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MAUI: Elite Men’s Race Preview

The elite men’s race at the 22nd annual XTERRA World Championship features the top seven finishers from last year and another dozen outside that core who could contend for the title. It’s possibly the strongest, fastest, most experienced collection of men ever assembled for the Maui showdown.

Leading the way is defending champ Mauricio Mendez from Mexico City, who will turn 22 on October 20th.

“The mantra I live by is atopeysincontrol,” said Mendez in an interview just before winning the XTERRA Pan American Championship race in Utah last month.  “It means go as hard as you can for as long as you can. No limits.”

Affectionately known as “Mau,” the triathlon prodigy started swimming when he was six, doing triathlons when he was 10, he did his first XTERRA at 14, won the overall amateur XTERRA World Championship when he was 18, went pro as a 19-year-old, won his first elite race last summer when he was 20, and today he’s the favorite to win Worlds for the second year in a row.

“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.”

Last year, Mendez was third out of the water and caught Ben Allen at the front of the race at mile six of the bike. Ruben Ruzafa passed those two shortly after and rode away, taking a two-minute lead into T2. It wasn’t enough. Mendez posted the fastest run of the day and caught him with one-mile left to win it.

For Ruzafa, it’s a recurring theme. The three-time XTERRA World Champ (and three-time ITU Cross Tri World Champ) has taken the lead heading out on to the run in each of the last four years. In 2013 he had 45-seconds on Ben Allen and held on for the win. In 2014 he had two minutes on Middaugh and held on for the win.  In 2015 he had 2:20 on Middaugh, but faded to third, and last year it was Mau’s turn.

“Like every year, I have tried to improve my weaknesses,” said Ruzafa, who won seven XTERRA races and the European Tour for the third time in four years this season.  “I have changed my swim training, did trail running races, run in the mountains, added more interval training, and competed in mountain bike races. I feel good and I’m healthy, and will try to stay this way until the race.”

Ben Allen is back, and he’s finished third three of the last four years at this race. This year he hasn’t traveled and raced as much as in previous years so he could focus on the big one. He’s likely to be the first man out of the water, and the guy he’s most worried about … is himself.

“To be honest, I’m my own worst enemy,” he said.  “If I can stay in my own head and focus on what I need to do, I can get the job done. I just need to stay in the moment and embrace the hurt better than the rest.”

One man who has proven his ability to hurt better than the rest over an incredible 17-year-career is America’s best, Josiah Middaugh. The 2015 XTERRA World Champion is as smart a racer as anyone in the field, so easy to trust him when he says, “I’m feeling fit as a fiddle, and the numbers in my training say I’m as fast as I’ve ever been, but the race isn’t competed on paper. I need to believe I can win and I need to want it more than anyone else.  I think that will be the difference.”

As for who Middaugh’s take on who the favorites are, “There are a dozen guys that have the talent to podium in Maui, but it just depends on their final preparation and mindset.  I think Mauricio will do everything to defend his title.  Ruben will he hungry to get the win.  The top seven are back from last year, so those will be the guys to watch for.  Add Francisco Serrano, Bradley Weiss, and Sam Osborne to that list and it will be some tough racing up front.”

It’ll also be interesting to see how Ben Hoffman and Braden Currie are feeling after Ironman Worlds.  Hoffman was 7th in Maui after finishing 4th in Kona last year.  This will be the first time Currie has done both races, but he’s proven his worth in Maui with three top five finishes including a runner-up showing in 2015.

Costa Rica is properly represented by two-time Olympian Leonardo Chacon, who won the XTERRA USA Championship race a few years back and was sixth in Maui last year, and Rom Akerson who was injured, thus rested, for most of the 2017 season. Last year Akerson won two races and finished runner-up on the XTERRA Pan Am Tour.

Francisco Serrano from Monterrey, Mexico is back to fulfill his life goal to win in Maui, and he proved he is capable when he won the ITU Cross Tri World Championship against a strong field in Penticton, Canada this summer.

“Maui is another beast though,” said Serrano, whose beautiful wife Terri recently gave birth to their second daughter.  “My goal is to take gold. I’ve never been close, but it’s my ultimate goal as an athlete. It will take a perfect race, a flawless race, but it’s possible, I know it can happen.”

