Bermuda’s Flora Duffy and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde capped a phenomenal 2021 on Sunday 5 December with title wins at the 25th Xterra World Championship, in Kapalua, on the Hawaiian island of Maui’s northwest coast.
It was the first world Xterra elite win for Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Wilde, who also lays claim to the 2015 and 2016 15-19 age-group Xterra world titles.
But it was an unprecedented sixth Xterra World Championship crown for Olympic champion Duffy, who won four straight from 2014-2017 and then again in 2019. Both earned $20,000 for their respective victories.
Adverse weather conditions
It was a wild day for Xterra all around, with the swim being cancelled for the first time in the event’s history due to massive surf and hazardous rip currents. The race converted to a run-bike-run duathlon, starting with a 3km run and followed with a gruelling two-lap 31km mountain bike ride and finishing with an 11km trail run through forest and over sand.
The weather was cool and calm for the start of the elite race at 8am, but then came the rain for the start of the age group races at 9:15am. The bike and run courses went from being perfectly tacky to a literal slip-and-slide for riders. Add nearly 4,000 feet of combined climbing on the increasingly technical bike and run courses, and an already challenging course got even harder.
The Xterra World Champs men’s race
Wilde jumped out to an early lead with the fastest 3km run time of 10:34, followed by Brice Daubord (FRA) 22secs later, then shortly after by Mauricio Mendez (MEX), Seth Rider (USA), Arthur Serrieres (FRA), Josiah Middaugh (USA), and Ruben Ruzafa (ESP). Once on the bike, Wilde continued to push the pace up front.
“Full gas from the go, and once I got on the bike I was riding at threshold to see if anyone wanted to come with me and got a little bit of a lead,” said Wilde. “I just kept the pressure on during the first climb, and then a group got me just as we went into the second set of trail so from there we worked together and were all real competitive.”
The group consisted of Rider, Middaugh, Serrieres, Ruzafa, and not far back were Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen (DEN), Francisco Serrano (MEX), Mendez, and Sebastien Carabin (BEL).
About halfway through the second lap Wilde and Rider were riding together up front, with Serrieres and Ruzafa about seven seconds back. The dynamic changed when the first rain started to falling.
“The last 15 minutes of the ride it started raining and got real slippery for me because the PSI was a bit too high,” said Wilde. “I was slipping everywhere and that’s when Ruben and the boys with all that experience on the islands flew away from us.”
As he always does, Ruzafa worked his way to the lead by the end of the bike.
“I couldn’t take the group until the end of first lap, but then I had to stop to fix my hand lever, but when it started to rain I went very fast and overtook them, and probably got 30 seconds. The mud changed the course a lot,” said Ruzafa, who posted the fastest bike split (1:25:35) and was first off the bike for the eighth straight time at the Xterra Worlds.
Serrieres was second out of the bike-to-run transition five seconds behind Ruzafa, then Wilde and Rider another seven seconds later, but Wilde passed Serrieres and Ruzafa in the first mile of the run and never looked back.
“I just really applied the pressure as hard as I could in that first 5K and I knew it was downhill from there so just focused on staying on my feet and getting home safely,” said Wilde, who posted the fastest run split (40:11) and took the tape in 2:18:39, 23secs ahead of Serrieres in second.
“Feels good, awesome to come here and win it, and I still have unfinished business because I want to race here when it’s a triathlon so that gives me extra incentive to come back,” said Wilde.
Serrieres finished second for the second straight time, while Ruzafa ran strong to hold on to third. He’s now been in the top four at eight Xterra World Championship races in a row, including two wins, a second, four thirds, and a fourth. Rider finished about one-minute later in fourth and top American, while Carabin passed Middaugh to come in fifth, and Middaugh in sixth.
The Xterra World Champs women’s race
In the women’s race it was the reigning World Triathlon champion Duffy all day long with the fastest first run, bike, and second run times to take the tape in 2:39:49, more than six minutes ahead of Loanne Duvoisin (SUI).
It’s the fourth Maui race in a row that she’s had the fastest splits in each discipline, and she’s now won her last 13 Xterra races and 18 of 21 since 2013.
“Happy to perform well and win my sixth title,” said Duffy at the finish. “Racing a duathlon was definitely a surprise, it made it a lot harder out there, but it was definitely the right call [to cancel the swim]. It’s incredible to be back here, and I want to thank everyone who cheered, a beautiful way to finish this magical year.”
Even though Duffy dominated, she still called it a tough challenge.
“The course is tough, it’s always tough, but we got lucky it didn’t rain as much as we anticipated early on because the second lap of the bike when it started to rain it got real slick out there real quickly, so that was nerve-wracking. I just told myself to stay smooth, and stay on my bike.”
Now, Duffy says, it’s time for a vacation.
“There was so much pressure and expectations on me going into the Olympics as the gold medal favorite, it was a five-year Olympic build, and that extra Covid year really added to the intensity. After I won, I was on the highest cloud I could be on but also everything hit me – the expectations, the pressures I was carrying around on my shoulders.
“And since then it’s been difficult to balance all the media obligations while still trying to train and wanting to keep my season going because I had some big goals. I wanted to come here and defend my title, wanted to still race on the World Triathlon circuit, so I’m just thrilled I managed to pull off a great race day, win my sixth Xterra, and now I can go on a big holiday.”
In the chase for second, Eleonora Peroncini was solidly in second place on the bike before the rain hit on her second lap and she had a big crash that broke her seat and set her back. Duvoisin and Michelle Flipo, who rode much of the bike together, took advantage to move into second and third where they remained to the finish.
Peroncini hung on for fourth, and Suzie Snyder came in fifth and as the top American in Maui for the fifth straight time.
Images: Jesse Peters/XTERRA