There are many ways to qualify for the XTERRA World Championship in Maui. And none of them are easy. Whether you qualify at altitude at XTERRA Beaver Creek or in the humidity at XTERRA Costa Rica, the battle is hard-fought and usually muddy.
And that’s just the beginning. Once you earn your spot at Maui, the real work starts when you toe the line with the best amateur off-road triathletes in the world. From the intimidating waves on DT Fleming Beach to the tropical roller coaster of a mountain bike ride, the XTERRA World Championship is an endurance challenge like no other.
This year, the 15-19 age group features some of the most promising athletes of the next generation. Canadian Tate Haugen easily took the age group win at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship last month in Utah and was the top amateur of the day, but Kiwi Lewis Ryan didn’t have his best race. Both are known to rise to the competition, so expect them to shine in Maui. And you can’t discount Benny Smith (pictured below), who won at Beaver Creek or Will Stacey who won at XTERRA Oak Mountain. Melvin Handjian, from France will also be strong and and ready to mix it up.
In the 20-24 bracket, Petr Ondrej, from the Czech Republic was the overall amateur champ at XTERRA Germany and may be the favorite from Europe. He will be joined by Dylan Friday, who qualified at XTERRA Beaver Creek and Facundo Jaramillo, from Chile. Friday finished a good distance back from Nelson Hegg at XTERRA Beaver Creek, but Hegg – who will turn pro next year – will be sitting Maui out.
“For the 25-29 age group, Pierric Brochet (pictured below) from France was the top amateur in the European championship,” said Nico LeBrun, former XTERRA World Champ and technical director of XTERRA Europe. “He just discovered his real potential in the last races.”
LeBrun also favors Repo Valtteri of Finland, Gregoris Souvatzoglou of Greece, Arnaud Taurelle of France, and Andreas Giuseppe Zenanga from Italy.
This strong European contingent will be joined by Victor Arenas from Columbia, who is currently third in the Pan Am Tour standings. From the US, Lukus Klawitter – who won the age group at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship – may be the biggest threat to the Europeans. Humberto Rivera, who was right behind Klawitter in Utah and was the top amateur at XTERRA Oak Mountain, has been remarkably consistent this season. Alfredo Valdes, who was about 12 minutes behind Klawitter in Utah last month, could be one to watch, depending on how he likes the terrain in Maui.
Moving up to the 30-34 bracket, LeBrun has several picks.
“Pierrick Page of France will be one of my favorites in this age group,” said LeBrun. “He was in the top ten in Malta, he won his age group at the ETU Cross Tri Championship, and he wants to race pro next year, so he has a plan. But he will also have Sebastian Kuefner of Germany on his heels as well as Jaakko Makela, who was sixth overall at XTERRA Finland. If Makela can survive the Maui heat, he will be strong.”
The US athlete to beat is probably Brett Tack (pictured below), who was the 30-34 age group champ at XTERRA Oak Mountain, the top amateur at XTERRA Beaver Creek, and the top American amateur at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship. This year, he’s been working on his swimming form, which may mean that in Maui, he is on his bike before the course gets too kicked up, giving him an advantage. Brent Mattison, who only a few minutes behind Tack in Utah, will also be flying to Maui to fight another day.
Last year’s top 10 at Maui in this age group aren’t on this year’s start list, so there is no telling what will happen this year. Just about the only thing we are certain of is that the vegan ice cream send-off party hosted by Texans Jordan Winar – the US rookie du jour – and 12-time US regional champ, Kyle Grieser (35-39), should not be missed if you happen to live in Austin area.
In the 35-39 bracket, reigning champ Alejandro Bulacio from Brazil, is the favorite going in. However, many of the top seeded athletes on the Pan Am Tour, as well as the best athletes from the Pan Am Championship ended their season already, opening up spots for some scrappy up and comers. LeBrun is looking forward to watching Juan Andres Cano Cuevas from Spain, Magnus Olander from Sweden, and Nathanael Fruchard from France. Pablo Ureta, from Switzerland, who was 4th last year at Maui, will also be a threat.
“Steve Fergusson (pictured below) who won the Euro Tour, might lead the swim and one part of the bike in this age group too,” added LeBrun.