South Africa’s Bradley Weiss also had a career win recently, capturing the XTERRA European Championship crown in Denmark last month.

“Happy, healthy and ready for another crack at XTERRA Worlds,” said Weiss. “I have been based in Boulder, CO with good mate and training partner Sam Osborne. We have done a 5-week block of training up at altitude in preparation for this year’s race. Sam and I raced a lot against one another throughout the season always getting the most out of each other starting out at XTERRA Saipan where Sam won and ending in Denmark where I was able to get one over him. I believe the score stands at 2-2 going into this final race of the season so winner takes all I guess. But frankly speaking, we definitely spotted strengths and weaknesses in each other which in a training camp environment we can both get the opportunity to develop as athletes and hopefully be in a position to race for that World Title at the end of the month.”

Osborne, who won back-to-back races at XTERRA Poland and Germany in August, collected another three titles earlier in the year at XTERRA Saipan, his hometown of Roturua in New Zealand, and Tahiti.  He won the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour, finished second on the European Tour, and had the European Championship race title in his grasp before a cramp on the run slowed him down and Weiss went by. Needless to say, he’s going to be a factor in this one.

“My goal on race day is to have some good legs and finish absolutely knackered, I don’t turn up to a race to lose,” he said.

As for his current form, Osborne said, “I’ve never been one to over analyze things. I’m a big fan of the old, chop wood carry water sort of thing. They say you are only as good as your last results and coming off the back of what I deem to be a very successful string of races In Europe, I think there is certainly some form in this body.”

Another Kiwi to show some good form is 20-year-old Kyle Smith, who finished third at XTERRA New Zealand and the ITU Cross Tri Worlds, and was recently 4th at the Pan Am Champs in Utah.

“I want to be in the mix and feel I can be,” said Smith, who like many others has made Colorado his training base leading into Maui. “Excited to see how the training at altitude will translate to race day. I’m feeling fitter than ever on the bike and run, which is going to be super important in Maui.”

Canada’s best off-roader Karsten Madsen took a different approach, and has been doing his training in Barbados.

“It’s very similar to Maui so the preparation has been far better than I could have imagined,” said Madsen. “I’ve started to work on becoming a stronger kind of fit, extending out thresholds and becoming faster over longer duration of time. I’ve also committed to training in heat and learning how to manage it. I really want to stay within myself this year and look to pull the best result out of myself. Wherever that lands me I’ll be happy. Too many times I’ve got caught up in placing, and for Maui it’s a multi-year commitment to learn the race and figure out how to win in coming years.”

Rui Dolores from Portugal, who did nine races in Europe this season and finished 5th in the final Tour standings, has similar thoughts to Madsen.

“It’s my first time in Maui so really I hope to learn and gain experience,” he said. “My goal is to race my best but I dream of the top 10. I also just want to enjoy the experience with our Portuguese crew (two elite men and six age groupers) and meet some more great people with the same passion as me.”

Other racers of note include Pan Am Tour runner-up Branden Rakita and fellow American Matt Lieto, who says this may be the last elite race of his career “Gotta end on a high note,” he exclaimed.

France is well-represented with veteran Francois Carloni, who finished third on the XTERRA European Tour this season, Arthur Forissier (pictured) who won XTERRA Switzerland and was third in a stacked field at XTERRA France, Maxim Chane who at just 21-years-old has been getting stronger and stronger, and Cedric Fleureton who is a world-class trail runner.

All-in-all the men’s elite field is 40-deep and strong as ever. Who can suffer the best? Who wants it the most?  We’ll find out on October 29.

Follow the race online at www.xterramaui.com, on twitter @xterraoffroad and live on Facebook.com/xterraplanet starting at 9am Hawaii time (12pm PST, 3pm EST, 4pm in Rio, 9pm in Paris, 3am Monday in Shanghai and 6am Monday in Sydney).

2017 MEN’S ELITE START LIST

Bib#/Finish pos. in Maui last year – Name (Nationality)

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 (AUS)

35/NA – Leonardo Saucedo (MEX)

36/NA – Kyle Smith (NZL)

37/NA – Cedric Wane (TAH)

38/21 – Francois Carloni (FRA)

39/NA – Mario de Elias (ARG)

40/NA – Branden Rakita (USA)

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