XTERRA Amateurs Show No Fear on Maui

When we speak of how successful XTERRA amateurs are, it is often with the attitude that they are successful despite their amateur status, not because of it. It’s easy to think that having the luxury of training full time – without worrying about a day job – will make you a better athlete. But what if it’s the fact that amateurs don’t have it easy, that makes them so good?

After all, at its heart, XTERRA is about endurance. And nothing teaches that tough skill like the chop wood, carry water of everyday life. Jobs, school, family, and having to hit the grocery store after work. Coming home after dark and still knowing you need to fit a run in before your head hits the pillow. Waking up to find frost on your window and knowing that in 30 minutes, you’re going to jump in a swimming pool.

Grit is grit. The same tenacity that drives these amateurs to finish their morning workout before they make their kids’ lunches is what will drive them over the top of Razor Ridge. The determination to ride by the light of their headlamp is the same stuff that will allow them to shine at XTERRA Worlds.

Whether it’s natural good cheer, stubborn optimism, or steely determination, XTERRA amateurs possess grit in spades. From Gregory Ball, who broke his scapula in July and came back to win his 55-59 age group at XTERRA Worlds to 19-year old Loanne Duvoisin, who was the 12th overall female, XTERRA amateurs show the rest of us how to do hard things.

Amateur Women in Maui
Loanne Duvoisin flew through the tough course in 3:17:32 and was the top female amateur, leaving no doubt that she is one to watch. The Swiss athlete finished just ahead of American elite, Julie Baker, who was 12th in that category.

In the 20-24 age group, Amanda Nadeau of Calgary won her age group in 3:50:10. She qualified for XTERRA Worlds at XTERRA Canmore, which is the only XTERRA course she has ever been on before Maui. Despite never having raced in the ocean before, Nadeau worked to keep her mind and breathing calm during the swim.

“By the time I made it out of the ocean, I was ready to rock on the bike!” said Nadeau. “The ride was fast and dry, and I tried to take a few seconds here and there to take in the beauty around us. I felt great on the ups, powering up the hills, and the downs went by far too quickly.”

By the time Nadeau hit the run, she started to fatigue, but persevered anyway.

“The last couple kilometres on the run were hot and beautiful, with the volunteers and their ice cold water being enough to get me through. Running down the last single track and coming out onto the beach was a great feeling, and I almost wanted to slow down and take it all in, except that I was running for my life!”

In the 25-29 age group, Carolina Nieva, from Argentina, didn’t hold back either, winning handily over favorites Pauline Aigon and Katarina Marks.

“The muscles hurt but my head was intact,” said Nieva.”Even though I was nervous, I told myself from the moment I touched the water I had to enjoy, to live something unique that not many get to experience. The sea was choppy with lots of waves, but I managed better than I expected. On the bike, which is my is my strength, I went out to hunt.”

Nieva’s goals for 2018 are the compete in XTERRA Argentina and maybe in Chile and Brazil in order to qualify for Maui again next year.

From Germany, Verena Eisenbarth won the 30-34 age group as well as the Outrigger Resorts Double, which is the award given to the top male and female athletes with the fastest combined time at Ironman Worlds and the XTERRA World Championship. Eisenbarth, who was the 2014 Amateur Cross Triathlon ITU World Champ, came back after a year and a half off and won her age group at XTERRA Switzerland this year as well.

Former catwalk model and 1999 Miss New Zealand, Kristy Jennings, beat Courtney Kaup for the 35-39 age group title. Kaup won her age group at this year’s XTERRA Pan Am Championship as well as at XTERRA Beaver Creek. Last year at the XTERRA World Championship, Kaup was the second overall female amateur. This year she did not finish nearly as high, but this probably speaks more to the talent at Worlds than to Kaup’s performance. For example, if Jennings had been racing against the pros, she would have been 15th, which is remarkable considering her first XTERRA was the 2015 XTERRA Motatapu.

Jennings, who lives in Wanaka (also the home of Braden Currie) attributes her success to her training partners, which include adventure racer Jo Williams and Olympians Kat Eustace and Hamish Pepper.

Another Kiwi who seemed to come out of nowhere was Tanya Sharp, who wrestled the 40-44 age group title from a tough field that included Deanna McCurdy, Heather Pady, Jennifer Razee, Angie DiFilippi and Magali Moreau. This was one of the closest age-group races of the day. Sharp finished in 3:28:31 (good enough for 14th among the pros), Pady came through in 3:32:37, McCurdy hit 3:33:26, and Moreau finished in 3:34:38.

