Felix Forissier of France and Loanne Duvoisin of Switzerland are the new reigning XTERRA European Champions after what has to be one of the fastest and toughest World Cup races we’ve seen so far.
It’s the first time either of the athletes have held the title and both will walk away with the full 110 World Cup points that come with a regional championship win. Arthur Forissier and Sandra Mairhofer finished in 2nd place, bagging 99 points each while Ruben Ruzafa and Alizée Paties rounded out the top three for a result that will see series leaders Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Alizée Paties stay on the top of the leaderboard, but with significant changes below. Full race report here, with more analysis to come.
The Short Track race tomorrow still holds a significant amount of weight so the standings are far from settled for Stop #3. Each of the 25 men and women on the Short Track start list will have the chance to go head to head for an additional 20 points or less tomorrow. Coverage starts at 10:30 local time, with the women’s race at 10:40 and the men at 12:10.
Official start list for elites below, with the action kicking off at 15:00 local time and available via livestream right here.
Arthur Forissier and Sandra Mairhofer have backed up their 2nd place finishes in yesterday’s full distance race with a powerful Short Track performance that will see the Frenchman and the Italian claim the full 20 points to add to their World Cup tally.
The win for Arthur Forissier gives him a near-perfect campaign in the World Cup series so far, taking maximum points in Taiwan and only just missing out on the double win in Belgium to his brother, Felix. Having only raced two stops he won’t have done enough to move above Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen yet, but he is well on track to start climbing the rankings if he keeps up this level of racing. For Sandra Mairhoifer, this was the kind of performance we’ve been waiting for. After not getting the start she would have wanted in Taiwan, she claimed her spot on the podium yesterday despite having issues with her tyre and put in a completely unanswered performance in the Short Track race today.
Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen took second place to keep his position at the top of the rankings and hold onto the golden cap, while Max Chané closed a sizable gap to take 3rd. The women’s series leader, Alizée Paties, also claimed a second place finish that will add to her comfortable lead at the top of the rankings, with XTERRA World Champion, Solenne Billion, rounding out the women’s podium. Results below with full race report here.
This is the biggest race there is in Europe and Felix Forissier and Loanne Duvoisin will know exactly what it means to have stamped their names on it. They now begin their reign as the XTERRA European Champions and with that the Frenchman and the Swiss have both significantly boosted their World Cup campaigns. Duvoisin will have her sights set on the series leader, Alizée Paties, as she moves into second place. Felix Forrisier only moves up to 7th, but with redemption successfully claimed after his mechanical in the series opener, this could be the first of many first place finishes.
Something else that made a difference, and one that nobody saw coming, was the heat. The uncharacteristically hot and dry conditions in Namur meant no mud to deal with on the trails and that the powerful riders could push harder and faster, leaving those following close behind to deal with the clouds of dust.
The dust, however, did not seem to be too much of a problem for the chasers as the full distance race on Saturday saw more overtaking than any other race in the series. After leaving the water, Felix Forissier climbed from 13th to 1st, Ruben Ruzafa climbed from 29th to 3rd, and Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen climbed from 38th to 4th. Josiah Middaugh passed a whopping 110 competitors on the bike to finish in 10th place and Sébastien Carabin, in what has to be some kind of a record, climbed from 198th out the water to an 11th place finish. Keller Norland stated in an AMA before the weekend that if he could have any other biker’s skills it would be those of Josiah Middaugh, and it’s clear to see why.
Surprisingly, XTERRA Champion, Arthur Serrières, and Olympic medalist, Jaroslav Kulhavý, were not able to find the same success. Kulhavý was out-ridden by the top 10 and finished 26th in the full distance, while Serrières admittedly “overcooked” his training and finished 12th.
Felix Forrisier, on the other hand, did not put a single foot wrong. The new XTERRA European Champion posted the fastest bike split and run split of the day in the full distance race and waited over 3 minutes to see his brother cross the line in 2nd.
There was also a fair amount of overtaking in the women’s race after a trio of British athletes took the fastest swim times, but it wasn’t long before Sandra Mairhofer, Loanne Duvoisin, Solenne Billouin and Alizée Paties made their way to the front.
Sandra Mairhofer might be left wondering if she could have taken a double win after having to deal with a tyre issue for a section of the full distance. She finished just over a minute behind 1st place in the full distance and went on to dominate the Short Track.
But nothing can be taken away from Loanne Duvoisin who posted the best bike split and the best run split to take a comprehensive full distance win. She’s already taken a Short Track win in the series and a full distance win felt almost inevitable. There is still a big gap between the Swiss athlete and the series leader Alizée Paties, but momentum is now behind her.
The results from Stop #3 means that the perfect World Cup score is now gone. The max possible points score in the XTERRA World Cup is 610, and to get that an athlete would need to win 3 Short Track Races, one Gold race, all 3 Continental Champs, and the World Championship. Arthur Forissier and Alizée Paties won the first continental championship, thus were the only ones with a shot at perfection if they won the European Championship in Belgium. But with Felix Forissier and Loanne Duvoisin taking the gold, those chances are now gone.
For now, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Alizée Paties will hold onto their gold jerseys, as the series heads for 2 back-to-back double-race weekends in the Czech Republic on August 12-13 and Germany on August 18-19.
Between the heat outside and pre-race rest, things are pretty quiet here at the Citadel. Tomorrow will not be the same. Tomorrow the crowds will be out in full force as so many questions will be answered when the race begins.
Can Sandra Mairhofer make it a hat-trick and become the XTERRA European Champion for the third year running, and can Arthur Serrières make it 4 in a row? This would be massive for their legacy and equally as impactful for the World Cup leaderboard.
