Maui never seems to be short of challenges and and today was far from that. The skies continued to open over the last week with torrential rain squalls, crazy winds and some pretty heavy oceans. There were some pretty nervous people standing on the beach this morning in the wake of XTERRA Worlds.
It has been the build up that I have been wanting and I felt readier than ever and more confident than ever to win an XTERRA world title. But the day seemed to be able to throw more at me, than perhaps I was prepared for.
With the cultural Hawaiian start and the XTERRA canyon sending the field of 45 strong elite men into the pounding swell, I managed to find myself in some clear water on my own with a good lead to some of the top swimmers. This set me up in a good position to find some feet that I knew well and knew would see me through to the finish of the swim. Exiting the water roughly 30-40seconds back on the front two leaders Courtney Atkinson and Ben Allen I was in a group of 4 for the long run up to the bikes. I had a quick transition and went into the ride where I wanted to be. Sitting back and looking at where I was, I was pretty happy with my positioning and was feeling like I was ready to work my way up to the lead pretty. As we exited the sealed section and into the first twisty turny muddy tight single track, the two leaders were well within sight. I was sitting in 4th position with the new to XTERRA Mauricio Mendez sitting 10 seconds in front of me. Courtney and Ben were just ahead of him. Last year we rode roughly 8 minutes quicker than Mendez and Allen so felt comfortable wehre I was. But Allen and Mendez were working fantastic together and after around half an hour of riding I couldn’t seem to be able to bridge the gap and started trying to settle into my own tempo. Conditions were incredibly challenging and with the lack of traction made it near impossible to push your physical limits. Every time I found myself trying to work as hard as I could, I tended to spin out and lose traction having to pull back just to stay on my bike.
Only about half an hour into the ride, Ruben Ruzafa came past at his normal ferocious pace. This guy seems relentless and the conditions didn’t seem to faze him. He is 3* XTERRA world champion and his depth of experience mountain biking racing has always been tough to contest. He is also one of the only people I know to have brought a downhill tyre to Maui that I didn’t even know existed and would never think of ever using or needing on this course. It was an incredible move that saw him be able to ride with a hue amount of traction and grip, which enabled him to ride away from the entire field by 5 plus minutes. I raced Ruzafa about 9 times in Europe 2 years ago and I am not foreign to having him hand it to me on the bike, but I really felt like I had really narrowed the gap this year, so it was incredibly frustrating for me as I couldn’t really push myself to my physical limit and race the race I knew I was capable of, because the conditions were just so loose. I was still riding strong in 4th and felt I had a good run in me. Sally gave me a split at around 18km of 4minutes. This is a lot to catch over 4km but I hadn’t given up.
I imagine there were very few people who got away without a mechanical on the bike. But for me it came towards the end. At about 19km my shifter cable became clogged with mud and the rear derailler got to a point where I could only stay in my highest gear. Working at an incredibly high cadence on the flats and bleeding time through some of the final sections of the course, I ended up losing an additional 4 minutes over 7km, which I knew was going to put me in a tough position on the run.
Coming onto the run in 5th and 6th I was neck and neck with my old mate Josiah Middaugh. I knew that it was going to be a hard day to beat him in the run. But I also knew if I was going to have a chance at the podium that he was going to be the guy that was going to push me to my limit and give us both the ability to work our way back up. We battled consistently for over half the climb. Josiah was running well but wasn’t looking as strong as I have seen him before. As we neared the top I started a conversation to see where he was really at. My comment was “I am sure Ben Allen can’t be running this fast”. Josiah denied to reply, which gave me a good sense that he was right on his limit. At this point I accelerated and ran away from him on the last of the climbs. Just at the top I managed to pull back into 4th place from Leonardo Chacon and sneak past him with the belief that I could run my way onto the podium. I kept pushing as hard as I could all the way to the end but today was not to be. Happy that I managed the 2nd fastest run of the day, but that didn’t make up for 6th on the bike. Huge congrats to Ben, Ruben, and the young Cat Mendez for laying it all out there. No matter the conditions, and pushing limits to the edge you can only hope that you are able to take some learnings away from this experience. And hey at the end of the day, 4th in the world ain’t that bad!