McCurdy, who was the top American female amateur, will never be someone who sits on the couch all day. However, she is enjoying her off-season by building a doll house for her daughters and indulging in M&Ms. She is looking forward to throwing her watch out the window for a few months, which we know from experience only makes her stronger in the next racing season.

Another pint-sized American, Mimi Stockton (45-59 champ), also had a stellar race at Worlds despite injuring her arm two days before the race in a bike crash. Even though she couldn’t raise her arm above chest level, her biggest complaint was having to pass so many men on the bike (many of whom probably envy her 2:08:23 split).

“Maui is definitely my favorite course,” said Stockton, who writes the XTERRA Couch to Trail Series. “I love the heat and all the climbing.  And the waves?  So fun!”

Amy Carver was the runner up in the 45-49 age group, which was her worst showing in her rookie season: she was the overall female champ in every race she entered in the XTERRA America Tour this year. Her second place showing in Worlds proves that Carver’s talent is more substantial than beginner’s luck.

XTERRA France champ, Catherine Gance, beat out Margo Pitts in the 55-59 category, which is tough to do. Pitts was the runner up in this age group last year to Carol Rasmussen. She was also the runner-up at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship due to some bad luck in going off course, which happens to all of us at some point.

In the 55-59 age group, everyone was cheering for Aussie Celine Hepworth, who promised her 17-year old twins a trip to Maui if she could pull off an XTERRA World qualifying spot. She did just this at XTERRA Motatapu, which was also her first time ever on a mountain bike.

“My off-season from March until October was spent learning how to ride a mountain bike,” said Hepworth, who will soon begin training for the ITU Championships next September. “When I crossed the finish line at XTERRA Worlds, I had such a high sense of achievement by just having finished such a prestigious event.”

Martha Buttner, the 60-64 age group champ echoed Hepworth.

“It’s hard. It’s really really hard, but when you’re done, it’s really, really satisfying.”

Buttner has been having a great year running, but on the Wednesday before the race, she was riding the lower bowl, hit a root, clipped out, and rolled her ankle.

“I should have been five minutes faster on the run,” she said. However, her swim and bike were so strong, she didn’t have to worry about it. Like Hepworth, Colorado-based Buttner is a former Ironman competitor who became an XTERRA racer after falling in love with the relaxed atmosphere, extreme terrain, and fearless competitors.

For Lynne Pattle, who won the 65-59 category, her win was a great comeback after last year’s second place finish to Cindi Toepel.

Amateur Men’s Race
In the men’s race, 16-year old Tate Haugan took a few days off from high school in Fort St. John, Canada to head to Maui, where he continued his winning streak. At the XTERRA Pan Am Championship, Haugan was the top amateur as well as the 15-19 age group champ. His finish at Maui won him the 15-19 age group and he placed 30th overall with a swift 2:54:41.

Ondrej Petr of the Czech Republic was the 20-24 age group champ. Petr, who qualified at XTERRA Germany, reveled in the combination of pain and victory.

“I was 100 percent ready for this race so I did not feel nervous at all,” said Petr. “I was feeling great before the start. The ambience of the race, fans and everyone who was supporting me gave me a lot of energy for my competition. During the race it was hot weather, which I am not used to, but I couldn’t notice it. The whole race hurt me so much but I was very happy to have a chance to compete in Maui. I can just summarize my experience into these words: energy, tiredness, adrenaline, fun and happiness.”

Frenchman Arnaud Taurelle – the first amateur overall – won the 25-29 category at Maui after also winning his age group at XTERRA Belgium and XTERRA France.

“The race in Maui was really amazing,” said Taurelle, “It was a pleasure compared to last year. I didn’t do too badly on my swim, which is my weak point, I had a very fast ride – my specialty – and I had a good run to finish the work.”

Taurelle, who will compete in the Cross Country French Cup Mountain Bike series next year, will also compete in XTERRA France and the new XTERRA Graveman, which will be held in 2018 in the French Alps.

“I don’t like road triathlon,” said Taurelle. “I prefer mountains, nature, forests, and beautiful places.”

In the 30-34 age group, fellow Frenchman Pierrick Page is a self-described “Old. pro-man on the French triathlon team.” (He stopped competing at the elite level in 2008.)

“But many people told me, ‘Try XTERRA, it’s wonderful. It’s time for you to get in the wild.'”

Page qualified for Maui at XTERRA Malta, but pulled out of XTERRA Switzerland because of an injury.

