When you think of Maui, cascading waterfalls, white sand beaches, and breathtaking sunsets come straight to mind but this magical Hawaiian island is also the birthplace of the what is described as the most notorious off-road triathlon in the world … XTERRA.
From a one-off race held on the most remote island chain in the world XTERRA evolved into an endurance sports lifestyle with worldwide appeal. Over the past 20 years it has transcended its status as ‘just a race’ to become a bona fide way of life for thousands of intrepid triathletes across the globe.
A fitting representation of this “XTERRA Tribe” – more than 800 athletes from 46 countries – will gather at Kapalua Resort and on Sunday, October 23, they’ll put their mental and physical toughness up against Mother Nature at the 21st edition of XTERRA Worlds.
The race starts at 9am with elite men, followed by elite women at 9:01am, then age group waves starting at 9:04am. Note: 9am in Hawaii is 8pm here in the UK and you can follow the race live through streaming coverage.
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More than 70 of the fastest XTERRA racers on earth are signed-up for the $100,000 showdown in Maui. For the men the hype starts with Josiah Middaugh, the reigning XTERRA World Champion. This year he won five majors and the Pan Am Tour title, but despite his recent success the 16-year veteran says he still has more to prove.
“Winning here last year was the highlight of my career, but hopefully not the pinnacle,” he said. “I still have a few things left to prove in this sport and since I was able to ‘crack the code’ once, it gives me confidence that I cando it again.”
To do it again Middaugh will have to get past a long and strong list of contenders. It includes last year’s runner-up Braden Currie, the XTERRA European and Asia-Pacific Tour Champions Ruben Ruzafa and Ben Allen, former Olympians Courtney Atkinson, Leonardo Chacon, Francisco Serrano, and Michi Weiss, long-distance stars Ben Hoffman and Sebastian Kienle, off-road specialists Brad Weiss, Roger Serrano, Rom Akerson, and Karsten Madsen, roadies-turned-dirt devils like Sam Osborne and Karl Shaw, and a wealth of young guns led by Mauricio Mendez, Felipe Barraza, Kieran McPherson, and Sam Long. The aforementioned accounted for 25 of the 30 major titles on the World Tour this year.
“Looking at the start list always gets me excited, but I know after so many of these races not to focus too much energy on any one person,” said Middaugh. “XTERRA is a race against the course and your race resume doesn’t help you here. The race will show who is best on this course on that one day and that’s all I need to worry about. I always tell myself that I don’t need to do something extraordinary here, rather put in the performance that I am trained for and capable of. If I do that, someone else will have to do something extraordinary to beat me.”
Ruben Ruzafa knows all about extraordinary, as he’s been labeled that three times on this course after his wins in 2008, 2013, and 2014.
“I feel good, strong and fresh,” said Ruzafa, who finished 3rd behind Josiah Middaugh and Braden Currie last year. “This year I saved more energy for this race, and I think it has been a good decision. I don´t know if I am the fastest I have ever been, but I sure feel good.”
And he has sure raced good too. He won XTERRA Reunion to start the year, finished second behind Roger Serrano at XTERRA Greece, then reeled off four straight wins at XTERRA Portugal, Switzerland, France, and Germany en route to capturing the European Tour Championship for the second time in three years.
“I havehad very good results this year, and I’m happy for the season so far but the most important races are now with Maui and then the ITU Cross Tri World Championships,” said Ruzafa. “This race in Maui is different from all the others. It’s the last one, on a beautiful island with people from all nations. I love the course. It’s hard, semi-technical with muddy parts, dry parts, long climbs, a twisty downhill and warm, humid conditions. It’s what a World Championship course should be.”
As for his goal on raceday, “I just hope to give my best. Be concentrated, motivated, and sure of what I can give.”
DUFFY FOR A THREE-PEAT?
Flora Duffy, the reigning and 2x XTERRA World Champ finished 8th in Rio this summer then upset the Olympic gold-medalist Gwen Jorgensen to win the ITU Grand Final and World Triathlon Series title. On Sunday, Oct. 23, she’ll try to tie Julie Diben’s record of three-straight wins in Maui.
“To win for a third time would be cool, and a special way to end what has already been an incredible year,” she said. “I love racing XTERRA and being involved with a completely different side of triathlon. It is such a hard race, but at the same time so rewarding.”
Duffy has tough competition with Lesley Paterson, a two-time XTERRA World Champ who could just be the grittiest triathlete on the planet.
For Paterson, who won this race in 2011 and 2012 and was the runner-up in 2013 and last year, the 2016 season turned from bad to good and now she is hoping it will end with great.
“The beginning of the year was awful – depression, Lyme flare up, wah, wah…” said Paterson. “Then it picked up and I had some great races discovering the world a bit – Tahiti, France, Italy. Found some amazing people and places.”
Paterson said her early struggles this season made her “mentally tougher,” which will serve her well come race day.
“I’m excited, nervous, ready to have fun and lay it down,” she said. “Its Worlds ya know, and all the big names come out and that course is tough, its gritty, has loads of climbing and definitely the strongest athlete wins on the day. There is nowhere to hide.”
Paterson is hoping to channel the energy she had in 2012. “That was my best performance,” she explained. “I came to defend with all the pressure on me and I delivered. Not only that, it truly was one of those performances that felt perfect in every way.”
Now in her ninth year racing XTERRA, Paterson says she loves the sport more than she ever has and her mantra for race day, “To be grateful, never give up … oh, and to win!”
Other contenders include Suzie Snyder who is back after missing last year recovering from a broken pelvis, and she dominated the Pan Am Tour with five wins this year.
“I think I’m close to, if not faster than I’ve ever been so I’m ready to see that hard work pay off on race day,” said Snyder. “I know there will be a lot of strong competition from women that I haven’t raced yet so I’m excited to see what I’m up against in Maui.”
The 2015 Maui amateur champ Julie Baker is now pro and won her elite debut this summer. We have Euro Tour stars Myriam Guillot-Boisset, who was 4th last year, Helena Erbenova who won five races this season, Michelle Flipo who won the XTERRA European Championship, Jacqui Slack who won in Malaysia and Carina Wasle who on in Saipan and Reunion Island. Add Asia-Pacific Tour Champ Lizzie Orchard and that’s a hard top 10 to crack.
Star-studded fields for sure, and with the unpredictable nature of XTERRA it really is anybody’s guess who will take the topstep on Sunday …