In a showdown for the ages that was full of surprises, mechanicals, and epic early season performances, it was the French who took the tape but perhaps not the French you expected.
Arthur Forissier passed seven-time world champion Ruben Ruzafa at the top of the grueling climb on the run to secure the top place on the men’s leaderboard, while Alizee Paties outran the XTERRA World Champion, Solenne Billouin, to claim her biggest XTERRA win yet and put her name at the top of the pile after stop #1. Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen had a brilliant day out to complete the men’s podium and Loanne Duvoisin came in close behind Billouin to complete the top three women.
Full results below and more details to come as we find out more from the athletes who are still recovering from a battle that will not soon be forgotten.
There’s a lot to dissect from what we just saw, so let’s start in the water where nobody deserves more mention than local hero Chang Chi Wen. This is Chang’s first year of XTERRA elite racing and just yesterday she was on stage speaking of what an honour it was to race against some of the best names in the sport, but today she exited the water a full 1 minute and 17 seconds ahead of the reigning world champ. And while she went on to DNF, she certainly gave the home fans plenty to scream about in the opening section of the race.
Michele Bonacina was the fastest man in the water, as he so often is, but there really wasn’t much in it with Felix Forissier, Lukas Kocar, Arthur Serrieres, Maxim Chane, and Arthur Forissier all right behind. But the takeaway here, and this will give the male field a lot to think about, is the presence of Arthur Serrieres. This was the first time the current champion finished the swim in the lead pack. He’s already lethal on the run, his biking is lightning fast, and now it looks like his swim is following suit.
Ruben Ruzafa was not pleased with his swim performance but there was never any doubt that he would make up for it on the bike, and he did so in just 10K.
But the drama we all anticipated on the bike course came in the worst possible way when Felix Forissier and Maxim Chane, who were playing cat and mouse with Ruzafa at the front of the race, both burst a tire on the same rock. Both will no doubt be livid as a strong argument could be made that either of them could have gone on to take the win. But the fact that they continued to ride 10K of one of the toughest bike courses out there, with a flat tire, shows just how committed they are and just how much results and points mean in this series.
Solenne Billouin posted the fastest bike split for the women, but it may have been Alizee Paties’ hydration strategy that made the final difference. Paties tailed Billouin for most of the bike section and used the time to stay fully hydrated in the crushingly hot and humid conditions.
And while much was made of the bike course in the build up to the race, it seemed to be the run that caused more destruction than any other section. This is where Ruzafa lost the lead to Forissier, where Billouin was passed by Paties, and where the lack of sleep and acclimation finally caught up with the champion Arthur Serrieres.
Special mention has to go out to Kieran McPherson (NZL) and Maeve Kennedy (AUS) who, apart from claiming the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champion elite title as the top pros from the region, both had an absolutely stormer of a race. McPherson, ranked 19th, missed a place on the podium by less than 20 seconds in a result that did not come as a surprise to him.
For Kennedy, also ranked 19th, this only strengthens the incredible start to the season she’s having after already picking up two wins in New Zealand, and further raising the bar for the APAC elite field.
It was a very different picture this year at the XTERRA Taiwan elite presser with a full panel of the fastest athletes from every corner of the globe up on stage.
Local legend Chang Chi Wen was joined on stage by Sandra Mairhofer (ITA), Solenne Billouin (FRA), Loanne Duvoisin (CHE), Alizee Paties (FRA), Marta Menditto (ITA), Carina Wasle (AUT) and Suzie Snyder (USA). For the men's panel, current XTERRA Champion Chiang Yen Ching was joined by Arthur Serrieres (FRA), Ruben Ruzafa (ESP), Arthur Forissier (FRA), Felix Forissier (FRA), Sebastien Carabin (BEL), Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen (DNK) and Maxim Chane (FRA)
Nobody seemed willing to make a podium prediction or comment on where they hope to place as there are still too many variables at play. First there is the off-season factor. While everybody remained active, it's yet to be seen who stayed at the same level and who levelled up. That will only be known after tomorrow's race. Then there is the trail. The consensus across the board is that both the bike and the run are one of the most challenging on the circuit and that tomorrow will be a big day out. Felix and Arthur Forissier seemed confident that they'd had sufficient time to get the bike course dialled in, as did Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen. Jens will be on a hardtail after mistakenly thinking the course would be mostly gravel, but he spent years riding a hardtail as a junior and there's a chance that having less weight on the bike could play to his advantage.
Ruben Ruzafa may also have a slight edge on the ride as he pointed out that the trails and hot and humid conditions are quite similar to his hometown of Aizarnazabal, Spain. The Spaniard has long been behind the idea of an XTERRA World Cup and hopes to finish the series on the podium.
