Nicky Samuels To Race Xterra Asia Pacific Tour Opener In Motatapu

March 6th, 2014

Nicky Samuels To Race Xterra Asia Pacific Tour Opener In Motatapu

USAT Honors XTERRA's Best, a brand-new all women's XTERRA race, and more lifetime achievement honors for Nico Lebrun in this week's XTERRA News

Honolulu, HI (March 6, 2014) – The eight-stop XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour kicks off Saturday at the XTERRA Motatapu off-road triathlon on the South Island of New Zealand. The race will serve as a celebration of sorts for reigning XTERRA World Champion Nicky Samuels and Braden Currie (5th at XTERRA Worlds) as both live right there in Wanaka.  As a child Samuels used to ride her mountain bike to get to and from the school bus stop.

“It is an amazing place, although looking a little chilly this year with some fresh snow on the hills!” said Samuels, who has won a pair of New Zealand sprint races to start the year off right.

Samuels may have caught herself by surprise by winning Worlds in October, but not her supporters in Wanaka. “I think I was more surprised with the win than they were, it was almost like they expected it back home. Some of my immediate family were there watching so they were thrilled I pulled it off…I was thrilled just to still be standing at the end,” said Samuels, who called XTERRA Worlds “honestly the toughest race I have done.”

While the ultimate goal for Samuels is the Rio Olympics in 2016, which calls for an ITU focused schedule, she hopes XTERRA is a big part of her program going forward. “I am contemplating the Asia-Pacific Champs but will have to see how training goes, and I’d like to get back to the World Champs again this year as well,” said Samuels.  “It’s a great event. To go to Hawaii to do a race is the first positive, and the course was hard.  That bike is a slow grunt but having a beach swim with waves is awesome, something we miss out a bit on in triathlons. American’s always know how to put on a good event, it is definitely a must do race. This year if I return I would have finished with my ITU races at the end of August so would have two months to prepare on the mountain bike – so for sure I’d be looking forward to it a bit more than last year!”

While this is just the third year XTERRA Motatapu has been part of the World Tour and offered up 14 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship, it’s the 10th anniversary for the iconic weekend of events that attracts some 4,000 competitors with races in mountain biking, an off-road marathon, adventure runs and triathlons.

“It is out-of-this-world gorgeous,” said XTERRA Hall of Famer Jamie Whitmore, who took part in the mountain bike race last year.

“The scenery is just incredible,” added Mexico’s Leo Ricardez, a long-time and well-traveled XTERRA Warrior, after the inaugural race.  “It’s like riding in the Lord of the Rings movie.  And the run was even more epic than the ride, very tough and technical with lots of climbing and lots of very steep descending. The trail went through alpine environments so it was grassy, wet, dry, steep, and super scenic. All in all, this was one of the best XTERRA runs I´ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of them!”

The race is longer than your typical XTERRA, combining a 2km swim in Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka, 47km Mountain Bike and a 15km mountain run over the historic Miners Trail course.  Samuels, who won last year’s race in her first-ever XTERRA, describes the course as “an awesome iconic event, but the run is a killer on the legs.”

“The mountain bike goes through Shania Twain’s property on a four wheel drive track through many river crossings and over continuous rolling tussock covered hills then you end up in Arrowtown (20km out of Queenstown), transition on the flats then head up a four wheel drive track that turns into a rugged goat trail,” said Samuels.

While the Kiwi is the sure-fire favorite in the women’s race, XTERRA legend Renata Bucher from Switzerland – winner of 31 XTERRA majors in 10 seasons including last year’s NZ Championship in Rotorua – will certainly keep her honest.  Bucher just posted an insightful look into her first impressions of Motatapu on her Facebook page with a series of pictures exploring the root of why “Kiwis are so fit & have world champs in triathlon and XTERRA.” You can check it out here.

Other elite women racing on Saturday include Kiwis Sara Backler – who was 2nd to Samuels last year, the 2011 25-29 division XTERRA World Champ Lizzie Orchard, Jess Simson, and Simone Maier.

In the men’s race Currie, who captured the first two XTERRA Motatapu crowns, will try to make it a hat-trick against the likes of Tony Dodds, Olly Shaw, Ryan Sissons, and David Esposito.  His 5th-place showing at Maui last year was the best for a New Zealander since Hamish Carter won the 2006 XTERRA World Championship, but it came at a price.  He crashed into a tree on the bike and needed six stiches to his chin after the race.

The 10th anniversary event is even more special as for the first time the race is under new ownership by the Queenstown Trails Trust and all net proceeds from the event go to the maintenance and future development of the Queenstown trail network (read the release). Have a look at the amazing scenery from Motatapu and follow along this weekend on their Facebook page, and race website.


Earlier this week USA Triathlon announced the 2013 Off-Road Triathletes of the Year, “honoring athletes for outstanding performances on challenging courses featuring an open water swim, mountain bike and a trail run.”

Josiah Middaugh and Emma Garrard were named the Elite winners, Matthew Balzer and Hannah Rae Finchamp took amateur honors, and Cole Bunn and Liz Gruber received honorable mention.

