Three-time XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa from Spain starts his 2017 racing campaign this Sunday, April 16, at XTERRA Reunion.
“I’m starting my season here because the place, the race, the organization, and the people are just incredible,” said Ruzafa, who won last year’s race in two hours and 20 minutes, nearly five-minutes ahead of runner-up Francois Carloni. “I also wanted to come back so I could see more of this beautiful island.”
Ruzafa, who has won 23 of 29 XTERRA majors since his debut in 2008, has an ambitious 2017 schedule that includes XTERRA Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Norway, the XTERRA European Championship in Denmark, plus ITU Cross Tri Worlds in Canada and, of course, another shot at XTERRA Worlds in Maui.
“My off-season has been good. I have been at home with the family, and doing all those things that are difficult to do during the racing season,” said Ruzafa (check out his new website at rubenruzafa.com). “Now I’m motivated for the season ahead, and think I have improved my skills.”
At each of the last two XTERRA World Championship races Ruzafa took the lead into the run. In 2015, he was chased down by Josiah Middaugh and Braden Currie and last year he was caught by the young-gun Mauricio Mendez.
“I changed my preparation a little bit this off-season, with the goal to improve my running in XTERRA. I did more trail run training and took part in trail running races to push my limits, with some falls included! I also worked more on my swimming with Ainhoa Murua, who is helping me adapt my swim to the triathlon requirements. I am happy with my progress, and if I can save some seconds in the swim I am going to feel better on the bike and run.”
Ruzafa says his main goals are XTERRA Worlds and ITU Cross Tri Worlds, and is happy to have the two races separated by two months “so we have more time to prepare for each one separately.”
“The most important thing for me this season,” Ruzafa added, “is to enjoy every race, every moment, all the travel and training, and to learn to be better at the end of the season races.”
His first test in Reunion on Sunday will be a good one, as a strong crop of challengers led by the 2015 XTERRA Reunion Champion Bradley Weiss, who finished second to Richard Murray at XTERRA South Africa and second to Sam Osborne at XTERRA Saipan so far this year.
“The men’s race has a very high plateau,” said race director, Yannick Desfarges, a die-hard and very fast XTERRA racer himself. “It should be a really good battle between Ruben Ruzafa, who will try to defend his title, and the former champ Bradley Weiss who will try to steal it back. We also can’t rule out Brice Daubord, the 2015 XTERRA Tahiti Champ.”
Other’s to watch include Theo Blignaut, Aidan Nugent, and Christophe Betard, who finished 4th, 6th, and 8th in last year’s race. Nico Sterk, Dominik Wychera, and Darryn Purtell will also be strong contenders.
In the women’s race the well-traveled Carina Wasle of Austria is back to defend her XTERRA Reunion title, fresh off her 14th career championship win at XTERRA Saipan last month and fifth-place showing at XTERRA Malta.
Wasle will be tested by South African Vicky Van Der Merwe, who placed 4th at XTERRA South Africa earlier this year.
This is the third year for XTERRA Reunion, which is a French and African island, located east of Madagascar, that is similar in climate and geography to Maui.
“La Reunion Island was a volcano, just like Hawaii, so competitors can expect a course like XTERRA Worlds,” said Desfarges. “We are looking forward to sharing our idyllic landscape and our authentic Creole culture, but don’t expect an easy course.”
Last year XTERRA Hall of Famer Conrad Stoltz, a well-know “course snob” took part in the event and said, “I love to race in pristine natural settings like La Reunion, which also has a very strong triathlon culture. But for those who think the relatively tame distances of 1.5km swim, 30km mountain bike and 10km trail run, may seem like a bit of a cake walk, you are mistaken!”
Stoltz, a four-time XTERRA World Champion, added that while a typical professional triathlete will finish a 30K road ride in about 40 minutes, the fastest time on XTERRA Reunion’s 30K cycle leg was 1:12 by last year’s winner, three-time XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa.
The course includes two 750-meter loops in a calm, warm (27C) lagoon that is so full of fish and coral, it will seem like you are swimming in an aquarium. Following the swim, the 30K mountain bike course is a combination of single track, dirt road, and highly technical sections that finishes down the famous Ravine Tabac.
“Use that downhill to catch your breath,” said Desfarges, “Because the run is another challenging mix of boulder hopping, a waist-deep river crossing, a forest, and a big climb up the volcano.”
The event offers 26 qualifying spots into XTERRA Worlds for the fastest amateurs and roughly $10,000 USD in prize money to the top six elite men and women. XTERRA Reunion also includes a 10.5K trail run and an XDUATHLON consisting of a 5K beach run and a 27.5K mountain bike leg.