XTERRA professionals have long been regarded as the kindest and most welcoming collection of elite athletes in all of sports. Even in the heat of competition they’re quick to lend a hand to help each other get a wetsuit zipper unstuck, share a tool, or toss a rival a can of air so they can fix a flat tire out on the trail. They’re also notoriously easy to talk to and generous with their time when it comes to sharing their knowledge and love for the sport with amateur athletes and communities across the globe.
Ever since the very first race in 1996, when professionals and amateurs of all ages and skill levels set out together to discover unknown territory, the pro field has been the driving force behind the friendly, family atmosphere XTERRA is known for.
"The beauty of XTERRA is the places you get to explore, the people you meet, the trails, and friendly competition."
So, as the 30 professionals from 15 countries arrive in Taiwan for the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship, those coming to the event can count on seeing two things; world-class athletes performing at the highest level, and world-class humans showing the utmost respect for the locals, land, and culture around them.
Some attribute XTERRA athletes' good-natured attitudes to the rough and rugged nature of their sport. It takes a lot of courage to swim in the open ocean far from shore, years of practice and lots of crashing to learn how to mountain bike down a volcano at high-speed, and the will of a lion to run through the jungle when your body is screaming to stop.
It comes as no surprise, then, that these same characteristics of dedication and determination that help them excel at XTERRA also shine through every aspect of their lives.
And while the inaugural XTERRA World Cup is raising the bar for these professional off-road triathletes by offering up the biggest consolidated prize purse in sport history this year ($340,000 across seven stops), most elites work a full-time job, or at least have a side-hustle, to make the dream work.
Here’s a look at some of their accomplishments, both on-and-off the trail.
Marta Menditto, the 24-year-old “XTERRA Kid” from Italy, has been leading a double life the last few years; one as a geologist in training, and the other as one of the top five ranked athletes on the XTERRA World Tour. Earlier this month, the reigning U23 World Triathlon Cross Champion graduated from the University of Turin with a bachelor's degree in geology, and was forced to make a tough decision.
“I really love geology and think it will be my dream job working on the mountains, studying what I love, and staying outside all day, but on the other side is my dream to be a pro athlete,” said Menditto, who intends to earn her doctorate in the field, just not quite yet. “It wasn’t easy, but I decided to put all my energy into being a real professional athlete this year, to make XTERRA my full-time job. That’s why this World Cup means a lot to me, it’s the opportunity to make my dream come true.”
Loanne “Lolo” Duvoisin from Switzerland, who just turned 25, can relate 100%, as she just finished her bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy and is looking forward to trading all-nighters studying for exams with a full night of sleep instead.
“The 2022 season was really complicated, I had to fight with physical and mental fatigue,” said Duvoisin, the 2021 World Triathlon Cross Champion, who works part-time as a physiotherapist. “So that was one of my goals for this 2023 season, to find pleasure in training and racing again and I'm really happy with this change, the preparation is going well and I can’t wait to be in Taiwan. I am looking forward to learning about the country and their culture and to see how beautiful it is.”
Georgia Grobler from South Africa, also 25, is cut from the same cloth, and working on her thesis as the last step in earning her master's degree in Health Food Innovation Management from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. She did so well juggling both studies and XTERRA last year that she won the 25-29 age group XTERRA World Championship crown and earned her pro card, which she’ll show off for the first time in Taiwan.
“I am very excited to see how I compare with the best of the best as an elite, but am trying not to put too much pressure on myself, because writing my thesis and training is already a lot to balance,” she said. “Mostly, I just want to be proud of how I race, have fun, and not take myself too seriously. The beauty of XTERRA is the places you get to explore, the people you meet, the trails, and friendly competition. And I can’t wait to see the untouched nature and crystal-clear water in Taiwan, and am very excited to eat yummy food!”
In 2008, when Ruben Ruzafa from Spain was 24-years-old, he became the youngest pro to ever win the XTERRA World Championship. He’s gone on to win six more world titles since, in 2013 and 2014 with XTERRA, and four in five years with ITU from 2014 to 2018. They call him the “Boss” out of respect, and because once the race transitions to the mountain bike portion, he is in charge.
