Danica Bonello Spiteri returns Xterra World Championships in Hawaii following age-group qualification
The 2017 Xterra European Tour circuit kicked off with Xterra Malta on Sunday when over two hundred international athletes descended on Malta for the season opener.
The stunning Majjistral park played host to the race and this followed months of strong collaboration between race organisers and the Environment and Resources Authority to ensure that the event would revolve round the natural location and to ensure that the natural beauty of this park was respected.
In a race which saw many athletes fall victim to multiple punctures, nevertheless there was hard fought, adrenaline pumping display of swimming, cycling and running, for the spectators lining the route.
In the pros category, Roger Serrano (Spain) and Brigitta Poor (Hungary) captured the pro category titles at the third annual Xterra Malta off-road triathlon to open the 2017 Xterra European Tour racing season.
It’s the third straight win in Malta for Poor, who is the reigning Xterra European Tour Champion, and it’s the second consecutive Malta victory for Serrano, who won the Euro Tour title in 2015.
With cloudy weather and an expectation of rain, the weather settled throughout the morning making it ideal for racing. Whilst Xterra Malta seems to be destined to have choppy seas, this year’s sea conditions were far better than those of the previous years. The start of the race saw Pro athletes start 30 seconds ahead of age groupers whilst sprint distance athletes began the race with a 10 minute gap.
In the men’s race Roger Serrano was the first out of the water followed by Maxim Chane and Hannes Wolpert just seconds behind him.
“I was not first in the first-loop of the swim, but I pushed a little bit on the 2nd-loop and managed to exit the water first,” said Serrano. “I left transition second but after 500-meters I took the lead and rode alone the whole course.”
Forty-seconds behind the first three out of the swim were Maximilian Sasserath, then Tomas Kubek and Francois Carloni.
In the women’s race Nicole Walters, a Silver-medalist as a paratriathlon guide at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, posted the fastest swim in her first-ever XTERRA race. “I did not swim as good as I wanted but was able to stay in front of the other girls,” she said.
One minute behind her was Anna–Paulina Sasserath, followed by last’s year winner Brigitta Poor. “My swim was bad; I was very slow but was happy to see myself 3rd into transition,” said Poor.
Carina Wasle, motivated after her win at Xterra Saipan a few weeks ago, was 4th and then one-minute later the young Italian Menditto and former European Tour champion Kathrin Mueller were climbing the stairs to transition together.
On the bike section Serrano increased his lead progressively, while Chane struggled with his hardtail bike and Wolpert had a flat tire that caused him to withdraw. Carloni pushed a lot on the first loop and was able to pass Sasserath and Kubek.
“I lost a lot of time in transition and was 7th when I started the bike,” said Carloni. “I was having a good day and was able to push a lot on the uphill. I was just one-minute behind Roger on the first loop but decided to slow down and keep some energy for the run.”
Sasserath entered the bike-to-run transition in 3rd place followed by Jorg Scheiderbauer & Kubek. Scheiderbauer was the surprise of the day on the bike, as he was 18th out of the water and managed to come into transition in 5th. Just seconds behind them was Maxim Danon, who was leading the amateurs race, with Jan Pyott in 7th and Jim Thijs in 8th.
In the women’s race on the bike Poor and Wasle passed Sasserath and Walters during the first 5km, but then Wasle flatted on the first downhill and Poor took the lead for good.
“On the bike, I felt very well and managed to pass everybody on the first loop,” said Poor. “I did a careful race after that trying to gain some time over the other girls. I managed to have 4-minutes lead entering transition for the run.”
Wasle explained, “I started the bike together with Brigitta but had a flat very early. I tried to fix it but was losing air and had to stop several times. I lost lot of time riding on the rim.”
Behind them Helena Erbenova, who lost almost 5-minutes on the swim, was pushing hard on the bike to cover the difference.
“Starting the bike I knew I had to do my best to get in the front,” said Erbenova. “I was feeling great and powerful and enjoyed passing the other girls but even with that Brigitta was more than 4-minutes in front by the time I got to transition.”
Walters, in her first race on a mountain bike, was able to stay in touch with the leaders followed by Maud Goldsteyn. They both entered transition zone with just one-minute difference.