Or, will this be the race where one of the Forissier brothers become the new fastest Frenchman in town? We’ve seen what they are capable of and a floodgate of podiums seems almost inevitable, but will it be the top of the podium? And for the female side of the French wave, will Solenne Billouin get the revenge she’s looking for?
Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Alizée Paties have earned the honour of starting in the golden cap here in Namur tomorrow and will have no intentions of giving that up. But with 2 races across the next 48 hours, we’ll soon find out who will don it next when the World Cup makes its way to Czech, Prachatice.
Who'd have thought that the heat was going to be such a big factor at a race in Belgium. The mud of previous years has turned to dust and people are swapping extra layers for suncream. Forecast for Saturday currently sits at 30°C. A big strategy shift for sure.
Speaking of strategies, the word on the street is that Jaroslav Kulhavý has fitted a 38-tooth chainring. Most athletes would need a 32-tooth just to get up the repetitive steep climbs! The 2x Olympic MTB medallist stated at the press conference that his intention is to do better than his 3rd place finish at XTERRA Garda. It won't be easy against a fully fledged World Cup field, but it would seem he is up for trying to influence the bike pace in his favour.
The defending female XTERRA European Champion, Sandra Mairhofer, is also now on site. She was out on the run course looking very carefully at all of the lines, looking for any advantage she can gain. After missing Stop #2 in Oak Mountain she’ll need to put in a solid performance in this race to ensure she is in the mix ahead of the second half of the series.
And finally, there has been a fair amount of talk around the ‘stairs of doom’. Everybody has seen it in the pictures and videos, but there is nothing quite like riding them in real life. They’re already drawing a crowd just in practice and will no doubt be the spot of choice for hundreds of fans ready to see the pros come in off the bike this weekend. Nerves will have begun racing with less than 48 hours to go.
It was just over 2 weeks ago that the Euro athletes had to go to battle on US soil for the first time in the series, and now the tables have turned with Josiah Midddaugh, Suzie Snyder, Branden Rakita, and the Project Podium crew, Sullivan Middaugh and Keller Norland, all in Belgium for Stop #3. It’s no short trip so rest and recovery has been a priority, but each of the athletes have been out on the course and come race day you can be assured they will leave everything they have out on the trails.
But these are not the only big hitters in town. The Hexatri team has pulled in with a new van, the team manager, and a fresh kit. A completely pro setup that they did not have in Stop #1 where Arthur Forissier still won. This team is ready to attack.
Reigning XTERRA World Champion and defending European Champion, Arthur Serrières, has arrived with his mechanic and a group of friends and seems completely stress free ahead of the race. His first impressions of the course are good - not too hard physically or technically but that will only serve to create fast and crazy racing.
Rounding out the big names to arrive at the Citadel that will no doubt be at the front of the race this weekend are XTERRA World Champion, Solenne Billouin, and World Cup leader, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen. Jens will don the gold gap going into the swim while Solenne will be out in full force to get back on track following Oak Mountain.
Race week is officially underway and already the Organicoach squad is out in full force. It’s as close as they'll get to a home race in this year’s World Cup and it looks like the entire squad is already looking for every inch of advantage they can get. The team is almost guaranteed a place somewhere on the podium this weekend with big hitters such as Alizée Paties (FRA), Marta Menditto (ITA), Michele Bonacina (ITA) and the man who will be racing on home turf, Sébastien Carabin, all looking to make an impact on the World Cup leaderboard.
Unfortunately Federico Spinazze (ITA) will not be on the starting line come Saturday. The winner of the 2022 XTERRA Sardegna long-distance race rolled his ankle at the Italian Cross Triathlon Champs last week, effectively ending his World Cup campaign before it began.
The weather looks like it could be a scorcher this weekend, which would be quite uncharacteristic for Northern Europe and could have a big effect on who the course favours. But a lot can change in a week.
A fitting venue for what could truly be a historic race as the second of the 3 continental championships is decided beneath the all-seeing Citadel of Namur. The XTERRA European Champion has long been one of the most coveted titles in a sport that is largely dominated by the region, but this time the battle for the crown amongst the European athletes arrives at a make-or-break point in the XTERRA World Cup, with a start list of athletes who simply do not break.
For some it’s the chance to solidify a lead that will be hard to lose, while others will be looking to finally make their mark in this World Cup as the series nears the half-way point. Championship pride aside, this will be a race of opportunity, survival and revenge.
Serrières is on a winning streak again and there’s not a single XTERRA fan who does not know how dangerous that is. Him and Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen will know what a win here will mean in the standings, but they’ll both be up against the full wrath of the men’s division. The in-form Arthur Forissier will no doubt be out to reclaim his lead while the lightning-fast Felix Forissier and Maxim Chané will be fuelled by pure revenge and redemption after their last outing in Taiwan. That’s not to even mention ‘the Boss’ Ruben Ruzafa, local hero Sébastien Carabin, Lukáš Kočař, or the USA’s Josiah Middaugh who was barely a minute off the pace in Oak Mountain and would love nothing more than to take maximum points at the first European stop of the series.
Alizée Paties will be acutely aware of what a win could do to solidify her lead, but just like Serrières, she’ll need to fend off some of the strongest women on the planet, each looking to make their mark and potentially dethrone the leader. Expect nothing short of fireworks up front between World Cup leader Alizée Paties, the XTERRA World Champion Solenne Billouin, and the XTERRA European Champion Sandra Mairhofer. Both Billouin and Mairhofer will not be pleased with their last World Cup outing and will be doing everything in their power to rectify the wrongs.
A double-feature event means more points and more money, and before the dust of the full-distance race has settled, the battles will begin again on the Short Track course. As Stop #3 of only 7, this is where the pace gets faster, the competition gets stronger, and everything is left out on the course.
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