The XTERRA European Tour heads into primetime this weekend with a showcase event at the fourth annual XTERRA Belgium off-road triathlon in Namur on Saturday, June 8, 2019.
More than 40 elites from a dozen countries are on the start list, including seven of the top 10 ranked men on the European Tour and the top three women from last year’s race. The sixth of 14 stops on the Tour, XTERRA Belgium races around the famous Citadel and through thousands of spectators who flock to the castle crossings and forest trails to cheer on competitors.
“Not only is this race well known for the big post-race party, but also the number of spectators out on the course encouraging racers as they make their way up the famous Citadel climb,” said XTERRA European director Nicolas Lebrun. “And it’s a beautiful course. A single lap swim takes competitors around an island in the middle of the Meuse River before heading out onto the tracks in the forest for the bike and around the Citadel for the run. This course proves Belgium is not flat. There are a lot of short and tough climbs, so athletes must be both physically and technically strong to do well here. With a very strong field of over 45 elites and the a lot of the best amateurs from all over Europe, it will be a great show.”
In the men’s elite race last year’s champion Francois Carloni from France is back and out to prove last year’s victory was no fluke.
“That’s my first big goal of the season, to defend this title,” said Carloni, the reigning XTERRA European Tour Champ who placed ninth at XTERRA Worlds last year.
What makes Carloni’s recent accomplishments remarkable is the fact that he also works full-time as the owner/manager of a hardware store (read his story at xterraplanet.com).
Lebrun, who noted that Carloni had the best season of his career in 2018, added that “last year’s race was shaped by mechanicals and crashes with some big names taken out of contention, paving the way for Carloni to win an exciting race, even after fixing his own mechanical!”
With more than 30 other elite men to contend with this year, Carloni’s challenge will be even greater this time around.
“One of those athletes who will want revenge for last year is Arthur Serrieres, after he crashed and was not able to finish,” said Lebrun. “So far in 2019 he won XTERRA Greece, was second at XTERRA Lake Garda, and third at XTERRA Tahiti just last weekend. He is a very consistent athlete and will be tough to beat, so it will be interesting to see how he has managed his recovery and travel ahead of the race here in Belgium which will be his third race in as many weeks.”
Serrieres isn’t quite sure what to expect from himself on Saturday, saying “It's going to be a hard doing three races in a row plus 12 hours of jet lag. I was not at 100% in Tahiti and I am thinking I won’t be better in Belgium, but I love this race and am ready to fight.”
Fillippo Rinaldi will also be challenging for the podium after a win at XTERRA Cyprus and a third-place showing at home in Italy.
“He is not as experienced at mountain biking as some of the other XTERRA elites, so he will need to work hard through the technical sections, but I am sure he will be near the front,” said Lebrun.
The home country will be well-represented with nine Belgian elites on the startline, including the race’s inaugural champion Kris Coddens.
“I’ve tried my best to do the proper amount of training for this race and hope I’ll be in my best shape on Saturday,” said Coddens. “It will be a strong race, because in my eyes there are at least five athletes from Belgium alone that should be able to take a top five spot on paper.”
XTERRA veteran Yeray Luxem, who finished third at XTERRA Greece in April, is certainly one of those contenders.
“It was nice to see I was competitive with the best in this sport at XTERRA Greece,” said Luxem. “The French guys (Arthur Forissier and Arthur Serrieres) who finished ahead of me at that race were on top at ITU Worlds and XTERRA Italy shortly afterwards, so I feel confident from that. Since that race I’ve picked up my training routine and have been very motivated.”
Like Coddens, Luxem is excited to see so many of his countrymen on the start line for this event.
“Between the spectators, organization, and competitors, it’s Belgium at its best,” he said. “We all want to be on top here. You know Coddens, and Geert Lauryssen, and Tim Van Daele, but what about Tim Van Hemel (ETU European Champ), Rob Woestenborgs (the ‘retired’ multiple duathlon champion), Sebastien Carabin (Belgian MTB Champ), and last year’s amateur winner and my teammate Wouter van der Mast. I expect a fast and dynamic race with attacks coming from every one of them.”
Lauryssen, who was third at XTERRA Belgium last year, said “I hope for a good swim, and then I’ll just go for it. I really want to do good in my home race and finish well. The support of the home crowd is so awesome in Namur, and I’m going to have fun, just like I do at every XTERRA race.”
Van Hemel will be racing elite for the first time in Namur. He won the 2018 ETU Cross Tri Champs and was 7th at the ITU World Champs earlier this year.
“It will be interesting to see what he can do over a much longer and harder race,” said Lebrun.
Other athletes fighting for points on the European Tour include Swiss athlete Samuel Jud who is currently ranked second in the standings, and Xavier Dafflon who is in third.
“I focused on XTERRA races this year to gain experience,” said Jud. “That’s why I tried to participate at the very first XTERRA races of the season. Luckily, I was able to travel to all the destinations. For me it was a great moment when I took the lead in the general European ranking of XTERRA two weeks ago, even though I had to give it away to Rui Dolores after he won XTERRA Portugal last weekend. For Belgium, the simple goal is to gain points to stay in the top 10 in the ranking. And of course, I’m looking forward to a Belgian beer after the race.”
Lebrun added that “this period of racing is critical for athletes looking to place in the top 10 of the rankings following the 7th race in Denmark in order to gain free entry into the remaining races on the 2019 Tour.”
