The world’s best off-road triathletes—725 of them, including 65 pros—gathered on the northwest shore of Maui for today’s Xterra World Championship, a 1.5K rough water swim, 30K bike that climbs more than 3,000 feet into the West Maui mountains, and a 10K trail run that finishes with a stretch of deep beach sand. London Olympics silver medalist Javier Gomez of Spain captured the men’s world title in his Xterra debut, and Scot Lesley Paterson executed a flawless race to defend the title she first earned here a year ago.
The race kicked off under cloudy skies (air temperature at the start was around 76F), calm winds and with smaller-than-anticipated surf after yesterday’s tsunami warnings left race organizers and racers alike wondering what the impact, if any, might be from the earthquake near Canada that generated the risk. (Both of today’s champions were evacuated from their hotels yesterday, Paterson sleeping most of the night in her rental car, and Gomez stuck in a parking lot until 2am). The tsunami alerts were lifted in the early morning hours, and the surf was strong but not what had been feared for the day.
The Men’s Race
To no one’s surprise, Gomez immediately took the lead in the swim, exiting the first half of the M-shaped course with Costa Rican Leonardo Chacon, Brit Tim Don, and Ben Allen in pursuit 30 seconds behind. Gomez extended his lead on the back side of the swim and heading into T1, and was alone heading out onto the bike course. His swim split of 19:06 was the day’s fastest. “[The swim] was pretty rough, but I knew I needed some advantage there so I pushed as hard as I could and when they told me 1:20 to second place it was quite good and easier to start on the bike,” said Gomez in a post-race interview with Triathlete.com. By Mile 1 of the bike, Gomez had a 1:30 lead over Don, Allen and Chacon, and former Xterra world champions Eneko Llanos and Conrad Stolz were 2 minutes behind Gomez. Between miles 14 and 16, Stoltz overtook Gomez, and American Josiah Middaugh (the 2012 Xterra national champion) had moved up to third, less than 10 seconds back. Stoltz was first into T1, followed closely by Gomez and Middaugh. Gomez, who won the ITU Grand Final in Auckland, New Zealand a couple weeks ago, quickly ran into the lead, never to relinquish it. His 10K run time of 37:54 tied him with Canadian Brent McMahon for fastest of the day. Middaugh posted a 38:39 run to finish second, and Stoltz rounded out the podium in third.
“I never expected to win here to be honest,” said Gomez. “I’m not as good as the other guys on the mountain bike so my tactic was I never risk much in the downhill and use it to recover and then I push on the uphill. I think I was probably the fastest one going uphill.”
Gomez says the ride was the highlight of his race. “I really enjoyed the mountain bike—it’s something new for me. Uphill I was pretty comfortable behind [Stoltz], but the last technical section just before transition I lost a few seconds. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem if I had a good day on the run because I know I can run faster than him in normal conditions but you never know because you are so tired and anything can happen. It’s completely different running. You always have the feeling that you’re running very, very slow. It’s really hard and there were some sections that were so steep you were probably faster walking.”
Stoltz was quick to praise Gomez after the race for not only his versatile triathlon talent, but for his sharp mental game. “This course is tough for me as an 80kg guy,” explained Stoltz, the four-time Xterra world champion. “I did what I could and it wasn’t enough. I gave it everything I had.”
The Women’s Race
Canadian Christine Jeffrey and South African Mari Rabie swam together at the front of the women’s race, posting 21:12 and 21:17 splits, respectively. The duo was the first into T1, with Barbara Riveros of Chile just seconds behind. By the first mile of the bike, Riveros had opened up a 20-second lead over Rabie, and by Mile 6 Lesley Paterson, who said she swallowed a lot of water on the swim and struggled to find a rhythm in the chop, had closed in on the lead, followed by Jacqui Slack and Rabie by less than 2 minutes. Road superstars Heather Jackson and Magali Tisseyre and multiple Xterra world champion Melanie McQuaid rode within five minutes of Paterson. The Scot began pulling away from Riveros and the rest of the women’s field, and had established a 3-plus minute lead over Riveros by the time she ran out of T2. “I’ve been doing a lot of climbing, building a lot of strength,” said Paterson. “I’ve lost some weight, so my power-to-weight ratio is really good. I passed a lot of girls on the bike early on. Then I caught Barbara Riveros on a steep grassy climb. I just felt great.” She posted the fastest bike split, 1:36:02.
Paterson closed the deal on the run, also clocking the fastest run spit of the day, a 40:51 10K on a brutally hilly and technical course. “My running is my strength and I was running really good coming into this,” she said. “When I got on the run it was just magic, I was floating!”
“It was perfect from start to finish to be honest,” said Paterson. “The whole thing was just completely enjoyable and I felt amazing. It’s like that quiet confidence but you’re never sure you are going to come through on the day and make it happen so that was a huge relief. There’s not one minute that I didn’t enjoy.”
Xterra World Championship
Top 5 Men (plus selected)
1. Javier Gomez (ESP) 2:26:54
2. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:27:41
3. Conrad Stoltz (RSA) 2:30:04
4. Leonardo Chicon (CRC) 2:30:19
5. Victor Del Corral (ESP) 2:30:24
8. Tim Don (GBR) 2:32:41
Top 5 Women
1. Lesley Paterson (SCO) 2:44:12
2. Barbara Riveros (CHI) 2:48:19
3. Marie Rabie (RSA) 2:53:56
4. Heather Jackson (USA) 2:54:13
5. Jacqui Slack (GBR) 2:55:19