The atmosphere was electric in Zittau, Germany on Saturday morning as elite and age-group athletes lined up for the XTERRA European Championship. The full distance off-road triathlon, consisting of a 1.5km swim, 37km bike and 10km run, is one of the most anticipated events of the European Tour calendar and it did not disappoint.
Elite Men’s Race
As one of the fastest XTERRA swimmers, Jens Roth was first out the water after the two-lap swim. The other elites were not going to let him get away easily however, with a big group including Will Crudgington (GBR), Michele Bonacina (ITA), Franco Pesavento (ITA), Maxim Chane (FR), François Vie (POR), Lukáš Kocar (CZE) and Arthur Serrieres (FRA).
It was only a matter of time until the group hunted Roth down, with the chasing group catching the leader by the 11km point. From here on in, those athletes whose strengths lay in the bike and were feeling good started to make their move. Kocar, who was looking good after his XTERRA Short Track win the day before, moved up to the lead by the halfway point. The new leader had established a gap of approximately one minute on second placed Arthur Serrieres, with Kocar a few seconds back.
Close behind, Danish powerhouse Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen (DNK) and seven-time XTERRA World Champion, Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (ESP) were working together to close the gap, followed by the young and talented athlete, Francois Vie (POR).
Kocar maintained his one-minute gap as he headed out of the run, ahead of the chasing athletes who had now come together as they entered transition. As soon as Serrieres touched the ground, he was ready to push the pace and within 500m he was able to create a small gap on the others.
By the second loop, it was all change with Serrieres once again proving he was the fastest runner on the course, establishing a gap of almost 2 minutes ahead of Sloth Neilsen and Chane who had also worked their way up to second and third place. Kocar had fallen off the pace to find himself in fourth, with Ruzafa following in fifth
With the fastest run split of the day (39:16), Serrieres crossed the finish line in first place, successfully defending his title as XTERRA European Champion.
Speaking after the race, he said: “With such a strong field here in Germany, it was a big battle out there today with many attacks. I had some small mechanical issues but managed to stay and finish the bike with some strong riders. My strategy was to take it easy on the downhills and push on the uphill which worked well!”
“On the run I just had to let my good run legs do the work. I am happy with my win and I am now ready to go to the World Championships and see if I can win the title there.”
Sloth Nielsen, who has been improving race after race, finished in second place and was pleased with his resulted.
“Second place here at the European Championship is a huge accomplishment for me. I had a really good swim and stayed with the guys that I wanted to be with. I then worked well with Ruben and Chane on the bike,” commented Sloth Nielsen.
“On the run I pushed hard on the fast sections, but I suffered with cramps and was fighting to manage it. I thought there was a chance this might be my day, but Serrieres is such a fast and strong runner.”
Kocar rounded out the podium, having dug deep to regain the position ahead of Chane. He said, “I had a great race overall. On the bike, I was really good on the downhill, especially compared to the last time I raced here. I was in great form but made a big mistake on the third kilometre of the run and went the wrong way, losing about 3 minutes.”
He added, “I have three more races ahead of me and hope I can win at least one of those. I am very happy with my Short Track win yesterday and the second place today.”
Top 10 Men
Name (NAT) – Time
Arthur Serrieres (FRA) – 02:39:01 Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen (DEN) – 02:41:58 Lukáš Kocar (CZE) – 02:42:17 Maxim Chane (FRA) – 02:42:46 Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (ESP) – 02:44:16 Arthur Forissier (FRA) – 02:46:06 Franco Pesavento (ITA) – 02:46:08 François Vie (PRT) – 02:48:09 Xavier Dafflon (CHE) – 02:49:17 Karel Dušek (CZE) – 02:50:08
Elite Women’s Race
In the women’s race, a group of four women consisting of Sandra Mairhofer (ITA), Diede Diederiks (NED), Solenne Billouin (FRA) and Loanne Duvoisin (CHE) exited the water together, followed by Louise Fox (GBR), Carina Wasle (AUT) and Jindniška Zemanová (CZE) just 30 seconds behind.
Mairhofer was quick to take the lead on the bike and at the 11km mark, she was one minute and 30 seconds ahead of Diede Diederiks. Duvoising was riding alone in 3rd place but was being hunted down by Morgane Riou (FRA), Zemanova and Eleonora Perconcini (ITA) who were working together to close the gap.
By the halfway point, Mairhofer had extended a lead of over 2 minutes ahead of yesterday’s Short Track winner, Diederiks. With Riou and Peroncini in 3rd and 4th place, Mathilde Bolzan (ITA) had now worked her way up the field to join Zemanova. Known for her strong biking skills, Helena Karásková Erbenová was coming in strong behind and looking unstoppable.
By transition, Mairhofer had established a four-minute lead but she was not done pushing yet, gaining a lead of 7 minutes by the end of the first loop. It proved to be the perfect day for the talented Italian, crossing the line with a time of 03:06:07.
The new Women’s XTERRA European Champion commented “I really enjoyed racing today and I am so happy with my win. I was feeling strong on the bike and gave it everything I had on the uphill and was managed the downhill carefully.”
On the run I felt great! Despite my lead off the bike, I was afraid that Karaskova might close the gap with her fast-running legs. After his event, I will race the Italian Mountain Bike Marathon Championships and after that I am looking forwarded to racing at XTERRA Trentino-Dolomiti Paganella.
Behind Mairhofer, the battle for podium was being fought. Having made her move on the bike, Bolzan arrived to transition in second, with Karaskova one minute back, and Diederiks dropping back to fourth.
Having shown her running ability in yesterday’s Short Track, Diederiks enjoyed a battle with Karaskova as they finished the first loop together. She managed to pull ahead of the experienced Czech athlete to finish second. Riou was also happy to finish fourth, having recently returned to racing after injury.
Diederiks loved racing at her first XTERRA event and was happy with her result. She said, “My strong result in the Short Track gave me some extra power for my race today. I was riding with Marihofer and Duvoisin on the bike but then Mairhofer got ahead. I fell off my bike but even if I hadn’t, she was too strong to catch.”
“I knew I would have to run really fast if I wanted to try and close the gap but Mairhofer raced really well and deserved the win today!”
Crossing the finish line in third, Karásková Erbenová was also really happy with her result. She said, “I was really fast on the downhill on the bike which helped me with my position and on the run, I tried to keep a good tempo. I am really happy with my performance today!”
I am looking forward to heading to XTERRA Trentino-Dolomiti Paganella for the European Cross Triahtlon and Duathlon Championships, and a good end to the race season for me.
A cyclist, tech geek at heart, a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of the world's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.