Hometown hero Sam Osborne and Great Britain’s Jacqui Allen captured the 17th annual XTERRA New Zealand off-road triathlon elite titles in Rotorua on Saturday, April 6, 2019.
It’s the third year in a row Osborne and Allen have won this race, and the fourth time for Allen on the top step in Rotorua dating back to her first-ever XTERRA win here in 2012.
In the men’s race Osborne, Ryan Sissons, and Ben Allen set the pace in the swim but as soon as it got to the bike it was all Osborne.
“The three of us came into transition and went thru it really hard and in the first bits of the bike I saw a little gap, maybe five seconds to Ben, and I dug in to see if I could pull away. After a few minutes I couldn’t see Benny, so went 100%. I got a time split a third of the way into the bike that I was 1:10 up so that was a good sign,” said Osborne. “I backed off a little bit towards the end of the bike to make sure my running legs would be ready, and they pulled probably 20-seconds back on me during that last stretch.”
Osborne had about 1:30 on the speedy Sissons heading into the run, which would prove to be more than enough. He crossed the line in 2:02:36, having posted the fastest swim, bike, and run times of the day. Sissons came in second nearly two-minutes later.
“I felt dead in the first K of the run then the legs finally came to the party,” said Osborne. “I was sitting right on my limit today but didn’t go over it. There’s always danger with someone who runs as fast as Ryan (Sissons) lurking 1:30 back. He’s got legs.”
Sissons, a two-time Olympian racing in his first-ever XTERRRA, and Osborne, the reigning and two-time XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champion, know each other well having trained extensively together through the years, most notably in the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics where Sissons finished 17th.
“We’ve done a ton of training together,” said Osborne. “In fact, we’ll come over here on Sunday’s and do long rides together. I can tell you he can ride a mountain bike properly and could do some damage racing off-road.”
For Sissons, his introduction to XTERRA couldn’t have gone much better.
“It was a pretty good day,” he said. “I had an average T1. I’ve got mountain bike shoes that took me a long time to put on, and by the time I got going Sam was already gone. Then it took me a while to catch Ben, and once I did, I just rode hard the rest of the way. Think I got off the bike 1:30 down from Sam, then just ran tempo around that tough run course. It was good fun, really enjoyed it.”
Another local Rotorua kid, Olly Shaw, caught Ben and Ryan about halfway around the bike after Sisson dropped his chain on a downhill, but the Olympian was able to catch back up and get ahead of those two by T2.
“Finishing second here to Sam is pretty good, because he could ride around that course blindfolded,” said Sissons, who then explained the difference between ITU racing and XTERRA. “The whole course is rock solid, it’s pretty honest. You have to be strong the whole day to go well. The mountain bike section is bloody hard, you have to be on the power the whole day. It’s not like ITU racing where you can kind of chill out for a while. I mean, as soon as you get off the trail your pushing hard on the road sections and when you get back on the trails you have to concentrate the whole time.”
Sissons is hopeful to join the XTERRA Tribe in Maui this year, adding, “One of the reasons I did this was to qualify and get a spot to Maui, so yeah, I might head over. The XTERRA World Championship is one of my bucket list things to do in triathlon, so you might see me over there for a race and a holiday this October.”
Shaw, a long-time XTERRA racer who won the 20-24 division World Title back in 2012, is focusing on road tris this year but was happy to mix it up today.
“Can’t miss a hometown race, even though I’ve been quite sick for the past month or so,” said Shaw. “Happy with third all things considered. I caught Ryan about 25 minutes into the bike when his chain dropped, got a little gap there, then went into half-hour of single track and he was right behind me. And I knew how quick he runs, so just had to watch him run past.”
Shaw held on for third with Ben Allen in fourth and Lewis Ryan rounding out the top five.
Elite Men’s Results
||Sam Osborne, NZL
||Ryan Sissons, NZL
||Olly Shaw, NZL
||Ben Allen, AUS
||Lewis Ryan, NZL
||Sam Clark, NZL
||Cameron Paul, NZL
||Flavio Vianna, NZL
||Taylor Charlton, AUS
||Brodie Gardner, AUS
||Clark Ellice, NZL
||Yuan Keng Hsu, TWN
||Chung-Yi Lin, TWN
In the women’s race Jacqui Allen and Penny Slater from Australia went shoulder-to-shoulder for the second week in a row. Last week it was at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race in Taiwan, where Slater (who is coached by Allen) won the first major of her career.
“I wasn’t going to let Penny steal this one,” smiled Allen. “This 3-peat is so special, I never thought I’d be the kind of athlete to do it.”
Allen got the early jump in the swim, then rode clean and strong by herself for most of the ride until Slater caught on.
“I had a better swim this week, learned from last week,” said Allen. “I also played a better tactical game. I didn’t waste energy on the bike, rode the technical sections well. Still, I could see Penny was catching me on the bike the last six kilometers or so. It was super windy out there today, and she is powerful through the wind. At that point I eased back and let her catch on, knew it would come down to the run, which suits me here.”
Slater took the lead on the bike in the last kilometer, blitzed through the bike-to-run transition and headed out on the run about 20-meters ahead of Slack.
“When I saw Jacqui at the end of the bike, I knew I had to catch her and get in front for a chance at the win,” said Slater, the reigning XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champion. “We pretty much ran shoulder to shoulder until the 8K mark, and she just put the hammer down and I had nothing. Credit to her, she absolutely killed it today. I think we’re both super happy that we could put on a really good show for everyone.”
Allen took advantage of the last downhill to create a gap then ran for the three-peat.
“It’s great to have that feeling that you can go and run really fast when you need to,” said Allen. “I was breathing hard all the way to the finish line but kept running faster. The run course is so fast and flowy, it plays to my strength. And there were so many people cheering. I’m not sure what it is about this race for me. I like it for so many reasons, because it starts at 11:30, and I’m not really a morning person so that helps. And it’s cooler than a lot of the other races, and the trails are like what I grew up riding in the UK, it just all comes together.”
Allen crossed the line in 2:29:42, 16-seconds ahead of Slater. Kiwi Samantha Kingsford finished in third, with Morgan Riou from France in fourth, and Rachel Challis of New Zealand fifth.
Elite Women’s Results
||Jacqui Allen, AUS
||Penny Slater, AUS
||Samantha Kingsford, NZL
||Morgane Riou, FRA
||Rachel Challis, NZL
||Lydia Hale, NZL
Complete Results / Images
XTERRA New Zealand was the second of five races on the 2019 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour, offering up $10,000 NZD and 75-point scale scoring towards elite and amateur Tour standings, plus 26 qualifying spots for age groupers vying to race at XTERRA Worlds.Next up on the APAC Tour: XTERRA Tahiti in Moorea on May 31, then XTERRA Japan on Sept. 15 in Marunuma and the inaugural XTERRA Kunming off-road sports festival in China on September 22.
Learn more at xterraplanet.com.