May 25, 2014 (Honolulu, HI) – Sam Gardner and Karyn Southgate captured the inaugural XTERRA Mauritius titles while Ruben Ruzafa and Helena Erbenova won at XTERRA Spain on Saturday.
“Bois Cherie itself is mind blowing,” said Gardner about the Tea Estate on the island nation situated in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. “The grounds are a work of art with countless grounds staff trimming the tea bushes continuously. They serve up an amazing variety of herbal and traditional teas too. Known in the UK as a honeymoon destination and a paradise Island, I was keen to see if they could put on an XTERRA here.”
Bordering the mountainous Black River Gorges National Park, the race started in a pristine mountain lake.
“You’d have expected a sea swim in the pristine waters and beaches that the Island is famed for, but instead the race starts in a lake high up in the famous Bois Cherie Tea plantation,” explained Gardner, pictured abover during the swim. “Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures with a large Indian population who started this great estate nearly 200 years ago, it’s where they make the famous St. Aubin rum (strictly for post race use)! When we arrived it was 26 degrees C (that’s the metric system, it’ll catch on in the US one day!) with 26 degree water too, they did warn us it was winter!
The race started with a large contingent of relay swimmers taking the lead out the water ahead of XTERRA pros like Gardner and former world champion Nico Lebrun.
The bike course is run over two 17km laps. The first 2km was grass and muddy and slippery from the recent rain, then the course was predominantly on fire roads through the Tea plantations and past bemused Tea pickers who had obviously not seen this sort of thing before, said Gardner. A couple of short single track sections were thrown in to test all the riders as well as a couple of dragging climbs. Towards the end of the lap the tea fields were swapped for sugar cane with the leaves slapping our arms as we whistled past at 20 mph.
“Nico and I set about picking off the relay teams and by the end of lap one we were riding neck and neck with the lead team. I got a bit sideways on some mud on one of the fast descents and ended up in a banana tree. As we started lap two I started picking some better lines and the good life after retirement that Nico has been living was maybe taking its toll and he faded slightly,” said Gardner. “This left me with a minute or so lead starting the run, which wouldn’t have been enough against the former world champion a few years ago but on this occasion it was enough. The two-lap run course had it all and must be one of the best on the XTERRA circuit. The first km rolled through a deer park on the estate, then came a stiff climb followed by a very slippery narrow muddy descent through a stream and along a technical trail with an amazing canopy of bamboo. Some more fire road with a climb up and down a wooden ladder led to a gorgeous section alongside an irrigation channel then into an extremely slippery and steep second half, culminating with a lap of the lake at the very end. It was so nice you almost forgot the pain!”
Lebrun, who finished second, called the run “one of the best I’ve ever done at XTERRA for sure.”
Top three men: Gardner (2:37:33), Nico Lebrun (2:42:53), and Yannick Desfarges, (2:44:42)
Top woman: Karyn Southgate, pictured (3:29:48)
RUZAFA, ERBENOVA WIN XTERRA SPAIN
Ruben Ruzafa and Helena Erbenova won the XTERRA European Tour opener in La Manga, Spain on Saturday. XTERRA managing director Dave Nicholas was on-site and brings us this report…
To quote Dickens; It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
The location at La Manga resort is fantastic; the area in Murcia is Cint Eastwood spaghetti western wild. Steep climbs, gnarly downhills, lots of power and rhythm riding. A run everyone loves. And then there were the worst of times.
The local « guardia » was late; the ambulance was late; a lot of local authorities were late. Hence, the start was 20 minutes late. The authorities also deemed what appeared to be a calm, no surf day as too dangerous and would not permit the swim. We substituted a wicked 4.5K uphill and back downhill run. The swimmers hated it, the runners loved it.
The grand story must be Albert Soley Castells. Albert was first age grouper last year and upgraded to elite for this season. He was incredible today. He came off the first run in 3rd and quickly caught and passed his way into a bike long battle with two-time world champion Ruben Ruzafa (pictured). Soley posted the fastest bike split and came into T2 in first place. I was watching the action at a very fun double drop downhill near the finish. Xavier Jove’ came through a bit later followed by fast improving Swiss Jan Pyott. Then nothing. When nobody came by for over 10 minutes I knew something was wrong.
The bike was perfect for 95% of its length. But near the end, and just after the first 3 went past, a marshal started sending people the wrong way on a steep hike-a-bike hill. Pyott recognized quickly this was wrong and turned around. Roger Serrano went all the way up the climb only to find a 6m drop and realized the mistake. He came down and warned others it was the wrong way but it was too late. The field was shattered with perhaps as many as half being sent the wrong way. To further matters, a local crazy man took a bunch of red/white XTERRA branded run tape off the run course the night before and then took the blue direction arrow and sent more the wrong way at a second location.
While it is the athlete’s job to know the course, this double disaster was beyond anything I have ever witnessed.
We are still working out the results. The elite women and I got together after the race to work out what the finishing order was. I know full well that missing or cutting the course is cause for DQ. But in this case, all but one woman would have been DQ’d and it was my decision to get everyone together and try to get a 100% consensus on the finish order. To the great credit of the elite women, we all agreed and their results are confirmed.
A disastrous result to an otherwise wonderful experience. Organizers are deflated and have humbly apologized for the problems. More after they gather themselves and make some decisions about next year.
So we go on to Portugal next week. It was wonderful watching a new face challenge the established champion and to see what a great physical course they have created here. It was no fun taking the anger from disappointed athletes. As the Kahuna has said in his famous book « Kahuna’s 17 great rules of life and putting on events » – Tomorrow the sun will come up and life will go on.