finally be at the finish line after almost four hours. But when my mom started yelling at me that I won, I didn't understand, I didn't get emotional at all, and I then let the tears flow.
"I love the atmosphere that XTERRA races have and I love XTERRA because for me, it is family.”
I was really looking forward to the promised three-course dinner and of course the announcement after the long day. It was a nice ending to a busy day. But perhaps I was looking forward to the after party even more, as a reward and to start the rest. For me, the after party was really fun. I had the chance to meet new people, and especially last year in Hawaii I met a guy from America, Will Stacey, and this year he had the opportunity to come and race here in Europe. It was good to see him after a year and to have a good time together again.
For me, it was probably the best race I've ever done. I enjoyed it from start to finish. And I'm looking forward to next season. I love the atmosphere that XTERRA races have and I love XTERRA because for me, it is family.”
Elke Innerebner lives in Vienna, Austria where she works as a translator and interpreter, but she’s from the Trentino region and winning a World Championship in her backyard made the visit home a quite exceptional excursion.
“Racing here in the amazing mountains and the beautiful lake of my home region was very special,” she said. “I had almost the perfect race. I think I got the lead about halfway through the bike and that was it. The day was so fun, muddy and a bit cold, but fun!”
As the reigning elite mountain bike marathon champion of the time, Birgit Jungst-Dauber from Germany got a wildcard entry into the elite field at XTERRA Worlds back in 2003.
“And that was when I started loving XTERRA,” she exclaimed.
Despite not having any experience in triathlon, let alone swimming or running, Birgit finished 11th overall in that first race. She’s got a lot better at swimming and running since, and is now a force to be reckoned with in the amateur ranks.
Her win on October 1, however, didn’t come easy. She explains…
“One of my hardest competitions ever!! Not because of the route, my biggest problem was the cold! On the first bike descent I was shaking and wanted to give up. But I also wanted to get warm so I started the climb on the 2nd bike lap and luckily, I was already in the lead there.
I had raced in Molveno in 2021 for the European Cross Championships, and won that title, but it was a lot warmer last year. It’s a very nice area, Molveno lake and the bike park is one of the best. I live in Germany’s backcountry and am the project leader of a mountain bike park, and the mountain biking here is so good I try to come back here with our youth athletes for training.
I may have won the race, but my dog, a Windhund - whippet named Sunny, was the star in Molveno. Everyone wanted to take a photo with her. Even me. My favorite photo from the trip was this one after the race with Sunny and me in my champions jersey!”
There were a lot of great stories coming out of Trentino this year, but Laura Coombs' tale is hard to beat … she got a wedding ring AND a world title!
“The day after the race we took the gondola up to see more of the area and Zak proposed to me with the Dolomites as the backdrop,” she said.
YES! And the day before was pretty good too. She explains…
“It was quite the day. Started the swim out well, exited as one of the lead females in my wave, and then immediately went over the bars on the first ramp out of transition, as someone stopped right in front of me. I thought, well, we’ll see how the rest of the race goes!
Got back on and rode pretty easily as I was stuck behind some people, and was finally able to make some passes during the long climbs. Tried my best to ride all the mud sections, but was continually walking many of them, as most people around me were as well. After the first loop, at least I knew what to expect! Was relieved to be back in T2 without a mechanical or any issues after going through all that mud.
Having not previewed the run, (I had enough to worry about trying to get that bike course down!), I had no idea what I was in for! Luckily, some of the guys I met during the last part of the bike offered encouragement and it was great to run with some of them for a bit. My friend who came to watch the race ran out to some challenging spots to cheer me on (that first very steep concrete ramp to the trail) so that was very helpful. I felt pretty good overall and was able to give it all I had into the finish.
Having my aunt, best friend, partner Zak and his daughter there made it special, along with it being my first race out of the country in such a stunning location! I didn't expect to win my age group, so that was a wonderful surprise. I loved the area, and bonding with athletes from all over the world as we were pushing our bikes through the mud and laughing about it.”
In 2014, Johann Mathis won the XTERRA World Championship in the 35-39 division. Eight years later, he’s back on top.