It’s the first-time USAT – the National Governing Body for triathlon in the United States – has recognized XTERRA’s finest.  In the press release issued by USAT (read it here) Steve Sutherland, chair of the USA Triathlon Age Group Committee Athlete of the Year Subcommittee, said that “Off-road triathlon is one of our fastest-growing areas of multisport. As you might imagine, it attracts some highly competitive athletes.  We are very pleased to honor the best of those competitors as our Off-Road Triathletes of the Year.”

The release continued to say that “The off-road triathlon discipline continues to gain popularity, with the International Triathlon Union officially recognizing the format as a world championship event in 2011.”

Of note, the 2014 XTERRA East Championship in Richmond, Virginia (June 15) will serve as the USAT Off-Road Championship race and XTERRA Germany in Zittau (August 16) will double as the ITU Cross Tri World Championships.

The Off-Road Athletes of the Year were selected by USA Triathlon’s Age Group Committee.  Here’s a look at the top three candidates in each category the committee had to choose from…

Pro Men

Josiah Middaugh (Vail, CO) – Won XTERRA West, Southeast, and Mountain Championships. Became the first American to win the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series since 2006, was 2nd at Nationals (top American) and 4th at Worlds (top American for 6th time).

Branden Rakita (Colorado Springs, CO) – Posted a career-best 2nd place finish at the Mountain Champs. For the season he placed 3rd at the XTERRA West Championship, 6th at the Southeast Champs, 9th at the East Champs, 11th at XTERRA France, 2nd at the XTERRA Mountain Championship, was 9th at the USA Champs, finished 3rd in XTERRA U.S. Pro Series, and placed 22nd (4th American) at XTERRA Worlds.

Ryan Ignatz (Boulder, CO) – Had a career-best runner-up performance at the East Champs.  On the year he placed fourth at the XTERRA West Champs, 2nd at the East Champs, 5th at the Mountain Champs, 10th at the USA Champs, finished 4th in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series, and was 16th (2nd American) at XTERRA Worlds.  Making his season more impressive, he works full time as a bike fitter at Colorado Multisport and is also a fit instructor for Retul.

Pro Women

Emma Garrard (Park City, UT) – Less than a year after giving birth to her first child in December 2012 Emma posted a career-best fifth place finish (and first American) at XTERRA Worlds, which followed her career-best fourth-place finish at the XTERRA USA Championship where she was also the top American. Emma got consistently faster in 2013, going from a 7th place finish at the West Champs, to a 6th at the Southeast Champs, then a 5th at the Mountain Champs before breaking out in Utah and Maui.

Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, CO) – Shonny worked her way back to the sharp end of the pro field in 2013 having fully recovered from knee injuries that plagued her last year.  At 44-years-old Vanlandingham captured the XTERRA Brazil and Mountain Championships and the XTERRA USA National Championship title for the fifth time in six years (the honor is bestowed upon the top American finishers in the final XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Standings). On the year Shonny finished 3rd at the XTERRA South Africa Championship, won XTERRA Brazil, placed 3rd at XTERRA South Africa, 3rd at the West Champs, 4th at the SE Champs, and 2nd at the East Champs before capturing the XTERRA Mountain Championship for the fourth time in five years.  She placed 2nd at the XTERRA Mexico Championship in August, and was 9th at the USA Championship. She finished 2nd in the Pro Series, and 8th (2nd American) at XTERRA Worlds where she posted the fastest bike split for the fifth time in her career.

Suzie Snyder (Fredericksburg, VA) – Placed second at the XTERRA West Championship, 5th at the Southeast Champs, 6th at the East Champs, 4th at the Mountain Champs, and 7th at the USA Champs.  Finished 5th in the Pro Series, and was 10th (3rd American) at XTERRA Worlds.

Note: Lesley Paterson has lived in San Diego for nearly a decade now, but still, she’s a Scottish lass! If USAT were to consider her American, she’d be a ringer.

Best Amateur Men

Alex Modestou (Washington, D.C.) – The 27-year-old won an unprecedented seven races in 2013 and to make it even more impressive he captured the overall at five of those.  Modestou won the amateur title at the XTERRA East Championship in June where he was 10th overall ahead of several pros, and in July he came from the East Coast to test himself in the thin air of the Rockies and placed 9th overall – top amateur – at the XTERRA Mountain Championship.  He was not able to participate in the USA or World Championships due to illness.

Matt Balzer (Reno, NV) – Matt wasn’t just the fastest amateur in the 30-34 division at the USA Championship race, he was the fastest of all amateurs.  Balzer, a former pro who know dedicates more time to his 5-month-old, 8-year-old, wife, and business than training, still managed to finished 12th overall and more than a minute in front of young gun Cole Bunn in Utah. Matt went on to finish third in his division at XTERRA Worlds.

Cole Bunn (Bettendorf, IA) – The 17-year-old won the overall at XTERRA Last Stand and Illinois Wild this year and was second amateur (13th overall) at the USA Championship behind only Matt Balzer.  Amazingly, while Bunn was 4th in the 15-19 division at XTERRA Worlds, he was just 17 seconds shy of being America’s fastest amateur in Maui (that honor belongs to Jens Beck from Anchorage).

