Ruben Ruzafa used an unusually (for him) swift swim and his typically excellent mountain bike leg to hold off long-time rival Josiah Middaugh’s race-best run, defend his 2013 title and win his 3rd XTERRA World Championship by a 1 minute 15 seconds margin.
By contrast, Flora Duffy of Bermuda earned a virtual wire-to-wire victory by a 2:05 margin on runner-up Barbara Riveros of Chile - despite a jarring mountain bike crash.
After dominating the XTERRA USA series with four wins, last year’s surprise bronze medalist Flora Duffy gained much needed experience and improved good health to make the Bermuda Olympian a favorite over defending champion (and better ITU pavement racer) Nicky Samuels and at least an even bet with 2012 runner-up and 2013 3rd place XTERRA Maui finisher Barbara Riveros of Chile.
Samuels finished the swim with a women's-best 22:09 split that was 10 seconds better than Duffy, 1:56 better than Riveros and 2:35 better than XTERRA Europe dominator Kathrin Müller of Germany. “I came out of the water pretty close to Nicky, but I gave up a few seconds pulling off my Roka Swimskin,” said Duffy. “Time well spent for coming out of the swim in such a good position.”
Feeling strong from the gun, Duffy quickly made up the deficit and passed Samuels for the lead 1 kilometer into the ride. “I never saw Nicky or anyone else for the rest of the day,” said Duffy. She would need a big lead when she arrived at a precipitous declivity midway through the course’s toughest, most technical section.
“At Mile 7, I flipped over the handlebars, into the bushes and landed on my head as the bike fell on top of me,” said Duffy. “At first I was disoriented and wasn't sure I could go on. Somehow in all that my shorts ripped a small but very noticeable hole on my right butt. Which I did not notice until after I crossed the line in front of all those people!”
At that crucial moment, Duffy was shocked that she had made such a mess of it. “I had not crashed all year and it caught me off guard. It took me a few moments to gather myself then I had to deal with a mechanical issue as a result of the crash – my chain got caught between the frame and the cassette, so I had to pull it out. Happily, only a few men – no women - passed me. I was lucky to come out of it without any serious issues.”
The rest of her day went smoothly, much more smoothly than last year when she came into the race recovering from a stress fracture in her foot and too little training. “This year my fitness is incomparably better,” said Duffy. “And I learned to take in enough nutrition and hydration to avoid the bonk I suffered as Lesley Paterson passed me on the beach near the finish.”
Despite the crash, Duffy posted a women’s best 1:41:41 mountain bike split which was 1:07 faster than Helena Erbenova, 1:20 faster than Riveros, 4:18 better than Emma Garrard and 5:30 better than an off-form Samuels. Kathrin Müller, the XTERRA European Champion who seemed to pose a major threat, fell prey to Maui’s heat and humidity that was in high contrast to her rainy cold victories in Europe. She fell to 11th with a 1:48:34 bike split and a survival slog 50:58 run.
Riveros gained back 55 seconds on Duffy with a women's best 42:01 run split, but fell 2:05 short of Duffy’s 2:48:00 winning time. Samuels hung on with a 46:14 run which brought her home in 3rd place 8:22 behind the winner.
Emma Garrard of the U.S. took 4th, 23 seconds behind Samuels, and Helena Erbenova of the Czech Republic was 5th, 1:02 behind Erbenova.
“This was huge for me and my country,” said Duffy. “I dreamed of winning a world championship since I was 8 years old – and this very cool.”
Contrary to his usual expectations, Ruzafa started his day in the choppy waters of the South Pacific with a 4th-fastest 22:53 swim that surrendered 1:09 to Ben Allen, 51 seconds to Mauricio Mendez, and 10 seconds to Dan Hugo. He gained 3 seconds on 4-time XTERRA World champion Conrad Stoltz, 1:10 on Ironman star Bart Aernouts, 1:31 on 2011 XTERRA World Champion Michi Weiss and, perhaps most important, he gained a 1:36 lead on last year’s runner-up and top rival Josiah Middaugh.
After Ruzafa played his trump card – a race-best 1:26:54 split on the challenging, climb-happy mountain bike course, barring catastrophe there were only two men left in real contention for the win. Middaugh, after a 2nd-fastest 1:27:43 mountain bike split, had 2:25 to make up to fulfill his dream of winning this crown jewel of the XTERRA world. No one else had cracked 90 minutes on the hot, humid, curvy and steep bike course. Ben Allen, last year’s 3rd-place finisher, was the next closest competitor and he was 5:08 back starting the run.
Middaugh gave it all he had with a race-best 37:58 run that would do credit to a mountain goat on Maui’s rugged, vertiginous trails. It was 1:24 faster than Ruzafa, but fell 1:15 short of triumph. Still, Middaugh harbored no shred of bitterness.
“It feels good because I did everything I could do today,” said Middaugh. “I pulled out all the stops in my training and I put together a perfect race for me. I feel like I had the best race I've ever had here, but Ruben was simply stronger today.”
Ruzafa knew he had been in a battle. “I knew it would be hard because Josiah was very strong,” said the Spaniard. “I am surprised because I swim very well. I think if I ride very well on the bike (he did) I can keep him off on the run” (which he so emphatically did).
Ben Allen put together a race-best swim, a 3rd-fastest 1:30:53 bike split and a 7th-best 41:19 run to finish 4:54 behind Ruzafa and repeat his 3rd place finish of last year. Dan Hugo of South Africa took 4th, 6:32 behind the winner. Young Mexican XTERRA phenom Mauricio Mendez used a 2nd-fastest 38:50 run to advance to 5th place.
The win advances Ruzafa into a tie with fellow Spaniard Eneko Llanos for second in XTERRA World Championship history with three victories. South African Conrad Stoltz remains atop the men’s standings with four XTERRA World Championships.
XTERRA World Championship
October 26, 2014
S 1.5k / b 30k / R 11 k
1. Ruben Ruzafa (ESP) 2:29:57
2. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:31:12
3. Ben Allen (AUS) 2:34:51
4. Dan Hugo (RSA) 2:36:29
5. Mauricio Mendez (MEX) 2:38:55
6. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 2:38:56
7. Conrad Stoltz (RSA) 2:38:58
8. Michael Weiss (AUT) 2:39:07
9. Rom Akerson (CRC) 2:39:41
10. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 2:40:10
1. Flora Duffy (BER) 2:48:00
2. Barbara Riveros (CHL) 2:50:05
3. Nicky Samuels (NZL) 2:56:32
4. Emma Garrard (USA) 2:56:55
5. Helena Erbenova (CZE) 2:57:57
6. Suzie Snyder (USA) 2:59:54
7. Charlotte McShane (AUS) 3:03:00
8. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 3:03:18
9. Jacqui Slack (GBR) 3:03:46
10. Carina Wasle (AUT) 3:04:55