A dark horse / long shot took the measure of the men, while a multiple champion dominated the pro women at the 23rd XTERRA World Championship in Kapalua, Maui.
After a week of rains that left the 32 kilometer steep mountainside bike course slippery and caking the mountain bikes thick with red clay, a 34-year-old long shot from Costa Rica had his career breakthrough. Rom Akerson had finished this championship 8th in 2015, 10th in 2016 and 10th last year – 10 to 15 minutes behind the winners who garnered $20,000 while Akerson took home under a thousand bucks to help defray the travel costs.
Akerson said his pro career was hanging by a thread when he moved this year. "I lost my car in a river at the same time I moved to the city, so for the last three months I lived on my bike,” Akerson told XTERRA media. "I rode all over the city, to the supermarket, to training, to the track. I just focused. It was like, everything was taken away from me and I decided, this is how it’s going to be, just me and my bike. And here I am.”
Akerson showed a spark of promise with a home country win at XTERRA Costa Rica. But all the top odds went to veterans like former XTERRA Worlds titlists like Ruben Ruzafa of Spain, Josiah Middaugh of the U.S., defending champion Bradley Weiss of South Africa and 2016 champion Mauricio Mendez of Mexico.
Undaunted, Akerson emerged from the Pacific swim as the 9th pro, 56 seconds behind swim leader Sam Osborne of New Zealand. While former pro mountain biker and three-time XTERRA world champion Ruben Ruzafa emerged from the mountain bike course in the lead, he was covered in mud and looked exhausted. For all his trouble, Ruzafa only had a 45 seconds lead on Akerson, who looked fresh as a daisy and after his 3rd-best 1:42:12 bike split, and took off on the run leading luminaries like Weiss, Middaugh and Mendez.
“When I caught Ruben, I was going hard and decided I needed to slow down so I wouldn’t blow up,” said Akerson. “But then I thought no. I’m going to go as hard as I can and dig as deep as I can and if I blow up I blow up, but I’m going to give it a shot.”
While Weiss charged to a race-best 44:36 run, it was not enough as Akerson ran a third-fastest 46:26 on the hilly 10.5 kilometer trails and finished in 2:52:42 with a 35 seconds margin of victory over Weiss and 1:56 over 3rd place finisher Sam Osborne of New Zealand.
“I can’t even believe it,” said Akerson after the race with tears of joy in his eyes. “I opened it up today and just felt great. My Pura Vida spirit came out. During the run when I got the lead and I knew it was going to happen I wanted to cry but I had to tell myself to keep going, that I couldn’t cry if I hadn’t won it yet.”
Three-time XTERRA World Champ Ruzafa, evidently exhausted after his race-leading bike split, faded to 4th place with a 50:16 run.
“I felt good early on the bike but towards the end of it I started to get tired through the switchbacks and didn’t have enough energy left for that big climb on the run,” Ruzafa told XTERRA media.
Middaugh, who started well behind after a 24:34 swim, came on hard with a 2nd-best 1:42:10 bike split but could do no better than 5th after a 5th best 47:04 run. Mendez, the 2016 champion, closed with a second-best 46:11 run but could not overcome a 1:47:37 bike split and had to settle for 6th place.
With four-time XTERRA World Champion Flora Duffy out with the injuries that forced her to miss defending her two WTS titles, the 2018 edition of the women’s contest seemed wide open – for one woman. Lesley Paterson, 38, a Scottish born British citizen and San Diego resident, had the power résumé that outshone everyone else in the field: Wins in 2011 and 2012 plus runner-up finishes in 2009, 2015 and 2016, and the knowledge that she was on her game after a strong 2018 season, made her a prohibitive selection.
After a women’s 6th-best 25:09 swim, Paterson was a no-worries 3:26 behind swim leader Michelle Flipo of Mexico and no more than 25 seconds behind Melanie McQuaid of Canada, Suzie Snyder of the U.S., Brigitta Poor of Hungary and Carina Wasle of Austria.
“I had a great swim today and was really happy with it,” Paterson told XTERRA media. “When I got on the bike, I got into the lead pretty quick and tried to stay patient with the conditions.”
After a dominating 2:08:03 bike split – 8 minutes faster than the next-best effort by Brigitta Poor - Paterson floated atop the energy sapping mud that favored Paterson’s nimble and light body. Paterson then tackled the run with a 6-minute or more lead on her rivals.
After a race-best 53:04 trail run split, Paterson finished in 3:29:08 with a 10:48 margin of victory over Michelle Flipo of Mexico and 11:46 over 3rd place Lizzie Orchard of New Zealand.
XTERRA World Championship
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
October 28, 2018
S 1.5k / MTB 32k / R 10.5k
1. Rom Akerson (Costa Rica) 2:52:42 S 21:44 B 1:42:12 R 46:26 - $20,000
2. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 2:53:17 S 21:29 B 1:44:39 R 44:36 - $12,000
3. Sam Osborne (NZL) 2:54:38 S 20:48 B 1:44:57 R 46:47 - $7,000
4. Ruben Ruzafa (ESP) 2:55:35 S 21:43 B 1:41:07 R 50:16 - $4,000
5. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:56:34 S 24:34 B 1:42:10 R 47:04 - $2,500
6. Mauricio Mendez (MEX) 2:57:11 S 21:08 B 1:47:37 R 46:11 - $1,500
7. Karsten Madsen (CAN) 3:04:06 S 21:59 B 1:50:32 R 48:41 - $1,100
8. Maxim Chane (FRA) 3:07:08 S 21:19 B 1:52:38 R 50:43 - $800
9. Francois Carloni (FRA) 3:07:42 S 21:51 B 1:50:41 R 52:05 - $600
10. Roger Serrano (ESP) 3:10:30 S 20:51 B 1:53:40 R 53:03 - $500
1. Lesley Paterson (GBR) 3:29:08 S 25:19 B 2:08:03 R 53:04 - $20,000
2. Michelle Flipo (MEX) 3:39:56 S 21:43 B 2:18:03 R 56:43 - $12,000
3. Lizzie Orchard (NZL) 3:40:54 S 25:16 B 2:17:46 R 54:50 - $7,000
4. Suzie Snyder (USA) 3:44:29 S 24:50 B 2:17:22 E 58:59 - $4,000
5. Brigitta Poor (HUN) 3:45:27 S 24:54 B 2:16:44 E 1:00:43 - $2,500
6. Carina Wasle (AUT) 3:51:09 S 25:00 B 2:25:35 R 57:29 - $1,500
7. Julie Baker (USA) 3:59:27 S 26:14 B 2:29:56 R 59:50 - $1,100
8. Angela Niklaus (SUI) 4:00:22 S 28:41 B 2:26:46 R 1:01:16 - $800
9. Penny Slater (AUS) 4:04:16 S 25:13 B 2:33:32 R 1:02:36 - $600
10. Allison Baca (USA) 4:06:35 S 25:15 B 2:32:19 R 1:05:57 - $500
Total prize purse $100,000,