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Ruben Ruzafa, Flora Duffy Look To Defend In Maui

Could this be the first year that we see repeat winners for the men and women at the XTERRA World Champs?

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The 2014 XTERRA world champions Ruben Ruzafa and Flora Duffy are back to defend their titles and are clear-cut favorites to win again, but not in the 19-year history of XTERRA have both the men’s and women’s winners repeated. Could this be the year?

Read the race previews from XTERRA below.

Men’s Preview

Ruzafa has won an unprecedented 15-straight XTERRA majors since winning Worlds in October of 2013. The Spanish sensation also won his second-straight ITU Cross Tri World title this year, and if someone doesn’t work some magic in Maui he’ll wrap up another perfect season and his fourth XTERRA World Championship.

“I don’t see this race like I’m a three-time XTERRA world champion, all that is in the past now,” says Ruzafa. “I’m going to Maui like if I had never won a title before. I feel good now. I’ve tried to arrive to this part of the season as fresh as possible. The first week after the ITU Triathlon Cross Worlds I rested a little to recover. Since then I have trained hard and specifically for Maui. My favorite part of the Maui course is the first and final kilometers of the bike. It’s inside a forest, with infinite turns, sometimes with mud, sometimes with sand, with steep climbs and fast downhills. You must keep your concentration there.”

Ruzafa says he also looks forward to the week surrounding XTERRA Worlds. “I love Maui. I like the beaches, with different colors in each part of the Island. I love the Haleakala Volcano, to go to the top and enjoy the sunset. The waterfalls and the jungle road to Hana. I like the peace of the Island. Really, Maui is magic.”

As for the competition Ruzafa said, “In Maui you never know. There are always surprises. I try to not focus my mind on anybody, because each triathlete goes to Maui to get the XTERRA World Title, and each of them has been best preparing for it.”

Ruzafa will face an impressive collection of title-chasers that includes 11 men who collectively captured 22 of the 26 championship titles on the XTERRA World Tour this year, plus four of the top five in Maui from last year.

Leading the charge is Josiah Middaugh. He won the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series three straight seasons, has been the top American at XTERRA Worlds seven times and finished second to Ruzafa last year and second to Javier Gomez in 2012.

“This will be my 15th XTERRA World Championship so I feel very comfortable in Maui,” says Middaugh. “Every year is different, but I have been following a very similar training philosophy for the past three to four years. One big difference is that I have been injury free for about two years which is huge for me. After five knee surgeries I know how well I can race when I have a stretch like this.”

Braden Currie, the adventure racing king of New Zealand, promises to put up a good fight and has had impressive wins over Middaugh and fellow Kiwis Sam Osborne and Olly Shaw this year. The Aussies are in good standing too with Ben Allen, who has finished third in Maui each of the last two years, and two-time Olympian Courtney Atkinson who has as good a finishing kick as anyone in the field.

“Can’t get enough of XTERRA,” says Atkinson. “It’s exciting to match up against the guys who race off-road and ride their mountain bikes week in/week out. We had a great time in Maui a few years back and it was always something I wanted to have another crack at while still at a professionally fit level. Last time I was there I learned how important the bike leg is in this race. 90mins out there on the challenging bike is really the make and break of this race compared to 20 mins swimming and 40 mins running. There isn’t enough distance in the swim and run to make up for such a long ride in comparison. Plus hills! Even if you can run well it doesn’t guarantee that you will run off the bike well after that MTB course.”

Atkinson has an ITU race in South Korea the weekend before Maui, his final road tri of the year.

“Upside is I will be fit…downside is that I am not preparing as much as I would like on the mountain bike or specific to Maui’s sharp hills on the bike. But I will be race fit. Normally the cross over between ITU and XTERRA is a better fit than Ironman to XTERRA as the mountain biking and trail running require power spikes a lot which is similar to ITU racing. Plus, it’s 32c at my home on the Gold Coast today. Hot already for this time of year but still nothing like the humidity of Maui. I don’t mind the heat and I’d say going uphill should suit me better than a technical course but it’s still a different skill riding the steep hills well on the MTB. Let’s just say I need to limit the time I loose on the bike to my best as these guys all run very fast as well!”

Specifically guys like Middaugh and Mauricio Mendez, who posted the top two run splits last year. Mendez, who placed 5th last year in his pro debut in Maui, will be joined by countryman Francisco Serrano, an Olympian who was 2nd behind Ruzafa at ITU Cross Tri Worlds this year.

Other men worthy of note are Rom Akerson of Costa Rica, Nicolas Fernandez and Arthur Forissier from France, and American Ironman great Ben Hoffman who has finished runner-up to Middaugh at the Mountain Champs twice now.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2014 XTERRA World Championships

See the complete elite start list below.

