Xterra World Champs 2018

Following a disappointing race in February at Challenge Wanaka I decided to make a couple of changes. First of which was to bring on Craig Kirkwood as coach, and secondly to focus on Xterra racing for 2018. I felt I had unfinished business at the Xterra World Champs and really wanted to target this race. Craig and I came up with a plan focused around performing well at this race and throughout the year I raced at Xterra NZ (2nd), Xterra Albay in the Philippines (3rd), and the Xterra European Champs in Germany (4th). These were all great stepping stones, giving me confidence that I was able to really RACE the best guys and that my training was building towards my end of year goal. Here’s a quick run down of how my day turned out…

The Xterra World Champs, held in Kapalua, Maui every year is one of the toughest Xterra’s in the world. There’s heat, big surf, a stacked elite field, and this year, a huge amount of mud. A usually relatively fast mountain bike and run course (although very hilly) turned into a mud fest, a constant battle between yourself and the mud to keep moving forward. We all knew that the day would be A LOT slower and harder than usual but I feel that most were caught out by just how brutal the day would be…

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Lining up at DT Fleming Beach on race morning we were treated to rough conditions. The surf had been relatively calm throughout the week but as usual for Xterra, race day brought a big swell with some solid waves breaking right on the shore. The swim is an M pattern from right to left (which follows the general drift of water down the beach). I lined up on the right hand side to counter this and had a great start, definitely my best at a World Champs race. I was quick off the line and first out through the breaking waves, leading for the first hundred or so metres before a few swimmers came around me. I wasn’t concerned with this as I was able to get on their feet and find my rhythm. After the first out and back (750m) I was safely in the first group. Over the second lap the group split quite dramatically and bigger time gaps were forming. I felt ok but didn’t feel like I was able to really push to hold onto the top swimmers feet. I came out of the water in a group between 10th-15th, around 1.20 down on the lead swimmer and ready to get to work on the bike.

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The key word for the bike is climbing. Straight away you are into your work, climbing from the beach. Because of the conditions, the race director decided to put us up old golf cart paths for the first climb so we didn’t have to climb up the muddy singletrack early. This was a very good decision and I was able to ride my way into the top 10 with Francois Carloni quickly. I felt decent early on but knew I had to save my matches for later on in the ride and the run. While I felt OK, I didn’t feel like I had the best legs and I wasn’t able to really push myself. I hovered around 8th-10th for the first two thirds of the ride, before losing quite a bit of time in the last 20-30 mins of the ride. Usually this part of the course is a strength of mine with tight twisting singletrack and pinchy climbs, but unfortunately I had to stop 5+ times ( I actually lost count) to clear mud from my derailleur and between my rear wheel and frame otherwise I could only ride in my smallest gear and my wheel would literally not turn.

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The run was the same. So slippery that it was hard to stand up, let alone try and run on the twisty, steep and off-camber tracks, and a ‘flat’ feeling that I had all day. Early on I was in a tight battle for 11th-12th but I was able to pull away towards the top of the 5km climb. I pushed the downhill as much as I was able to, trying to make my way back into the top 10 but unfortunately the time gap was too big and I crossed the line in 11th.

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Reflecting on the race I’m both proud and disappointed with the result. Proud because I felt I did all I could to get myself on the start line as best prepared as I could, and disappointed because I wasn’t able to put it together on the day. But that’s triathlon. You work all season for a few important days, and sometimes it goes your way, and others it doesn’t. All you can do is take the lessons (both positive and negative) and use them for the next race. So for now (after a few weeks off training to get married) it’s back to work, using the lessons learned to come back as a stronger, better prepared athlete.

Stay tuned for my 2019 race plans!

Xterra European Champs

Wow, Xterra Germany (2018 European Champs) was one hell of an event and race. I have been wanting to do this event ever since I was unable to race in 2013 due to illness. This year things lined up perfectly for me to make my return to Europe and race the European Champs.