Both current champions seem unfazed by the pressure of starting the series as the name to beat. But that's the kind of confidence that often comes with the title.
And while direct questions of who will win were largely unanswered tonight, tomorrow we find out. 12 hours to go.
With the sun just about to go down, the last of the pre rides and runs are just finishing up. Many of the elites spent parts of the day helping age groupers in the swim and bike clinics before heading out for a final recon.
Tomorrow is the calm before the storm. But we’re looking forward to hearing from the top 7 ranked men and women at the elite press briefing as they share their thoughts on the World Cup, the competition, and the trails that stand between them and the top spot of the leaderboard in a race that could be won by any one of them.
36 hours and counting...
It’s pretty much a full house in and around the KYAC with Paris Fellman, Lukas Kocar, Dominik Wychera and ‘the Boss’ Ruben Ruzafa all in the mix now. There’s been a lot of discussion about the trails and the consensus is loud and clear: this is one demanding course.
There’s just one name still to come, and that is the champion Arthur Serrieres who arrives tomorrow afternoon. He won’t have had the same time that the likes of Maxim Chane, the Forrisiers, and Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen have had to find the fastest lines, but the Frenchman was one of the first to point out that strategy will play a large role in a series this long, and this is no doubt part of his.
The heat is definitely picking up today but that hasn’t stopped many of the pros getting onto the course to pick their fastest route through the mountains of Kenting National Park. Felix Forissier was looking lightning fast coming down on the bike, as was his brother Arthur, Georgia Grobler, Xavier Dafflon, Solenne Billouin, and Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen.
More big names are set to enter the fray with Maxim Chané, Marta Menditto, Alizee Paties, Suzie Snyder, and Kieran McPherson all set to arrive in Kenting before the day is out. So expect things to only get hotter on the trails tomorrow.
It’s the first day of race week and the Kenting Youth Activity Center (KYAC) is starting to feel a lot like the Olympic Village as the elites begin to arrive in numbers. The temple-like red and white bricked buildings set to the backdrop of the same mountains where the race will take place certainly set the mood for the World Cup opener, and having so many elites staying in close quarters will no doubt make things interesting.
But not everybody has left it to race week to get familiar with the course and climate. The Forissier brothers have already spent a few days training in the northern capital of Taipei before heading south. Sandra Mairhofer and Loanne Duvoisin have been in Kenting since April 6th to acclimate while Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen and Solenne Billouin have had numerous opportunities to find their lines on the course since April 4th.
After a relatively cold week down south, it looks like the sun is set to return just as Georgia Grobler, Jessie Koltz, Xavier Dafflon, Elizabeth Orchard, Carina Wasle and Kate Bramley are set to arrive and make their way out to check the trails.
If the goal was to raise the game and take XTERRA elite racing to the next level, the start list alone for this opening race would say mission accomplished. This will, by a long way, be the single most competitive race to ever take place in the APAC region or almost anywhere outside of an XTERRA World Championship. Both reigning champs will be there. Every elite man and woman in the top five of the XTERRA World Rankings will be there. No less than 10 of the top 15 2022 male World Championship finishers will be there, and 10 of the top 20 females. It’s all the biggest names in off-road tri right now and not a single one of them is racing in familiar territory. And this is just the opening race.
To add even more fuel to the fire, each of the top athletes has an almost equal chance of taking this race. Male and female, any one of the top 5 could take it and even a few outside the top 5. It’s the first race back from a cold off-season for many and an opening race that will largely be determined by the heat, humidity, and one of the toughest bike courses on the series.
Arthur Serrieres has to be the favourite but he starts with only 3 days acclimation to the potentially suffocating heat and humidity. Ruben Ruzafa has been first off the bike in 9 straight World Championships and this is 100% a rider’s course. The Forissier brothers are the only 2 men to have beaten Arthur Serrieres last season and they will both have had a full 10 days of acclimation, while Sebastien Carabin will also be looking to capitalise on his immense strength on the bike.
For the woman is just as open and just as exciting. Each of the top 5 claimed victory over one or more of the other four last season. Sandra Mairhofer is the current European Champion, Solenne Billouin is the current World Champion, Loanne Duvoisin was the 2022 Short Track Series Champion, Alizee Paties was the 2022 XTERRA Greece and XTERRA Italy Lake Scanno Champion, and Marta Mendito, on top of being the 2022 XTERRA Belgium and XTERRA France Champion, has just claimed the first-ever XTERRA Oman crown under hot conditions. Every single one of these women has what it takes to win the opening World Cup race, and that’s just the top 5.
This will be nothing short of an all-out elite showdown and the course is one that can make an athlete just as much as it could break them. There’s a lot of speculation for now, but on April 15, everything will be answered on the trails of southern Taiwan.
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