Men
Bib # (place at last year’s WC) – Name – Age, Hometown
1 (1) – Ruben Ruzafa – 31, Malaga, Spain
2 (2) – Josiah Middaugh – 37, Eagle-Vail, Colorado
3 (3) – Ben Allen – 30, North Wollongong, NSW, Australia
4 (5) – Mauricio Mendez – 20, Mexico City, Mexico
5 (9) – Rom Akerson – 31, Tambor, Costa Rica
8 (13) – Jim Thijs – 35, Huldenberg, Belgium
9 (14) – Ryan Ignatz – 37, Boulder, Colorado
10 (15) – Albert Soley – 27, Barcelona, Spain
11 (19) – Jan Pyott – 33, Stechelberg, Switzerland
12 (23) – Chris Ganter – 37, Boise, Idaho
14 (32) – Arthur Forissier – 21, Saint Etienne, France
15 (34) – Yeray Luxem – 29, Merksem, Belgium
16 (35) – Branden Rakita – 34, Colorado Springs, Colorado
17 (37) – Rory Downie – 26, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
18 (39) – Olly Shaw – 23, Rotorua, New Zealand
19 – Rodrigo Altafini – 41, Sao Paulo, Brazil
20 – Fabien Combaluzier – 38, Ardeche, France
21 – Braden Currie – 29, Wanaka, New Zealand
22 – Pierre-Yves Facomprez – 32, Nievre, France
23 – Nicolas Fernandez – 32, Pelissane, France
24 – Damien Guillemet – 29, Normandie, France
25 – Ben Hoffman – 32, Boulder, Colorado
28 – Juan Carlos Gracia – 33, Cordoba, Spain
29 – Sam Osborne – 24, Rotorua, New Zealand
30 – Cameron Paul – 25, Taupo, New Zealand
31 – Will Ross – 26, Anchorage, Alaska
32 – Jens Roth – 27, Trier, Germany
33 – Francisco Serrano – 35, Monterrey, Mexico
34 – Noah Wright – 41, Austin, Texas
35 – Courtney Atkinson – 36, Mermaid Waters, QLD, Australia
36 – Brodie Gardner – 29, Marcoola, QLD, Australia

Women’s Preview

In the women’s race it’s all about Duffy. Since the start of 2014 she has been near perfect, winning 11 of 12 XTERRA majors and this year’s ITU Cross Tri World Championship. Duffy also had her best year ever on the ITU World Triathlon Series, ending the season ranked seventh which has all but assured her spot on Bermuda’s Olympic triathlon team for the third time.

“This course suits me, so in a way I have to like it but it is not my favorite,” says Duffy. “It is an honest course, but very specific and not a course for everyone, and you need a certain skill set to really excel on it. There just isn’t anywhere to hide on the course.”

To keep her Maui crown she’ll have to hold-off a lot of really fast women, including two-time XTERRA world champion Lesley Paterson who won every XTERRA she entered this year including the European Championship.

America’s best Emma Garrard, who first did XTERRA Worlds in 2006 as an amateur, has improved steadily through the years, from 31st to 21st to 13th to 11th to 10th to 8th to 5th to 4th last year.

“I’ve had a good improvement streak and I don’t want it to end,” says Garrard. “Obviously being in the top three is really hard but so is being in the top 5 and I’ve managed to pull that off two years in a row. I don’t think any moms have won this race so I would like to be the first to do that. I don’t have the same level of triathlon experience as a lot of these girls but I did survive natural childbirth!”

Garrard says the climbing, both on the bike and the run, suit her strengths plus “the race in Maui is a little longer and more can happen on the run which I like.” As for her competition, she knows who the favorites are.

“I have raced against a lot of top triathletes from ITU, Ironman, XTERRA and Flora, Barb and Lesley have certainly been the hardest to race against. They haven’t won World Championships by chance and the fact they can do well at multiple disciplines of triathlon and mountain biking says something about how good they are. That being said, everyone is beatable. Lesley raised the bar a few years ago, and the bar was already high because of racers like Melanie, Julie, Shonny and Renata who were so strong on the bike. Lesley basically had to learn how to ride as fast as a world cup mountain biker to start winning and that took time but now it is her strength. I think Flora had to do the same but she figured things out a bit quicker. I think it will be a closer and exciting race in the women’s field this year with hopefully a lot of head to head racing regardless of who crosses the finish line first. I know there will be a lot of hype about Flora and Lesley racing each other but I think Barbara is due for a win and if she is close enough on the bike she can take it on the run.”

Other elites not to be overlooked include European Tour Champion Helena Erbenova, who finished fifth last year, Olympian Fabiola Corona from Mexico, four time Euro Tour Champ Renata Bucher of Switzerland, British great Jacqui Slack, U.S. speedster Sara Schuler and perennial contender Carina Wasle of Austria.

RELATED – Course Talk: XTERRA World Championship

See the complete elite start list below.

Women
Bib # (place at last year’s WC) – Name – Age, Hometown
61 (1) Flora Duffy – 28, Devonshire, Bermuda
63 (4) Emma Garrard – 34, Park City, Utah
64 (5) Helena Erbenová – 36, Jablonec, Czech Republic
67 (9) Jacqui Slack – 32, Stoke-On-Trent, United Kingdom
68 (10) Carina Wasle – 31, Kundl, Austria
69 (15) Lizzie Orchard – 29, Epsom, New Zealand
70 (18) Susan Sloan – 34, Benoni, South Africa
71 (19) Maia Ignatz – 35, Boulder, Colorado
72 (20) Kara LaPoint – 28, Truckee, California
73 (21) Sara Schuler – 34, Boulder, Colorado
74 (30) Debby Sullivan – 34, Rocklin, California
76 – Renata Bucher – 38, Lucerne, Switzerland
77 – Fabiola Corona – 35, Mexico City, Mexico
78 – Myriam Guillot-Boisset – 36, Brindas, France
79 – Christine Jeffrey – 42, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
80 – Lesley Paterson – 35, Sterling, Scotland
81 – Jess Simson – 31, Wanaka, New Zealand
82 – Alena Stevens – 33, Tatranska, Slovakia
83 – Elisabetta Curridori – 24, Sardegna, Italy
84 – Verena Eisenbarth – 30, Passau, Germany
85 – Laurel Dudley – 34, Honolulu, Hawaii