Born in Gerardmer, a small town in the heart of the Vosges mountains very close to Xonrupt where the very beautiful XTERRA France takes place, Johann started competing in triathlons as a child and teenager, before stopping for a few years. He got back into it in 2009 after almost a 10-year break, when XTERRA arrived in Xonrupt. He was hooked, and has only missed one race since.
This is his story about title No. 2…
“I really enjoyed this World Championship in Molveno. First of all, even if the weather was not ideal, the site is really pretty and perfect for XTERRA!
As for my race, I knew it would have to be taken full advantage of because after winning in my age group eight years ago, I dedicated a lot of my time to triathlon and I decided that now was the time to slow down!
After an almost perfect start in swimming in the crystal clear waters of Lake Molveno, I started in 4th position in mountain biking.
I immediately put a lot of intensity in the first kilometers of the climb to quickly make the difference and take first place. The very muddy passages put me in doubt at first because my grip wasn't very good, but in the end it was almost the same for all the participants!
"When it got really difficult, I thought of my children and my wife, it gave me even more energy!"
I therefore managed the descents very carefully before applying maximum power on the following climbs. When I put the bike down, my legs were still good and my friends informed me of my first position. That gave me wings and I wanted to leave very quickly to secure my victory. When it got really difficult, I thought of my children and my wife, it gave me even more energy!
In the last kilometer, I really enjoyed the moment, and took the time to share with my friends who were waiting just before the finish line. It was unforgettable! And…the post-race pizza with my friends is definitely on the podium of the pizzas I've eaten so far.”
We met Georgia before the race (story here) and discovered an adventurous college student from South Africa who is studying abroad in the Netherlands and exploring every inch of the EU.
She said it would be “like a life dream to win my age category in Trentino.”
Well it did come true. Here she explains how…
“As you probably know - it rained for three days straight before the race so the bike course that I had recced was definitely not the bike course that I did on the day, buuut I’ll come to that later.
I had a really good swim (besides the dive that we needed to do halfway through - I instead did a bomb drop because, embarrassingly, I can’t dive without my goggles falling off my head). After the swim I was 3 mins down from the lead which is very normal for me so I wasn’t too stressed!
The bike course was tough and that’s an understatement! I felt like I was doing a cyclocross race with getting off and on my bike whilst trying to clear the mud from my front chain and using my water bottle to rinse my cassette! My strong point, which is normally the technical downhills, turned into sliding down the muddy hills holding on for dear life playing bumper cars with the person next to me!
I had a nasty fall on the first lap resulting in a bloody knee but luckily with so much adrenaline pumping I didn’t really feel it until after. Anyways, I held my own in terrain I was not used to coming from dry South African tracks, and went into the run still 3 mins down.
Running is most definitely my strongest discipline, and I always get excited to put on my running shoes after the bike! The course has technical forest routes and steep uphills but also fast flat sections and that suited me well! After 4km into the 10km I had taken the lead in my age group but didn’t let that get to me and still pushed like I had someone to catch until I reached the finish line.
It was a brutal but beautiful event and I will look back on it fondly! I still can’t quite believe that I am XTERRA World Champ of my age group, but it makes me smile when I think of it … makes me realize that all my dedication and hard work has paid off and all those times I couldn’t go out with my friends because I was training seems like it was worth it.
Knowing that my dad traveled all the way from South Africa to support me and that I was able to come away with the best result I could’ve hoped for makes me realize I will remember this day for years to come! It is a special memory and a day that I will never forget.
I loved Trentino! It’s beautiful, magical, and has everything that an XTERRA needs - a crystal clear lake, vast mountains with smooth tracks and a forest with incredible trails to run in! Plus, the food is incredible - pizza, pasta, ice cream - you name it! And all run by Italian people who are so happy to have you in their restaurants! The people were friendly, inviting, and overall very accommodating. I got to spend the week with my boyfriend and my dad exploring the town, going up bike lifts and doing the single tracks down and playing loads of card games whilst drinking Italian coffee!
"It was a brutal but beautiful event and I will look back on it fondly!"
I think my favorite story would be going up and down on Sunday after the race on the ski lifts and cycling down the single track! I had the best time cycling down the mountain and not having to cycle up! I also loved watching the short track - both mens and women! It was so intense!!”
Memoirs from Molveno is a two-part series profiling the XTERRA champions of 2022. To see part 2, click here.
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