I travelled to Germany quite late, arriving a few days before the race which gave me enough time to check out the course, but late enough to finish off all my hard training before I left NZ. I had a smooth trip over, and apart from being knocked around by the effects of jet lag for a couple of days, was feeling good. After checking out the course with Brad Weiss, Sam Osborne and Roger Serrano (who would end up being 1st, 2nd and 3rd in that order) I was pretty happy about my chances and thought that it would suit me really well.

The reason I travelled all this way for one race was to compete in a field that not only had the best athletes, but was also very deep. On race day there were close to 40 guys lining up. It is hard to get this sort of quality and depth in the Southern Hemisphere, and leading into the World Champs, I know I needed to experience racing against this sort of field.

Coming from the NZ winter (and straight into a scorching European summer) I was a little worried about race day bringing high temperatures. In the days leading into the race it seemed like I was going to get my wish with weather predicted to be mid-twenties with cloud cover. It’s funny how things change as although I woke up to a cool morning, once I had racked my bike in transition the clouds disappeared and things heated up quickly. With an 11.30am start time, it also meant we would be racing right in the heat of the day.

At 11.20am we were called to the starting box. The top 5 ranked male and female athletes were called up to select their starting position, but after that it was a free for all. The higher ranked athletes all chose a spot close to the ride side of the beach as it was definitely the fastest line to the first buoy (the swim course was two loops of a quadrilateral kite shaped course). This left the rest of us to be called up all fighting for a spot on the right hand side. This made for a pretty aggressive lining up situation and start of the race. I probably wasn’t aggressive enough to the first buoy and despite feeling like I was swimming ok, I was trapped in the second bunch. The rest of the swim was uneventful, exciting the water around 60 seconds down on the main front group with all the contenders.

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Luckily the group I was in had a couple of strong cyclists and early on in the bike I felt like we were riding well. After 10 minutes we had managed to catch a couple of stronger swimmers and reduce the size of our group down to five riders. I was feeling good and waiting until the main climb to put the pressure on. Unfortunately for me I had a really bad patch when we hit the climb and had to watch these guys ride away from me. For some reason my legs just didn’t have it, and despite feeling comfortable breathing, I just couldn’t go with them. I’m not going to lie, at this stage I was feeling pretty down as I felt the lead into this race had been the best I have ever had, and it was frustrating to watch these guys ride away. Things started to turn around soon after as although I wasn’t feeling the best, I was still catching a couple of the leaders out of the water. I got to the top of the climb in around 10th place and set about chasing the guys ahead of me on the descent. The downhills on this course are brutal, with sharp rocks causing three punctures on the pre-ride for Brad, Sam and Roger, so my plan was to ride reasonably cautiously. It seems everyone else was thinking the same thing as I was making up quite a bit of time when the track turned downhill. After 30 minutes of descents, flat gravel roads, and short sharp pinches I had made my way up to Sam and Francois Carloni who were riding in 4th and 5th. I heard things were pretty tight at the front of the field so I knew we had to keep pushing. We rode together into T2, and had closed the gap to 3rd to just 20 seconds.

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Onto the run and my legs felt a bit better than they did on the ride. I know Sam is one of the fastest runners in Xterra, and Francois can run as well, so I knew I would be in a battle for those 3rd – 6th spots. Sam pulled away early on in the run, but I was still moving quite well and caught and passed Maxim Chane who came off the bike in 3rd. I was now clear in 4th, and after 5km I was told that I was starting to pull time back to Roger who was in 2nd. I dug deep over the last 5km, but came up 3 seconds short of catching him, and ended up 4th (Sam had moved into 2nd with the fastest run of the day).

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It was pretty frustrating to come up short of the podium, but in retrospect I am happy with my performance considering the travel, and the fact I didn’t feel I had my best day. To tough it out and finish 4th in a European Champs is something I am quite proud of, and I am really looking forward to the Xterra World Champs in Maui on the 28th of October. I feel I am on the right track at the moment and am really excited to start my preparation for this race. A huge thanks must go to Craig Kirkwood and Henk Gruepink for all the work they have put in getting me to these races in great shape.

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You can find the full results from the race here: https://www.xterragermany.de/en/competition/results/ 

All photos thanks to Carel Du Plessis.