The French speedster is officially back to his winning ways but not without a fight, while Alizée Paties showed that Taiwan was no fluke with a dominant performance to make it two wins in a row.
To say that today’s race was manic would be an understatement. It began with Eric Lagerstrom blitzing the swim in just 19:43, putting almost 30 seconds on the “Shark” Michele Bonacina. Not content with that, the American went on to extend the gap to almost a minute on the first half of the bike, proving to be every inch the wild card we expected him to be in this race. But as so many predicted, it all came down to the run and, like so many times before, this is Serrières’ hunting ground. The Frenchman claimed his first win of the series in 2:25:30, just 22 seconds ahead of Lagerstrom and 54 seconds ahead of Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen in 3rd.
It was a very different picture in the women’s race where Alizée Paties had possibly her most dominant performance yet. Samantha Kinsford was first out the water, but not by far, and for almost half the bike loop the repeat of the Paties vs Billouin bike battle was on until Paties pulled away and the current champion suffered a mechanical that all but put her out of the race. From there Paties did not look back and took the tape nearly 5 minutes ahead of 2nd place Marta Menditto and Samantha Kingsford in 3rd.
It may be a win for Serrières and a double for Paties, but this was only round 1 of a two-part battle. Tomorrow they all go head to head once again in the first Short Track race of the series. Official start list for elites below, with the action kicking off at 15:00 local time and available via livestream right here.
Switzerlands’ Loanne Duvoisin made it known that she is still the name to beat on the short course after claiming the overall win of the 2022 XTERRA Short Track Series and the first Short Track race of the 2023 World Cup, while XTERRA Champion Arthur Serrières claimed the double win and maximum points at Stop #2 in Oak Mountain.
Duvoisin exited the water 15 seconds back but stamped her name on the race with the fastest bike and run splits of the day. Alizée Paties claimed second place to keep her name firmly at the top of the World Cup leaderboard while New Zealand’s Samantha Kingsford took third for her second podium of the weekend.
Arthur Serrières’ message that he is back in full force will have been heard loud and clear by the men’s division after claiming the full 120 World Cup points in Oak Mountain to put him in second place overall in the series. The top three, Arthur Serrières, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen, and Michele Bonacina put on the kind of show that Short Track is designed to deliver, riding the last lap wheel to wheel and all coming into transition together. But Serrières was fastest out of transition and put his speed on the feet to work, claiming the win 17 seconds ahead of Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen in second and Bonacina in third.
Stop #2 ends with Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen in first place on the leaderboard and Arthur Serrières in second, making Stop #3 in Belgium - which will likely see the return of the Forissier brothers, Maxim Chané and Ruben Ruzafa - undoubtedly one of the most high-pressure races of the series so far.
Love it or hate it, Arthur Serrières is back and possibly even stronger than before. The XTERRA Champion was practically unbeatable in 2022, but after 2 disastrous starts to his season, some wondered if the tides were beginning to turn. That was until he set the record straight in both races this weekend. The Frenchman's speed in the run remains unanswered and now with his swim and bike getting increasingly faster, the question is how much time do you need off the bike to keep Serrières at bay?
Serrières’ win sets up possibly one of the biggest showdowns in recent history at Stop #3 in Belgium in June. Serrières coming off a win in Oak Mountain, Arthur Forissier coming of a win in Taiwan, Felix Forissier recently claiming the World Triathlon Cross Championships in Ibiza and Maxim Chané looking for redemption after a mechanical in Stop #1 - all of these athletes are peaking at the same time and all of them need this win in some way. And that’s before we even start to mention the other names that will be hunting that top spot on the podium in Belgium, such Sébastien Carabin who will be racing on home turf.
If the European racers didn’t know who Eric Lagerstrom was before, they do know. The expectation was that Lagerstom would be the first out of the water but lose ground on the bike and the run, but that’s not what happened at all. Yes, he blitzed the swim, but he also blitzed the bike and the run to come in just 38 seconds behind the current XTERRA Champion. Lagerstom has the XTERRA World Championship firmly in his sights, and that should be a worry for the entire men’s division.
