Saturday’s XTERRA European Championship elite race has attracted the best-of-the-best off-roaders in the EU and beyond to Mons Klint, Denmark for the last of 14 majors on the European Tour.
Forty-four elites representing 19 countries are on the start list, including the top 10 ranked men and five of the top seven women in the Tour standings.
In the men’s race three-time XTERRA World Champion Ruben Ruzafa from Spain has already wrapped up the XTERRA European Tour title having collected an unsurpassable 565 points by winning six of the seven races he did in Europe this season, however, he’s anxious to collect his third straight Euro Tour title and build momentum heading into XTERRA Worlds in October.
“I think it’ll be important to Ruben to win this one and build his confidence for Maui,” said XTERRA European Tour director Nicolas Lebrun, who himself won the first-ever XTERRA European Championship race in Italy back in 2006.
“Ruzafa is still ‘The Boss’ but he’s lost two races this year – to Arthur Forissier in Switzerland and to Francisco Serrano at the ITU Cross Tri Worlds in Canada last week – and I know he doesn’t want to lose another.”
Ruzafa has won 30 XTERRA championship races in his career, and his main weapon is the bike.
“He’s smart, and he knows how to perfectly manage his pace on the bike so he also has energy for the run. He’s also very skilled at passing other riders, and with four loops on the bike here in Denmark he’ll be able to use those abilities to his advantage,” said Lebrun.
This year, for the first-time since Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz was still in the game, there is another name in the mix when talking about who the best mountain biker in the sport is.
“It used to be just Ruben, all by himself, but this year rookie pro Xavier Dafflon is riding just as strong,” said Lebrun. “The problem for Xavier is that he comes out of the water seven minutes behind the leaders so he has to take so many risks on the bike to make up the time.”
Dafflon did make up the time in Italy, where he picked up his first XTERRA win as a pro, and Belgium where he posted a faster bike split than Ruzafa.
Roger, Jens, Sam, Maxim, Francois, Bradley
“For Dafflon to win here he will need to limit his losses on the swim, get lucky passing through all the riders on his way to the front, and then use his climbing skills on the run to pull in front,” said Lebrun.
Of note, the signature spot on this course is a climb, the infamous 497-stairs that swimmers have to run-up to get to the bike-to-run transition, and then again at the very end of the run before the finish.
“I think Dafflon can make up one-minute on those stairs coming out of the water because he is so strong on the climb, and then again at the end of the race if he is in contention the stairs will be good for him,” said Lebrun.
Sam Osborne from New Zealand comes into this race with the most momentum having won the last two races on the Tour in Poland and Germany. He was also second here in Mons Klint last year, finishing less than one-minute behind the reigning XTERRA World Champion Mauricio Mendez.
“He’s the guy to watch out for,” said Lebrun. “He likes this course, he won the last two, and the stairs after the swim are good for him too. After Ruben, I think Sam has the best chance to win here.”
Other racers at the top of the contenders list include Francois Carloni from France, who is currently ranked 2nd in the Tour standings, Arthur Serrieres from France, XTERRA Cyprus Champion Yeray Luxem from Belgium, Roger Serrano from Spain, and Bradley Weiss from South Africa.
ERBENOVA vs. POOR
In the women’s race the rivalry between Helena Karaskova-Erbenova and Brigitta Poor rages on.
Karaskova-Erbenova, a three-time XTERRA European Tour Champion, has won four races this year. Poor, the reigning Tour champ, has won five races including the last two.
“Brigitta has won six of eight head-to-head match-ups between the two this year, the opposite of what happened last year,” said Lebrun. “Last year Helena was stronger and won four of the five head-to-heads between the two, but this year Brigitta is running faster and is very fit.”
In the XTERRA European Tour standings Karaskova-Erbenova is 33-points ahead of Poor with 720 points, and simply needs to finish fifth or better to win the Tour title. Should Poor win the race, and Karaskova-Erbenova finish sixth or lower, the tour goes to Poor.
“Helena will need a very good day, a good swim like she had in Germany, her best bike and a strong run too. She’ll have to put it all together,” said Lebrun. “And neither racer has won an XTERRA European Championship title before, so you know they will be motivated for that.”
Of note, outside of the dirt the two are good friends and will ride and travel together.
The only racer in the field who has proven she can go faster than those two on any given day is Carina Wasle, winner of XTERRA Saipan, Reunion, and Philippines this year. She was second at this race last year behind Poor.
Other top contenders include Nicole Walters, who should lead the swim and is powerful on the bike, and the speedy Kiwi, Lizzie Orchard.
“Europe has been the longest racing trip I’ve ever done,” said Orchard. “We did unfortunately miss quite a few of the early season races due to an injury, but the last races have been encouraging and I really appreciate being on the start line. We have experienced different cultures, made new friends, and learned how to train and live out of “VanElla.”