Three-time XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa is one of Spain’s most decorated mountain bikers. A pro before he was 23, you might think he was born knowing how to ride on the most challenging trails in the world. However, growing up, Ruzafa, preferred eating chocolate and watching television to physical activity.
“One day, my father encouraged me to get on my mountain bike with him and a friend on weekends,” said Ruzafa, now 34. “Since then, the mountain bike has been a big part of my life.”
This is an understatement. From 2004 until 2006, Ruzafa won the U23 National Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championship in Spain. In his last year as a junior, he joined the Orbea Racing Team, which he competed on for seven years as he honed his fitness and technique. During this time, he competed in the World Cup and won the Spanish Mountain Bike Championship elite race twice.
In 2008, Ruzafa seemed a shoe-in for the Spanish Olympic team. However, due to politics beyond his control, another rider went instead. His first XTERRA in 2008 was a form of redemption. After the race, Ruzafa admitted that he only decided to compete two weeks prior and only began swimming the year before. During the race, he surprised everyone by passing XTERRA legend, Conrad Stolz who was favoured to win but was practically riding on his back rim due to a slow leak.
“Since 2008, I knew that I wanted to focus on XTERRA at some point, but first, I wanted to try for the Olympic team again in 2012. I began my adventure in XTERRA the following year.”
In 2013, Ruzafa went back to Maui where he put in his usual strong performance on the mountain bike. Coming out of transition, he had 45 seconds on Ben Allen and he held the lead until the finish line. In 2014 he repeated the performance, this time holding off Josiah Middaugh.
Now, it’s 2018, and like 2013, it’s been a few years since his last win. And, as in 2013, Ruzafa is feeling strong, healthy, and motivated to take the win at the XTERRA World Championship. In fact, if he wins the XTERRA World Championship, he joins Flora Duffy and Conrad Stoltz as the only athletes who have won the XTERRA World Championship four times.
This year, he competed in XTERRA Portugal, XTERRA France, and XTERRA Czech Republic and won all three. He also won the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship for the fourth time, beating Sam Osborne, Brice Daubord, and Brad Weiss.
“I felt OK and finished strong,” he said about the race in Denmark. “But then after XTERRA Czech Republic the following week, I came home and discovered that I had a fracture in my scaphoid bone.”
Despite the fracture in his wrist, Ruzafa still won XTERRA Czech Republic, beating 2017 XTERRA World Champ Brad Weiss.
This is a perfect example of how tough Ruzafa is, both mentally and physically. He has struggled with loss, disappointment, and injury, but the trials only serve to make him stronger and more resilient. In 2011, Ruzafa lost his father to cancer, and the following year, he lost his friend and training partner, Inaki Lejarreta, who died while training on his road bike.
Despite the challenges that have come his way – or perhaps even because of them – Ruzafa has a fierce love of the sport.
“I love to compete,” he said. “The challenge of trying to improve every year keeps me coming back.”
This year, Ruzafa has been focusing on running, which has been his weakest link.
“I’ve been running on the track and the mountains,” he said of his workouts this summer. “I’ve been doing some good interval training on the bike and swimming in the waves to get ready for Maui.”
Despite a strong season and the possibility that he could join Stoltz and Duffy as a four-time XTERRA World Champ, Ruzafa remains humble.
“Every triathlete that races in Maui has a chance to win,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for all of them. We will see what happens.”
His strategy this year is to stay relaxed during the swim and focus on his technique. On the mountain bike, he just needs to do his thing, and on the run, he hopes that his interval training and work in the hills is enough.
Malaga, Spain, where Ruzafa lives, is a great training ground for the XTERRA World Championship with its summer heat and humidity, ocean, and mountains.
“The XTERRA World Championship is my favorite race,” he said. “It’s very special to me. My goal this year is to give it my all and be the best version of Ruben Ruzafa.”
Here’s a look at who he will be up against in the men’s elite race:
Bib#/2017 Position – Name NAT
1/1 – Bradley Weiss RSA
2/2 – Mauricio Mendez MEX
3/3 – Ruben Ruzafa ESP
4/4 – Francisco Serrano MEX
5/6 – Sam Osborne NZL
6/8 – Josiah Middaugh USA
7/10 – Rom Akerson CRC
9/18 – Branden Rakita USA
10/24 – Maxi Morales ARG
11/30 – Alex Roberts NZL
12/32 – Maxim Chane FRA
14 – Victor Arenas COL
15 – Rodney Bell AUS
16 – Rodrigo Braga BRA
17 – Francois Carloni FRA
18 – Lewis Elliot USA
19 – Samuel Jud SUI
20 – Lukas Kocar CZE
21 – Geert Lauryssen BEL
22 – Cedric Lassonde FRA
23 – Sam Long USA
24 – Karsten Madsen CAN
26 – Jens Emil Nielsen DEN
27 – Pierrick Page FRA
28 – Anthony Pannier FRA
29 – Ryan Petry USA
30 – Humberto Rivera USA
31 – Will Ross USA
33 – Roger Serrano, ESP
34 – Olly Shaw NZL
35 – Brian Smith USA
36 – Jake Stollery AUS
37 – Andrés Zuñiga CRC