Another strong statement this weekend came from the USA’s own Josiah Middaugh. Father knows best, age is but a number, experience matters - whatever cliche you want to throw out there, Josiah Middaugh is still a contender. At 44 years old, Josiah Middaugh posted the second fastest bike and the second fastest run of the day. Remove the swim from the occasion and the older Middaugh takes it. The most decorated XTERRA athlete in the US has waited years for the XTERRA World Cup, and missing the podium by just 16 seconds shows just how much it means to him and just how much of a threat he still is.
Alizée can dance, both off and on the course. Finishing the full-race with a traditional French Cancan as she crossed the line in 1st position, Paties demonstrated just how much of a force she intends to be this season. We recently covered how this is Paties’ second attempt at being a full-time professional athlete, having made technical, physical and mental changes to her game, and in Oak Mountain she showed once again that it’s different this time.
The same goes for Marta Menditto who placed 2nd in the full distance and 4th in the Short Track. Done with school and now focused purely on off-road triathlon, Menditto showed what she’s capable of with a lightning fast swim and run. We also know she can be extremely powerful on the bike, so expect her to break into the Paties-Billouin show later this year.
Loanne Duvoisin may not have had the performance she hoped for in the full-distance race, but on the short course she showed why she is the reigning XTERRA Short Track Champion after taking the 2022 stand-alone Short Track series. After exiting the water 15 seconds behind Paties, she put down the single fastest bike and run split of the day to take the tape 14 seconds ahead of 2nd place to show exactly why the Short Track course is her arena.
Sadly we did not get to see current XTERRA Champion Solenne Billouin compete in the Short Track race, where she is also a powerhouse competitor, after a mix up following her mechanical in the full-distance race.
And then there’s newcomer Lisa Becharas of the USA who quietly finished 6th in the full-distance on Saturday in her first XTERRA ever. It’s always interesting to see fresh blood coming in to break any form of status quo that may be forming, and Lisa Becharas may be just that. This will be a name to follow as the season plays out.
Stop #3 in Belgium is next, and already it feels like the temperature just got turned right up. The event also doubles as the XTERRA European Championship, one of the most coveted titles in the sport after the World Championship, which is sure to add even more fuel to what already feels like a raging fire. Two stops down, five to go. This World Cup is getting heated.
After a mammoth start to the XTERRA World Cup on the blisteringly hot trails of Taiwan, where for every question that was answered another was raised, the 35 day wait for more is now down to the final hours. Tomorrow speculation ends and the battles begin. Will Arthur Sérrieres tear through the pack and make his mark on the series? Will Eric Lagerstrom get revenge on this course after a DNF last time out? Will Alizée Paties repeat Taiwan or will Samantha Kinsford stop everybody in their tracks? And will we see an American on the podium? Tomorrow, we find out.
The female field is largely evenly matched in the water, with the top ranked contenders expected to exit in a pack to set up a huge battle on the bike course. For the men it’s different. Michele “The Shark” Bonacina, Keller Norland, Eric Lagerstrom, and Elliot Bach are at another level and will almost certainly hit the trails with a gap on everyone else. But will it be enough to keep ahead of riders such as Sam Osborne, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Sébastien Carabin?
Male and female, it’s likely going to come down to the final kilometres with a primal run through the purely singletrack course. Every position from 1-25 counts for points, so expect multiple battles to play out as athletes claw to get to the front with every stroke and stride. Less than 24 hours to go.
It’s nothing but a waiting game now with the full start list of Stop #2 of the XTERRA World Cup officially on site here at Oak Mountain. Both XTERRA Champions, the Middaugh duo, the Sam’s of New Zealand and the exciting wild card that is Eric Lagerstrom are all here, just to name a few, and the hype is certainly building.
Triathlon legend Bob Babbitt set-up his Breakfast with Bob show at Double Oak Lake to chat with all the biggest names competing this weekend, while the XTERRA Media Crew got athlete insights from those looking to close out the race on top.
Heavy showers came down today but were unable to stop the Pros from getting out on the course. The Kiwis are now here in full force with Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford riding through the rain and describing the course as being in “mint condition”. Both athletes have been vocal about how much they enjoy the OM bike loop and both have claimed victories here before. New Zealand’s Kieran McPherson and Lizzie Orchard are now also in the mix. Orchard is coming off the back of a win at XTERRA Weston Park last weekend while McPherson arrives as the newly crowned APAC Champion after his stellar performance at Stop #1 of the World Cup.