Namur will also see a solid team of British athletes as Doug Hall will be racing and bringing two of his coached athletes, Jonny Chatten and Joe Ricciardi, who will be racing elite for the first time. Henry Sleight will also represent UK along with veteran Karl Shaw, who lives in France and raced the Cape Epic with Carloni.
“If Shaw is in shape, he will fight in the front,” said Lebrun.
France will also be well represented with Theo Dupras, who was fourth in Namur last year, Corentin Duclos (6th), Christrophe Betard, Damien Guillemet, Romaric Ladet, and Mathieu Desserprit. Alongside Rinaldi, the Italians Figini and Fognoni will race, with German Veit Hoenle, Spaniard Andres Carnavali, Netherlanders’ Kling and Goene and Alejandro Bulacio from Argentina.
XTERRA Belgium Elite Men
XET Rank/’18 BEL Position - Name, NAT
2/12 - Samuel Jud, SUI
3/8 - Xavier Dafflon, SUI
4/NR - Arthur Serrieres, FRA
6/NR - Filippo Rinaldi, ITA
7/1 - Francois Carloni, FRA
8/NR - Peter Lehmann, GER
10/3 - Geert Lauryssen, BEL
15/5 - Yeray Luxem, BEL
18/NR - Maximilian Sasserath, GER
20/NR - Doug Hall, GBR
22/45 - Kris Coddens, BEL
26/10 - Francesco Figini, FRA
27/6 - Corentin Duclos, FRA
NR/4 - Théo Dupras, FRA
NR/7 - Wouter Vander Mast, BEL
NR/9 - Fausto Fognini, ITA
NR/11 - Veit Hönle, GER
NR/31 - Henry Sleight, GBR
NR/NR - Sébastien Carabin, BEL
NR/NR - Andres Carnevali, ESP
NR/NR - David De Grooff, BEL
NR/NR - Victor Goené, NED
NR/NR - Chatten Jonathan, GBR
NR/NR - Alex Kling, NED
NR/NR - Romaric Ladet, FRA
NR/NR - Joseph Ricciardi, GBR
NR/NR - Tim Van Hemel, BEL
NR/NR - Rob Woestenborghs, BEL
NR/NR - Alejandro Bulacio Sfriso, ARG
NR/NR - Damien Guillemet, FRA
NR/NR - Mathieu Desserprit, FRA
NR/NR - Tim Van Daele, BEL
NR/NR - Christophe Betard, FRA
In the women’s elite race last year’s winner, French athlete Morgane Riou, is back to defend her title.
“She will be full of confidence as not only is she the defending champion, but she put in a fantastic performance just two weeks ago to win XTERRA Italy - Lake Garda,” said Lebrun.
The 2018 European Tour Champion Carina Wasle, who could regain the overall lead in the Tour with a good performance on Saturday, should also be confident heading into Namur. She was third last year and comes to Belgium straight from a win at XTERRA Tahiti.
“Can't wait to soak up the amazing atmosphere at XTERRA Belgium, there are lots of people who shout, high five, and push you around the course and so you have to go fast, you have no choice.” said Wasle, the most well-traveled athlete in all of XTERRA. “It’s been quite a roller coaster season so far. I jumped in with a win in Cyprus, got injured in Greece, couldn't start at ITU Worlds because of the injury, had mechanicals in Malta, and now just had a good comeback win in Tahiti. I’m still recovering from injury, but I'm going in the right direction to be 100% ready again.”
Nicole Walters was second at XTERRA Belgium last year, so she should also be troubling for a podium spot. She was third at ITU Cross Tri Worlds, proving she can be one of the best in the sport on any given day.
“Another athlete to really watch is the young swiss athlete Loanne Duvoisin, who won the overall XTERRA World Championship amateur title two years ago” said Lebrun. “She was fourth at ITU worlds (won the U23 category) and is quickly making big improvements. She is a very fast runner and if she is still feeling good at the end of the bike, she will be able to run down a lot of the other athletes.”
Even younger than Duvoisin is 19-year-old Mathilde Bolzan from Italy. She was fifth at XTERRA Cyprus and after a DNF in Garda, will be looking for a good result.
“Camille Defer from France will also race, she is a very fast runner so expect to see her make up some time on the other athletes here,” said Lebrun. “We will also see some new athletes to the elite race. Helene Pietrenko from France, after a podium last year at the inaugural XTERRA Long distance in France. Segolene Leberon, also from France was ninth two weeks ago in Garda and Jani Spansberg from Denmark, following some excellent results in the AG category last year.”
XTERRA Belgium Elite Women
XET Rank/’18 BEL Position - Name, NAT
2/3 - Carina Wasle, AUT
3/NR - Anna Tomica, POL
9/2 - Nicole Walters, GBR
11/1 - Morgane Riou, FRA
16/NR - Mathilde Bolzan, ITA
20/NR - Camille Defer, FRA
NR/NR - Loanne Duvoisin, SUI
NR/NR - Helene Pietrenko, FRA
NR/NR - Janni Spangsberg, DEN
NR/NR - Segolene Leberon, FRA
Find live race updates from Lebrun, along with images and video from the week, on Facebook.com/xterraeurope.
All-time XTERRA Belgium Elite Champions
2016 – Kris Coddens/Helena Karaskova
2017 – Ruben Ruzafa/Helena Karaskova
2018 – Francois Carloni/Morgane Riou