On the Wild Side

Xterra Asia-Pacific Championship, Jervis Bay, NSW April 18, 2015

For many, the biggest off-road triathlon weekend in the world takes place just outside Cape Town, South Africa, with three days of gnarly off-road triathlon racing accommodating more than 3,000 participants from grommets to gold medallists. But now we might just have an emerging rival for that accolade.

South African legend and two-time Olympian Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz, winner of an unprecedented four XTERRA World Championships, says the sport is thriving in his homeland for four main reasons. “The growth of XTERRA in South Africa can be attributed to the winning recipe of a great course, great venue, flawless organisation and the extensive TV and media coverage it receives,” Stoltz says.

One could also make a case that it’s the spirit that lies within those South African triathletes – in those rough-and-tumble warriors like Stoltz – that makes all the difference. “South Africans really love taking up a challenge,” says Bradley Weiss, one of XTERRA’s rising stars. “Maybe running on the road or cycling on the road isn’t as appealing as going out into the mountains and really roughing it. We love to be outdoors.”

The same, of course, can be said for Australians. “XTERRA is a great fit for Australia. We have beautiful beaches and trails, and Aussies are outdoorsy people and always up for an adventure,” says Jody Mielke of Engadine, NSW, who has 11 XTERRA championship titles to her name.

Australia is uniquely poised, much like South Africa was 10 years ago, to become the next mecca for off-road racing. It’s a hotbed for triathlon where the spirit of adventure runs deep, and now it has a place to let its roots grow.

Entering its second year on the World Tour the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship triathlon to be held at Jervis Bay on April 18 seems destined be the gathering spot for ‘the next big thing’. The race combines a 1.5km ocean swim at Callala Beach with a twisty, tree-lined 30km mountain bike course and rugged 10km trail run. It’s produced by the swashbuckling team of original owners out of Hawaii, filmed for ESPN International broadcast and beyond, and puts up $50,000 in prize money to attract a world-class elite field.

According to Stoltz, the sport’s ultimate connoisseur of courses, it has all the right ingredients. “The whole race is phenomenal and very well designed,” he says. “I loved the course. There is a lot of really good single track, it’s well balanced, and even the run is great. It’s a big race, has a TV show, big money – just look how the Aussies crawled out of the woodwork. That’s good for the sport.”

Olympians Courtney Atkinson and Brendan Sexton were two of those Aussies who emerged to take on XTERRA in NSW last year.

“Straight into the bike – first mud hole – I got the first big crash done,” laughed Atkinson after the race, and although he ended up 6mins behind the leaders at T2 he still managed to finish runner-up.

Sexton had more of a tourist-like day at Callala as he soaked in the atmosphere of his first-ever XTERRA event and, ultimately, finished sixth overall. “It was an experience – definitely different from anything I’ve done before – but I had a great time. It was really fun. I think you could say I’m hooked,” said Sexton after the race. That’s XTERRA’s dirty little secret. Try it once and you’re addicted.

“I love the laid-back, easy-going and friendly nature of everyone being able to enjoy the outdoors and explore nature as one big happy family,” says Ben Allen, a 14-time XTERRA winner from Wollongong.

“It was like I had started triathlon all over again training for XTERRA,” added Atkinson. “It’s different, it’s enjoyable, and it puts me a little bit on edge, which of course means adrenaline. There’s just something about being out in nature, in the forest – it’s real adventure.”

For more information visit xterraasiapacific.com

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