Race Preview: The Key Players at this Weekend’s XTERRA Worlds

Know the key players ready to race one of the most insane world championships in triathlon

If we had to describe XTERRA Worlds in one word, it would be unpredictable. No two years are alike, and after moving to its new home on the northern side of the island of Maui in 2011, the course has added more singletrack with each iteration. Combine that bike with an ocean swim and finicky weather, and the only truly predictable aspect is that it’s astonishingly entertaining.

Recent years have thrown some epic conditions at the athletes, including five-foot ocean swells, mud so thick it stopped wheels from turning and heat and humidity so high that athletes were glistening before they hit the water. The racer who can best handle the unpredictability (and their bike) wins. We asked 12-year XTERRA pro, Will Kelsay, for his podium picks. Here are his top six athletes to watch—and some names to keep an eye on.

Expect impressive performances from:

Flora Duffy
Age: 30
Representing: Bermuda
Kelsay Intel: The reigning three-time XTERRA world champion is aiming at her fourth title, but other factors may alter this year’s outcome. “I finished last season really tired and not enjoying racing,” says Duffy, who will focus more on ITU racing until Tokyo 2020. “So this year, I have decided that after I finish the ITU season, I will take a week off, refocus and then see how I feel. I’d love to win again—it would be really cool to win four times in a row, but at the same time, for the sake of my long-term career, I need to keep Maui relaxed and fun.” Could this mean Duffy’s dominance gets disrupted in 2017?

Suzie Snyder
Age: 34
Representing: USA
Kelsay Intel: With several wins in the XTERRA Pan Am Tour and placing top American at last year’s world champs, Snyder is one of the favorites to challenge Duffy. “The only thing I’ll do differently this year in Maui is arrive with better mud tires just in case we get another mud fest,” Snyder said. She’s known for her laser focus and cool demeanor—virtues of a possible champion.

Barbara Riveros
Age: 30
Representing: Chile
Kelsay Intel: An Olympian and three-time top-five finisher at Maui, Riveros knows how to race well in the Hawaiian heat. Last year she was unable to compete due to injury, but her winning performance early on in the year at XTERRA Chile showed that that’s in the past. “Barb is simply on another level right now,” Snyder said of the Chilean competitor. Riveros beat second-place Snyder by more than 12 minutes in Chile. If she holds that form to the end of the season, she may add “XTERRA world champ” to her long list of accolades.

Ruben Ruzafa
Age: 33
Representing: Spain
Kelsay Intel: The three-time XTERRA world champ has the potential to tie the legendary Conrad “The Caveman” Stoltz with four world titles if he plays his cards right. His finishes this year have shown that he is again in top form, with first-place finishes at nearly every race he’s entered. Barring a mechanical issue or flat, he will be tough to beat.

Mendez won the 2016 XTERRA World Championship. Photo: Jesse Peters/XTERRA

Mauricio Mendez
Age: 22
Representing: Mexico
We originally had pegged the defending XTERRA world champion as a wildcard because he had been absent from the off-road triathlon scene for most of 2017. His win at last month’s XTERRA Pan American Championship gives us the confidence to again name him as a top contender. “With what the happy kid showed us in Utah against Josiah (Middaugh), we know he is in XTERRA shape,” said former XTERRA World Champ and Euro Tour director Nicolas Lebrun. “He won Maui last year under very hard conditions, so will be full of confidence coming in to this race and I think he’s the favorite for sure.”

Josiah Middaugh
Age: 35
Representing: USA
Kelsay Intel: The 2015 XTERRA world champ and father of three from Colorado has solidified himself as one of the best off-road athletes in the world. As with all former world champs, he will have a target on his back. “I actually feel a little less [pressure] since I accomplished my ultimate goal in 2015,” he says of this year’s event. “Of course I want that feeling again, but there are so many factors on race day with deep competition and unpredictable Mother Nature.”

Ben Allen
Age: 32
Representing: Australia
Kelsay Intel: After three third-place finishes in Hawaii, this Aussie is gunning to break the streak in 2017. Known for racing the world over, year-round, Allen took some time off this season to “soak up some winter rays at home on the south coast of Australia and hang out with family and friends.” Mid-season breathers like this often yield solid results later in the year, rather than late-season burn-out, which Allen has experienced before.

Keep an eye on:

Bradley Weiss
The 28-year-old South African has proven himself on hot, hilly courses. He’ll need to avoid flats or mechanicals to make it happen—he’s had problems with both this season.

Sam Osborne
Taking the win at several XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour events, this 26-year-old Kiwi is a beast in the water and on the bike. He’ll need to put together a fast run to take the top spot in Maui.