“My race in Maui was not so bad,” said Page. “I gave the maximum. The ocean was nice and I loved a lot about this stage. The mountain bike loop was great – it was a treat about my eyes.”

On the run, Page twisted an ankle but that did not stop him.

“I just think, OK, finish!”

Overall, Page was the 21st overall finisher, the third amateur, and first in his age group.

“My worst fear was the rain on Monday because I have not the good tires. But in fact, all was to be OK.”

Page’s 2:52:35 finish was just over a minute faster than American Brett Tack, who finished in 2:53:20. Tack 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.

Finishing just seconds behind Page was the 35-39 age group champ, Francisco Gonzalez, from Santiago, Chile. Gonzalez has raced successfully on the ITU 70.3 circuit as well as in Ironman. In 2012, he posted a 9:36:50 in Kona.

From Brazil, Marconi Bibeiro won the tough 40-44 age group, which is always extremely competitive. American Ryan McMullen had a great race, finishing third in this bracket in 3:08:18. Garren Watkins was eighth in 3:14:01, and Michael Dorr was 11th in 3:16:55.

Jose Yuste, from Torremolinos, Spain, claimed the 45-59 title, while Gregorz Zgliczynski, of Colorado won the 50-54 age group. This year at Rotterdam, Zgliczynski was fifth at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final sprint race.

Winning the 55-59 age group was defending XTERRA World Champ, Gregory Ball, from Australia.

“Unfortunately I had on unlucky crash on the mountain bike where I hit a tree and broke my scapula in July,” said Ball.  “I had to miss a month of training while that mended. After that I was on a compressed training build up for Maui and only managed one mountain bike race before traveling to Hawaii.”

2017 was Ball’s third trip to the XTERRA World Championship and second age group win in a row.

“This time I got everything right in the week before. It really does help to know your way around and to be familiar with the course. This year the water was calmer than usual which was a shame for me. I seem to keep up better with the faster swimmers when its rough. I’d also missed a lot of swim training due to my broken shoulder so I was happy to finish the swim without incident and without being too tired.”

Ball had his best race ever this year but is still undecided about next year. He may go to XTERRA Tahiti, and there will definitely be more running and mountain biking races in his future.

“XTERRA has given me a fresh learning curve and the training feels more like playing, a lot more fun.”

Carlos Cabrita, from Portugal won the 60-64 age group, just ahead of Johnny Davis and Tom Monica. Monica was the age group champ at XTERRA Oak Mountain and at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship.

Juerg Binia from Germany won the 65-69 division, finishing ahead of Alain Gaudefroy and Jean Louis Couste, who were the favorites.

In the 70-74 age group, 10-time age group world champ Peter Wood from Pateete Tahiti, had virtually no training this year.

“At 2016 XTERRA Worlds, I had a bad crash in the muddy conditions,” said Wood. “Unfortunately, my hip bone impacted a large rock under the mud when I came off my bike. The results were two fractures of the hip socket and two fractures of my pelvis. In addition, the injuries caused a deep vein thrombosis in my calf, so I had three months on crutches and an extended time on blood thinners subsequent to the race.”

A true XTERRA Warrior, Wood did not let his injury affect his sense of humor.

“So, the short answer is,” Wood added,  “I did no XTERRA races prior to the 2017 Worlds.”

Nevertheless, Wood had a great race.

“The swim was pretty good, in that I am a surfer and the prospect of a large shore break did not really bother me. The water was pretty choppy, so I did not have the fastest swim, but I came out in second place in my age group. We were lucky on the bike that the course had dried out and the mud was at a minimum.

“I always like the bottom half of the bike course, because the fallen ripe passion fruit create a tropical aroma in the forest. I managed to pass the competitor who beat me out of the swim about half-way up the bottom section.  From there on, I took it at a steady pace and was able to ride all of the hills without any walking. It was great to pass the spot where I crashed last year, and I really enjoyed the last 10K of single track.”

Roger Kern, who has been racing XTERRA since 2010, won the 75-79 division. In 2011, Kern played a big part in the 2011 XTERRA Pacific Championship at Santa Cruz.

In the 80+ category, Jon Adamson was the champ in his first time at XTERRA Worlds. The former Ironman competitor said that XTERRA was just as hard on him as any Ironman.

“A few weeks later, I’m almost recovered,” he said.

Soon after the race, a friend talked him into signing up for XTERRA Oak Mountain in 2018.

“That’s the trouble with XTERRA,” said Adamson. “Right after the race, I swear, never again! But a week later I’m signing up for another one because all I can remember is how great it was.”

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