This is a large age group with about 65 athletes, meaning that excellent competitors may be overshadowed by the few who make it to the podium. Some of these talented workhorses include Allan Cruz from Brazil who was 4th at XTERRA Brazil, XTERRA Chile, and XTERRA Argentina. He could make the top 10 at Worlds if he has a great race. And Americans Kyle Grieser, AJ Petrillo, Matthew Monnot, and Hans Ryham have all had winning seasons this year. In short, how this age group shakes out at Worlds will provide some clarity into who to watch next season.
The 40-44 age group has even more athletes than the 35-39 slot, which is no surprise in XTERRA, as this age seems to be the sweet spot for balancing youth with mountain bike experience. Yannick Antoine, of Belgium was third in Maui last year, so he obviously has experience on the course. And Americans Garren Watkins (pictured below) and Michael Dorr have extremely high pain thresholds, which will serve them well. Watkins is also a strong swimmer, which could get him out of harm’s way on the bike while Dorr is a runner at heart, so he may bring it home in the final minutes of the race. And neither of them are slackers on the mountain bike. David Dornaus, who practically tied with Dorr at XTERRA Oak Mountain, will also be at the race, so that may be a fun match up to watch. Finally, Shane Niemeyer and Ryan McMullen are steady athletes who perform consistently and well, usually claiming a podium step in US Championship races.
Samuel Pourchez from France is another talented athlete, and if he has the fitness, LeBrun believes he will be fierce out there. Basilo Polvillo Rogerio from Spain, had a great day at XTERRA Portugal, so he could be a top contender as well.
Martin Ralph, from New Zealand is the only returning athlete who finished in the top 10 in the 45-49 age group last year. (Whether they have aged out or simply want to keep their bikes clean this year remains a mystery.) Juan Pablo Jaures from Chile and Pablo Marcos from Argentina, are at the top of the Pan Am Tour standings and will be strong contenders for sure. Jaures was the XTERRA Brazil Champ, the XTERRA Argentina Champ, and was the runner up at XTERRA Chile. Marcos was in the top ten at XTERRA championships in Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Argentina.
Colorado racer Rife Hilgartner is still out with an injury, but Americans Stefan Laursen, Brad Mitchell, and Eric Snowberg – who finished second through fourth at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship last month – will lead the charge in Maui. Snowberg finished 15th in this age group last year at Worlds. Joost Van Ulden of Canada, should also finish near the top.
For the 50-54 age group, Arnaud Bouvier from France and Todd Gottfried from the US finished second and ninth respectively last year in Maui and will be back this year. They will be challenged by 2017 Pan Am Champ Joe Cooper and Andy Kelsey, who was second in his age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain and third at both XTERRA Beaver Creek and the Pan Am Championship. Grzegorz Zgliczynski, who won this age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek, and Darren Cox, who was the XTERRA Oak Mountain age group champ, will also be fighting for the podium.
“Armand Survillo of Poland will be one of the fastest athletes in the 55-59 age group,” said LeBrun. “But I will bet on Marco Lanzetta from Switzerland, who won four races this year in Europe.”
They will all be charging after returning champ Gregory Ball, who will going for his second straight win for this age group.
“On the 60 to 64 category, look for the first two in the Euro tour raking: Leigh Plowman of the US and Zdenek Orner from the Czech Republic,” said LaBrun. I will also watch out Stefano Polianti of Italy, who was far ahead in his age group at home in Scanno. And the one who might be the strongest, is from Portugal – Carlos Cabrita Coreia.”
In last year’s race, John Davis and Scott Forrest went two, three, and both will be back. Tom Monica, who finished at the top of this age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain and at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship, might continue his winning streak.
In the 65-69 age group, LeBrun favors the Frenchman, Alain Gaudefroy. “Jean Louis Couste and Juerg Binia from Germany may also podium.”
In the 70-74 division, reigning champ Roger Kern (pictured below) and last year’s runner up, GL Brown will once again face off.
Others to watch for on the course include Guenter Weichhold, Daniel Rose, GL Brown, and Ron Hill. In our physically challenged division, we know we will be wowed by kama?aina Ed Fattoumy, John Davis, Craig Vogtsberger, Andre Szucs, Thomas Giannettino.
Of course, the beauty of XTERRA is the athletes who will inevitably surprise us with their talent, grit, and grace. To find out who they are, you just have to wait and see, and watch the race. We promise, it will be amazing.Enjoy a live look at XTERRA Worlds on race day at www.xterramaui.com or follow the action on facebook/xterraplanet and twitter@xterraoffroad.
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