Helena Karaskova
With several wins under her belt and multiple top fives in 2017, the 38-year-old Czech is showing that she has things dialed in. She has raced well in all types of weather and course styles and is very experienced in Maui—this’ll be her seventh time toeing the start line in Hawaii.

Jacqui Allen (née Slack)
This ex-firefighter from the U.K. has finished inside the top 10 every single time she has competed in Maui, and her multiple podium finishes this year, including wins at XTERRA New Zealand and Tahiti, leave us no reason to assume she won’t be right up there as usual.

Wildcards:

Lesley Paterson on the run at the 2016 XTERRA World Championship. Photo: XTERRA

Lesley Paterson
The two-time XTERRA world champ and ITU Cross Triathlon world champ has shown she knows how to put things together to win. But the spicy Scot has dealt with Lyme disease since 2011. “I’ve been working with a new doctor, which is great, but that also means testing out different treatments, and that can wreak havoc on the body,” she said. “I’m not sure on Maui.”

Braden Currie
Currie has been absent from the world of off-road triathlon for most of the 2017 season. He’s shown the ability to perform well in the hills of Hawaii (he has had several top-five finishes over the years), but his lack of appearances has made his potential performance a bit of a head scratcher.

Double the Fun

Seeking double the (painful) pleasure?  The most adventuresome and masochistic triathletes compete in “The Double”: racing the Ironman World Championship in Kona on October 14 and then the XTERRA World Championship two weeks later on October 29. Along with admiration and respect, the pros race for a $2,500 prize, and the top male and female amateurs get a four-night stay at the Maui Outrigger Resort. The Double is the perfect metaphor for triathlon—when one strenuous sport is not enough, add another!

RELATED: The Epic XTERRA World Championship Course 

Men’s Professional Start List

Bib#/2016 Position – Name (NAT)
1/1 – Mauricio Mendez (MEX)
2/2 – Ruben Ruzafa (ESP)
3/3 – Ben Allen (AUS)
4/4 – Braden Currie (NZL)
5/5 – Josiah Middaugh (USA)
6/6 – Leonardo Chacon (CRC)
7/7 – Ben Hoffman (USA)
8/9 – Sam Osborne (NZL)
9/10 – Rom Akerson (CRC)
10/13 – Bradley Weiss (RSA)
11/20 – Alex Hunt (AUS)
12/26 – Maximiliano Morales (ARG)
14/33 – Anthony Pannier (FRA)
15/43 – Francisco Serrano (MEX)
16/NA – Christophe Betard (FRA)
17/NA – Oivind Bjerkseth (NOR)
18/NA – Maxim Chane (FRA)
19/NA – Andres Darricau (ARG)
20/NA – Brice Daubord (FRA)
21/NA – Rui Dolores (POR)
22/NA – David Escolar (ESP)
23/NA – Cedric Fleureton (FRA)
24/NA – Arthur Forissier (FRA)
25/NA – Billy Gordon (PAN)
26/NA – Yuichi Hosoda (JPN)
27/NA – Jan Kubicek (CZE)
28/NA – Matt Lieto (USA)
29/NA – Henrique Lugarini (BRA)
30/NA – Karsten Madsen (CAN)
31/NA – Tiago Maia (POR)
33/NA – Pierre Alain Nicole (FRA)
34/29 – Alex Roberts (NZL)
35/NA – Leonardo Saucedo (MEX)
36/NA – Kyle Smith (NZL)
37/NA – Cedric Wane (TAH)
39/NA – Mario de Elias (ARG)
40/NA – Branden Rakita (USA)

Women’s Professional Start List

Bib#/2016 Position – Name (NAT)
51/1 – Flora Duffy (BER)
52/2 – Lesley Paterson (GBR)
53/3 – Suzie Snyder (USA)
55/5 – Helena Karaskova (CZE)
57/7 – Jacqui Allen (GBR)
58/8 – Lizzie Orchard (NZL)
59/9 – Carina Wasle (AUT)
60/13 – Julie Baker (USA)
61/15 – Kara LaPoint (USA)
62/18 – Isabella Ribeiro (BRA)
63/NA – Holly Henry (CAN)
64/NA – Jessie Koltz (USA)
65/NA – Allison Linnell (USA)
66/NA – Laura Philipp (GER)
67/NA – Brigitta Poor (HUN)
68/NA – Barbara Riveros (CHI)
69/NA – Penny Slater (AUS)
70/NA – Debby Sullivan (USA)
71/NA – Anne Usher (USA)
72/NA – Emma Garrard (USA)
73/NA – Sabina Rzepka (POL)