On the run no-one could touch Serrano who was managing his pace and enjoying the lead. Even on this pace he did the 3rd best run of the day finishing the race in first place more than three-minutes ahead of Sasserath.
“I was feeling great all the time today and did not make any mistakes,” said Serrano. “I am so happy to win here for the second time in a row. Congratulations to the organizers, all the athletes and competitors.”
The young German Sasserath had his best performance in an Xterra race, grabbing second place from Francois Carloni who finished third.
“I was able to see Carloni on the 2nd loop of the run. I was feeling strong, pushed hard and was able to pass him on the last downhill. This was a great day for me,” said Sasserath.
This year Jan Pyott was finally able not only to finish the race but also secure 4th place, with Jorg Sheiderbauer in 5th.
In the woman’s race the big lead Poor took to the run was plenty enough to secure her third straight win in Malta.
“I tried to be relaxed and keep the gap to Erbenova,” said Poor. “After the second loop I knew I was going to win here. It’s the best start of the 2017 season for me and looking forward to the next events. Congratulations to all. See you soon”
Erbenova followed in second after more than three-minutes, saying “I felt empty on the run. My concern was not to catch Brigitta but just to keep at least the second place.”
Newcomer Nicole Walters managed to finish 3rd followed by Goldsteyn in 4th and Wasle in 5th.
Malta goes to Hawaii
Triathlon veteran, with a number of championship titles under her belt, Danica Bonello Spiteri will be going to Xterra World Championships in Hawaii in October. Sunday’s age group win Saw Bonello Spiteri qualifying for her second participation at this international event having already done so in 2014.
“I was third overall female out of the water and had a strong start to the bike leg though a puncture saw the end to that, dropping me down to about 10th overall female. But it’s never over till you reach the finish line. Fixed the puncture and dug deep to crawl back up to 4th overall female age grouper. I was determined to give a strong performance and this determination enabled me to win my age category and secure my second participation at the Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii at the end of this year!” – Danica Bonello Spiteri
Lara Buttigieg started with a very strong swim and was doing well on the bike but two punctures on the bike route stopped her in her tracks resulting in a withdrawal from the race.
The Males category saw Ackerly Hili, Ryan Spiteri and Peter Jan Grech were the first three Maltese to cross the finish line. Hili completed the race in two hours 46 minutes 17 seconds.
“My aim was to be in the top five of my age group and be one of the top Maltese finishers, so my training focused on that. I had a great swim, shedding off 25 minutes from last year’s time – this advantage helped to make up for time lost on the bike leg due to a slow puncture. Some cramps on the run hindered a bit of progress but nevertheless, I am extremely pleased with my result” – Ackerly Hili
Strong performances were also registered by Ryan Spiteri and Peter Jan Grech who all registered substantially improved times compared to the previous years. Spiteri shaved off twelve minutes whilst Grech reduced his time by twenty-three minutes.
Race Organiser Nathan Farrugia was very pleased with the outcome – “Once again Malta was able to pull off a great event – the fact that international athletes keep on returning is a clear indication that Malta knows how to organise a race to their high level expectations. The dedicated crew have been working on the event for months to keep raising standards. Malta has such a wealth of sporting locations that we can use both to increase niche tourism – something we have been working closely with the Malta Tourism Authority, who have shown full support towards such initiatives, as well as combat obesity and promote active lifestyles. We hope that next year’s edition will see more Maltese people take on a personal challenge, either as individuals or as relay teams. In 2018 we will team up with a global travel company Nirvana, and a European TV production house to further increase our reach and attractiveness.”
Xterra Malta is made possible with the support of the Malta Tourism Authority, Radisson Blu Resort & Scouts, Eurosport, Cisk, Crane Currency, Jeep, Malta Police Force, Transport Malta, Mġarr Local Council, Agones SFC, Birkirkara St Joseph Sports Club Swimming Section, Red Cross Malta, Mediterranean Insurance Brokers, Mdina Glass, Garmin Malta, ProAction, The Cyclist, emvigee pr & marketing and Top3Meetings.
More information can be found on – http://www.maltaxterra.com/event/xterra-malta/