Reigning XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh and two-time Maui winner Lesley Paterson captured the second-annual XTERRA Tahiti off-road triathlon on a muddy day in Mataiea Saturday.
XTERRA correspondent Nico Lebrun had a front row seat to all the action and brings us this report from a racers perspective…
This is XTERRA – tough, muddy and beautiful!
The event took place in Mataiea, about 40-kilometers from the capital in Papeete.
The organizers from VSOP do a magnificent job bringing the Tahitian culture into the opening ceremonies and throughout the day. This year the local commemoration was especially memorable as they honored one of their members, Loic Lecottier, who passed away in October.
We all know Tahiti for the beautiful lagoon and green landscapes and now we know why it’s so green … it rains a lot! The amount of rain on Saturday turned the festival area into a muddy mess and the power flickered on-and-off to the dismay of the timers. Even some of the roads became impassable without a four-wheel drive, so volunteers at aid stations walked to their positions. Despite all this the organizers were able to smile and put on a great event.
Last year in Tahiti I was able to watch the race as a spectator. This time I was in the race with a start number, but Josiah didn’t look too afraid about it!
The swim was three 500-meter loops with a beach run in the middle which made it really nice for spectators.
A local swimmer took the lead with Josiah not far behind. Lesley said, « this swim was the best, with the local Tahitian Warrior show before the start, it was so powerful. »
Josiah took the lead early on the bike, but said “on this course even on the front I had to stay focused and not get hurt. It was a race against Mother Nature, one of the most challenging races I’ve ever done.”
Behind Middaugh was local Cedric Wane, who won his age group in New Zealand earlier this year and was out to prove he was the fastest Polynesian in the race. I started the mountain bike loop with Christophe Betard, the overall amateur world champ last year who is now pro, and he dropped me right away and moved his way up to the second position behind Middaugh.
Lesley was all by herself in the women’s race but it was still a good test for her after having so much trouble this winter with Lyme disease.
“It’s my first race of the year, and finally coming off a few weeks of good training,” said Paterson, who like everybody else struggled to stay on two wheels on these muddy, slippery trails.
We were all happy just to finish the bike safe, and happy to start the run, but that is only because we didn’t know what was in store for us.
« I wanted to run everything no matter what, but when you have to climb with ropes,” said Middaugh. “I failed, and of course had to walk, even crawl under some trees. It was the most challenging trail loop I’ve ever done, it was diabolical. »
He was right and everybody who finished this race was really a warrior, it was true adventure.
After the race Josiah will fly directly to Alabama for the 4th race of the XTERRA Pan American Tour.
« This year I wanted to say yes to the opportunity to discover the world,” said Middaugh. “I’m still training hard, but it is a little bit less structured here in the first part of the season. I’ll slowly get back at 100% for Ogden and Maui. »
In the end Middaugh won by 10′ over Betard. While that seems far away Betard should feel good because in Maui he was 20-minutes back in a faster race so it is clear he is improved and can race with the pros.
I completed the podium, seven-minutes back but only one-minute ahead of Wane, who can be proud of his race. He will be an amazing Tahitian XTERRA ambassador, and I can tell that if he keeps improving we may have a Tahitian on the first step of the podium in his age group at Maui.
Lesley won the women’s race, and finished 6th overall, completely exhausted.
“The run was something else,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. There were a few tears, I’m not gonna lie. At one point I didn’t know if I was going in the right direction, because I thought there was no way they’d have us climb up this cliff but then I saw the rope, and sure enough it was part of the course. It was crazy, a real adventure.”
To complete the podium, it was a battle for first Tahitian, and this year Bourgeoisat Alice did it. She took second place in front of Yasmina Chenel, and I can tell that just finishing this race is already a big victory for all competitors.
Thanks Jean Michel, René, Jean Pierre and your family for this amazing event. Thanks also to all the sponsors and local community. XTERRA Tahiti is now in the legend of XTERRA, you must come here for the beauty of the land, the welcome and strong culture, and one of the toughest races on tour