“XTERRA is a great challenge, and with this new World Cup, every race counts,” said Ruzafa, who will undoubtedly be one of the first persons you’ll see coming into the bike-to-run transition. “I can’t wait to experience the mountains and beaches of Taiwan, to connect with this nature through sport.”
Although he is new to XTERRA, Kohei Yamamoto is a mountain biking legend that has represented team Japan at the last four Olympic games.
“I am very excited to be part of such a high-level international event in Taiwan, because I think it’s important to always be a lifetime challenger,” said Yamamoto, who started racing mountain bikes when he was just 10-years-old, but just did his first XTERRA last year when he placed 3rd at XTERRA Japan.
“I am very excited to be part of such a high-level international event in Taiwan, because I think it’s important to always be a lifetime challenger.”
The fastest American racer in the line-up is Suzie Snyder, a five-time national champion who has been a perennial favorite on the XTERRA circuit for 20 years. For Suzie, the trip to Taiwan is an opportunity to be fully immersed in life and athletics.
“My favorite thing about this sport is the people, the friends I’ve made,” said Snyder, who won the 20-24 age group XTERRA World Title in 2004 before going pro. “My goal is to soak up the experiences while discovering a new culture, enjoy the company of my XTERRA family, and go as fast as I can.”
When it comes to experiencing new places with XTERRA, no one can compare to Carina Wasle from Austria. In her 18 years of XTERRA she has raced in 30 countries, but says she is particularly fond of the Asia-Pacific region and most especially, Taiwan.
“I loved racing in Taiwan last time I was here, it is so different from racing in Europe,’ said Wasle, the 2019 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champion. “Everywhere you go there are friendly smiling faces and the streets are full of people and food markets, it’s so lively. It's hot and humid, too, and I like that and this super fun race course.”
The reigning XTERRA World Champions, Arthur Serrieres and Solenne Billouin, are from France, and so are many of the top contenders in the World Cup. The French XTERRA racers are fierce competitors, fast as the wind, and focused on the details.
Billouin arrived in Taiwan two weeks before the race so she would be fully prepared for the course and the heat.
“I’m quite new to triathlon so I’m lucky because I know I can improve a lot,” said Billouin, who lived the van life for two full years racing and training all over Europe and thrives on adventure.
One of her toughest home country competitors, Alizee Paties - a master at modern jazz - had a breakthrough year in 2022 with two big wins and a podium finish at worlds, but is constantly looking to improve.
“I worked hard this winter on my weaknesses, so I hope to show my improvements in Taiwan,” said Paties.
For Serrieres, who has won 14 of the last 15 majors he’s done, the XTERRA World Cup is a chance to impose his will on the sport and take his place among the greatest of all-time. But the Forissier brothers, Felix and Arthur, who were the only ones to beat him last year (at their home race in France no less), would like nothing more than to take their turn on the top step.
And then there is the charismatic Maxim Chane, armed with a big smile and full of charm, who won the 15-19 age group XTERRA World Championship in 2014 and has been climbing the ladder of the elite ranks ever since. There is a sense that he could be the one to watch out for.
It’s been said that teaching is the most important job in the world, thus it’s only fitting to have some of the fittest, and smartest, XTERRA World Cup elites leading the way.
Sandra Mairhofer from Italy is a high school physical education teacher in her hometown of Tyrol, and uses her own exceptional athletic accomplishments to show kids that anything is possible. Mairhofer just won the Winter Triathlon World Championship, a nice compliment to the Cross Triathlon World title she won in the summer.
“It’s going to be a big adventure for me in Taiwan, coming from the cold winter, but I can’t wait to explore the island and get to know the extraordinary spirit of this beautiful place,” she said.
Kate Bramley is a teacher and an XTERRA certified triathlon coach from Australia, and Jessie Koltz is a professor at Utah State University in the U.S. And right here in Taiwan, the local community is blessed to have two passionate and experienced XTERRA athletes show them the way on the trails and in triathlon, as Yen Ching Chiang and Chi Wen Chang pave the way for the next generation of XTERRA athletes in Asia.
“It’s going to be a big adventure for me in Taiwan, coming from the cold winter, but I can’t wait to explore the island and get to know the extraordinary spirit of this beautiful place.”
For those lucky enough to be in Kenting for the XTERRA World Cup opener, don’t be shy, come say Hi to the elites who inspire us all by not only their actions, but also their kindness.
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