Four-time Xterra World Champ Conrad Stoltz from South Africa and Saipan multisport sensation Mieko Carey captured the eighth annual Xterra Japan Championship titles on a mystic afternoon in the Nikko National Forest in Marunuma, Japan.
While the Xterra motto is “Mother Nature is your toughest competitor,” perhaps nowhere on the planet is earth and nature so much a part of the experience than in the mountains of Marunuma.
The first rule in the official competitor handbook is to ‘Love and care for nature’, and in his welcome to competitor’s race director Taro Shirato asked participants to “please feel the nature of Marunuma and the smell of earth through your entire body.”
American Will Kelsay, in the fifth week of a six-week, six-country around-the-world Xterra adventure, took this advice to heart by literally hurling his body into the earth on numerous occasions with three big crashes on the bike to his credit. The reckless abandon served him well and nearly earned him the upset of the decade against four-time Xterra World Champion Conrad Stoltz.
“Will was chasing hard, and was close behind me and if he didn’t crash so many times it would’ve been a lot closer,” said Stoltz, whose winning time was 2:18:25, a little more than a minute ahead of Kelsay. “This is Will’s course for sure. He is a really skilled rider, completely fearless, and he raced really well. He was just 30 or 40-seconds behind me off the bike and I thought he was going to catch me today because this run course is like a jungle gym and we all know Will is like a monkey.”
The high-praise coming from the sport’s biggest star was spot on as it was exactly those monkey-like characteristics that had Kelsay so close to the champ in the final moments of this epic adventure.
“I felt like a kid playing in the woods, jumping over stuff, ducking under logs, swinging over things, hoping off rocks. It was fantastic, I loved it,” said an exuberant Kelsay after the race, explaining how he could pick a line and use his hands to grab branches and rocks to navigate though sections on the run.
“Everybody who races Xterra has to come do this race. It is absolutely amazing, like nothing I’ve ever done,” said Kelsay. “Seriously, it is so awesome. I was crashing all the time and muddy. It was super challenging and hard, but fun the whole time. Even when I was climbing up the ropes on the run it was painful, but still fun.”
Stoltz and the rest of the foreigners who made the trip agreed unanimously.
“I really enjoyed this race. It’s beautiful, technical, challenging, scenic, the organization is exception, and the Japanese people are super polite and respectful. It was more than I expected,” said Stoltz. “It’s for sure the hardest race, even harder than Whistler. A lot of stuff I couldn’t ride, and the penalty for failure is pretty big, but we all made it through and everyone is all smiles and filled with accomplishment at the end of the day.”
Michael Hiscott from Great Britain, who finished in fourth behind Japanese mountain bike sensation Takahiro Ogasawara, said the race was “Superb. A marvelous race, more an adventure race than a triathlon and isn’t that what Xterra is all about.”
“Awesome race, best race there is,” said fellow Brit Paul Davies, who placed fifth among elites. “Technical, brilliant bike course, wet and slippery, and the atmosphere is remarkable.”