Best Amateur Women

Hannah Rae Finchamp (Altadena, CA) – The 17-year-old senior in high school (4.4 GPA) won her division at every race she entered and finished a remarkable sixth overall behind only the top five pro women at the XTERRA West Championship, was 9th overall ahead of several pros at the Mountain Championship in July, won the 15-19 XTERRA USA Championship for the third

straight year, and was the top amateur woman at the World Championships for the second straight year with a time good for 11th overall.

Elizabeth “Liz” Gruber (Redding, CA) – The 23-year-old student at Loma Linda won the XTERRA USA Championship overall amateur women’s title and won her division at XTERRA Worlds for the second straight year (she was 5th amateur woman).

Anne Gonzales (Aspen, CO) – The 52-year-old won the national and world championships in her division and was the second amateur behind Finchamp at XTERRA Worlds.

Worthy of Consideration

There were three amateur men who won six races during the course of the XTERRA America Tour highlighted by 11-time South Central Region Champion Kyle Grieser from Marble Falls, Texas. Also of note, Marcus Barton won six-of-seven (and the USAT off-road Nationals) and George Mainas won six-of-eight.

For the women both Melanie Etherton and Cindi Toepel had perfect six win seasons, and Etherton won the overall at five of those (as well as the USA off-road Nationals).  Not to be out done, Toepel won the overall at XTERRA Iron Creek this year, at the age of 62!

Reigning XTERRA 40-44 World Champ Mimi Stockton had a stellar season as well, winning the overall at all five races she entered, including a head-to-head showdown with Etherton at the Southeast Championship. She also won XTERRA Worlds for the second straight year.

Ron Hill won the 75-79 XTERRA World Title and was named the Warrior Award Winner in Maui having come back from a brutal crash the year before.  Michael Hagan finished as the 9th amateur overall at the USA Championship (won the 50-55 division) with a time that would’ve been fast enough to win the 20-24, 40-44, and 45-49 division too. Tom Monica won his fourth XTERRA National Championship (55-59 division) and his fifth XTERRA World title. Lucia Colbert won the 55-59 division XTERRA USA and World titles for the second straight year. Craig Vogstberger won his third national championship in Utah and was 2nd in the PC division at Worlds, and John Royson won his first 60-64 USA Championship title and fourth XTERRA World Title.


For the first-time since its inception in 1996 XTERRA will offer a women’s only off-road triathlon. The XTERRA Steamboat Springs all-women’s event on August 31 will take place in Steamboat Springs, Colorado as part of the 2014 XTERRA America Tour.

Heather Gollnick, a five-time Ironman champion, and her husband Todd of the Get Fit Family Racing team will be the race directors for the first-ever event, and hope to produce a full nationwide series of all-women XTERRA races next year.

“We are focusing on promoting health, wellness and sport for women,” said Heather Gollnick, who is also a motivational speaker, published author, and mother of three.  “We hope to introduce XTERRA to a whole new group of female athletes.”

Two distances will be offered, an Olympic distance (1-mile swim, 18-mile bike, 6.2-mile run) as well as a half-distance sprint race.  Both will start in Bald Eagle Lake, a beautiful private lake in the heart of Steamboat Springs.  The bike and run are at Mt. Werner, the main Ski Mountain in Steamboat Springs where women will enjoy an incredible system of trails.

“We’d like to see more women join the Tribe and believe providing them with a friendly and supportive environment in which to discover our sport is a great place to start,” said XTERRA President Janet Clark.  “Heather and Todd are proven event directors that focus on the family and are very positive. We’re happy to have them lead the way on this new initiative.”

To learn more and sign-up visit .


2005 XTERRA World Champion Nico Lebrun, the most recent inductee into the XTERRA Hall of Fame, was similarly honored at the Italian Triathlon Awards last weekend. Lebrun was awarded “Cavaliere del triathlon” which loosely translates to Knight of Triathlon, for his lifetime achievements in the sport.

“It’s a very nice honor,” said Lebrun, who graced the podium in three different sports (XTERRA, Duathlon, Winter Triathlon) more than a dozen times in his career.  “I was a world champion for the first time in winter tri in Italy, and I raced a lot in Italy.”

Lebrun won three XTERRA European Tour titles in his career and captured the XTERRA Italy Championship in 2012.  After XTERRA Worlds in October Lebrun retired from professional racing and shifted his focus to coaching and assisting with the XTERRA European Tour.

“It’s really hard to be retired,” said Lebrun.  “Now I’m managing a team of 45 athletes, 15 of whom are part of a personal training group including XTERRA athletes Asa Shaw, Nienke Oostra and Rory Downey. I will start in Greece next weekend to work for XTERRA Euro tour, I have to go back to school to be an official coach in France, and I’m starting a new race organization to produce a two-mile trail run with 3,300-feet of climbing.  So, lots of work and almost everything around XTERRA community…you’re not rid of me yet!”


Nicky Samuels To Race Xterra Asia Pacific Tour Opener In Motatapu

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Trey Garman

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