It's the back end of the XTERRA racing season, the colours of the trees are changing, clouds hang over the tops of the mountains and it is getting dark much earlier in the evenings now. It's been a long but exciting season, so it feels fitting that it all ends with the big one - the 2022 XTERRA World Championship in Molveno, Italy.
On Saturday, October 1st at 09:00, the fittest, fastest, and most skilled women of the sport will take to those aforementioned mountains in a bid to capture the most coveted title in Cross Triathlon.
The race will undoubtedly be a spectacle, serving as a true testament to the ever-rising strength and unity that we’ve seen in the XTERRA female community throughout the season.
To appreciate just how good we have it now, we need to remember how we got here.
For starters, just 28 women finished the first XTERRA back in 1996. But this Saturday no less than 223 women representing countries across the world will take their place on the starting line in Molveno.
But far greater than just numbers is the ability and willingness of each generation to push and inspire the next generation of female athletes that follows.
Ever since Michellie Jones won the very first XTERRA World Championship in 1996, each generation of athletes has helped push the field to new, unprecedented levels.
Athletes such as Jamie Whitmore, Melanie McQuaid, Julie Dibens, Lesley Paterson and Flora Duffy all came and conquered the World Championship and forced the rest of the field to go spend the off-season preparing to come back stronger, faster and better prepared for a shot at redemption next time around.
This snowballing effect of strength, speed and skill has not only influenced the front of the race, but also encouraged those at the back, leading to bigger fields at races, increased depth, and more difficulty predicting podiums at races around the world.
Perhaps another reason for the strength and depth of the female racing field is the undeniable and unmistakable culture of acceptance and encouragement that exists in the XTERRA community.
There is a genuine sense of collaboration between competitors.
On countless occasions throughout the season we’ve seen athletes be part of the same race team, share accommodation, and enjoy meals together despite being direct competitors. This may seem counter-productive at first until you realise that the friendships forged by this only serve to push the level of racing higher.
The success of your peers inevitably pushes your own level, which in turn pushes the level of racing, creates better competition, and increases financial and sponsorship opportunities for elites.
This progression of women in XTERRA doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t come around because of a singular individual effort. It happens as the result of a group working together to raise the game race after race, year after year - a rising tide lifts all ships.
As Olympic Champion Flora Duffy is unfortunately not returning to defend, the legendary Lesley Paterson is the only athlete on the start line who has previously been World Champion. And while you can never, under any circumstance, write the tenacious Scot out of any race, the Hollywood screenwriter has had a crazy summer schedule with the launch of her latest film, potentially paving the way for someone from the next generation of female racers to step up and take their place as the new XTERRA World Champion.
There are a number of contenders who will be sure to be up front and pushing hard right from the start on Saturday morning. But of all the uncertainties that the course, the weather, and the race will bring, one guarantee is that the level of female racing will take yet another step forward, with new racers inspired to join in.
But no matter who is crowned as the next female XTERRA Champion, you can be sure there will still be hugs all round.
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