Over a dozen countries are now represented and the universal comment on the bike loop seems to be, “this isn’t like anything we’ve got in Europe!” Even the weather can’t seem to stop the fun as the trails are so superiorly built that they drain straight away.
The water in Double Oak Lake is warm, so it’ll be a no-wetsuit swim for pros when the action starts this weekend. 48 hours to go.
Race week for stop #2 in Oak Mountain is officially on as the XTERRA truck makes an appearance along with some of the top competitors who will go head to head twice this weekend. XTERRA Champion Solenne Billouin (FRA) has already been out on the bike course making the infamous Blood Rock section look almost easy, which goes to show how next-level so many of these World Cup riders are. The current series leader Alizée Paties (FRA) was also out pre-riding with Organicoach crew - Marta Menditto (ITA), Michele Bonacina (ITA), and Sébastien Carabin (BEL) - getting their lines dialled in before a strong afternoon downpour ended the party.
The all-American duo Josiah and Sullivan Middaugh are also in town and immediately took to the bike course. Josiah has raced Oak Mountain 16 times, claiming 5 golds along the way. Sullivan is joined by his teammate Keller Norland from USAT’s Project Podium, and all 3 will no doubt be racing with purpose and trying to get an American Flag on the podium this weekend. More to come as the week unfolds.
Oak Mountain is the first stop on US soil and the first of 5 lightning-fast short track races. The winners of the full-distance race will take 100 points while the made-for-TV short track race the following day will offer the chance to claim another 20. However, these are 2 very different races and never before in XTERRA history has the winner of the full-distance race gone on to win the short track race.
But the start list is a juicy one and there will be many who are eager to claim a double win. Both XTERRA Champions will be racing, with Sérrieres surely fired up to correct the ‘mistake’ of his opening race and Billouin no doubt keen to take maximum points after being edged into 2nd place in the final section of the race in Taiwan. But they’ll have their work cut out for them as they take on not only the rolling hills, stream crossings and the technical, pine-studded ridges of the southernmost part of the Appalachian Chain, but also the direct mental and physical challenges that will keep coming at them all day long from some in the best in the sport.
This is another race that could easily be defined by the bike course, with 1,650+ feet of climbing, 7 potentially slippery bridges to cross, and very few clear places to pass, so it’ll come as a relief to some that Ruben ‘the Boss’ Ruzafa is not on the start list. But Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Sébastien Carabin are and they will for sure be setting the pace up front with Kiwi racer Sam Osborne who has claimed victory at the last 2 Oak Mountain full-distance races.
Equally as spicy is the addition of local heroes Josiah and Sullivan Middaugh. Middaugh senior postponed his retirement to race the World Cup and has claimed 5 victories on this course while his son Sullivan, now part of USAT Project Podium, will likely come out firing on all cylinders.
In the women’s race, Alizée Paties starts as the series leader and after the performance she delivered in Taiwan it’s likely that she will be in the top-contender conversation for some time to come. She is fit, powerful, and her technical skills on the bike are second to none. But if she comes out of the water with Solenne Billouin it could be fireworks all day, just as it was in stop #1.
There is also Loanne Duvoisin, for whom a victory in this series seems almost inevitable. She finished just seconds behind Billouin in Taiwan and looked as if she could go another round. Now, with another month of fitness behind her, she could be trouble for the leaders in all three sections of the race.
Rounding out the leading pack will be USA’s own, Suzie Snyder, and New Zealand’s Samantha Kinsford. Snyder put in a powerful performance in Taiwan to claim 6th place and has won Oak Mountain 3 times, while Kingsford is keen to prove her skill on a ‘proper MTB course’ and has already done so once before when she took the tape at the same venue in 2021.
It’s sure to be a big day out in Alabama, where mental and physical battles will continue from the first stroke to the last step and even spill over into the short track race the following day.
The adrenaline-fuelled short track race will be live streamed directly from between the tapes, with two triathlon Hall of Fame announcers, Bob Babbitt and Jamie Whitmore, bringing fans into the action as the same racers who battled it out the day before will go head to head once again in an all-out sprint across the condensed course. And with an additional 20 points at stake, the ST race could easily swing the balance of who comes out top at stop #2 in the USA.
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