The pinnacle event on the 2018 XTERRA European Tour takes place Saturday, August 18, in Zittau, as XTERRA Germany plays host to the European Championship race for the third time.
This is the 17th edition of XTERRA Germany, which produced its inaugural event in 2002, and for the 11th year all the action will unfold in Zittau, a famous town near the Polish and Czech borders that boasts some of the oldest buildings in all of Germany.
As one of three gold-level races on Tour, a $25,000 prize purse, and huge music festival-type set-up, the event has attracted an incredible elite field featuring the best-of-the-best off-roaders from around the world.
Reigning XTERRA European, Asia-Pacific, and World Championship title holder Bradley Weiss from South Africa headlines the elite men’s race and comes in fresh off a win at XTERRA Poland on Sunday.
“Poland went very well, and provided some great momentum going into this weekend’s race,” said Weiss, who spent the last month at an altitude camp in the Italian Alps with Sebastian Kienle preparing specifically for Saturday’s race. “I’ve raced in Germany four times now and know this course very well. I am very confident of my chances come Saturday and hope the race plays out like it did in Poland. I’m biking well right now, so you can expect that to be where I will try and make my move. I really can’t wait. The European Championship always brings out an incredibly strong field and this weekend will be no different.”
Indeed, there are 36 elite men from 14 countries on the start list, by far the deepest field of the season. One notable exception is three-time XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa, who suffered a scaphoid fissure in a fall at the ITU Cross Tri World Championship in Denmark (which he won for the fourth time). The injury put him in a wrist splint for three weeks, dashing any hopes at contending in Germany, but trust he’ll be better by the time the XTERRA World Championships roll around this October in Maui.
With Ruzafa out, that leaves last year’s XTERRA Germany winner Sam Osborne from New Zealand as Weiss’ chief nemesis. Osborne was second in Poland last week and second to Weiss at the European Championship race when it was held in Denmark last year but defeated Weiss at XTERRA Albay in June on his way to winning the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour crown.
“I need to set up the day with a really good swim,” said Osborne, one of the XTERRA World Tour’s fastest watermen. “There are some big swimmers here, so I’m looking to take advantage of that and get some clear road on the bike. Then the goal is to not burn too many unnecessary matches on the bike, so I can take advantage of the run. I’m running well, I showed that at Cross Tri Worlds, so if I come to T2 with legs, game on!”
Osborne said he anticipates a hotly contested battle all day long.
“The level is so high now across all three disciplines,” he said. “You look at last year and it was literally a pack of us off the bike together, and I am sure you will see some fireworks being lit in the Zittau mountains between that lead group.”
One man you can expect to be in that lead group is 2015 XTERRA European Tour Champ Roger Serrano from Spain.
“I will do an easy swim and start biking with no rush,” said Serrano, winner of XTERRA Malta, Cyprus, and Abruzzo this year. “After Italy I know I can ride fast so I will see how my body works during the first uphill on the bike. Depending on how Sam is feeling, or if Jens goes crazy from the start, or how fast Brad is trying to catch us, and who is coming from behind, I will stay, or I will push. I’m confident, but nobody wants to ride in the lead and get caught at T2. At the end, however, there is just one plan: be happy with my performance. If I win it has to be because I was the best, and If they beat me (no matter how many of them) it has to be because they have been training better and raced smarter. A clean race is always a good race.”
Arthur Serrieres from France, who was second to Osborne at this race last year, won at XTERRA Lake Garda in May and XTERRA Romania two weeks ago, but finished 5th last week in Poland.
“I feel good, but I broke one of my ribs in Romania,” said Serrieres, who sits in second on the XTERRA European Tour standings behind only fellow countryman Francois Carloni. “The injury is painful, but I will be okay for the race. I will try to manage the gap on the swim and go hard on the first big hill on the bike. I think I am a good climber, so I hope to join the first pack quickly. I know I can run fast, so I will try to just stay on their wheels. Bradley, however, has reached another level and he is so strong. It will be very hard to beat him.”
Other elite men of note include Carloni, the Tour leader who won XTERRA Belgium this year, and Maxim Chane, who is fifth in the rankings and finished second at XTERRA Cyprus in April.
Home country favorites include Jens Roth, the German Cross Tri Champ who was fifth here last year, and Peter Lehmann, who is ranked third in the XTERRA European Tour rankings after 12 of 16 events.
The young Marcello Ugazio from Italy has four top three finishes this year, Xavier Dafflon from Switzerland has show glimpses of brilliance, and Pavel Andreev from Russia was fourth at XTERRA Germany last year. The wild card may be Olly Shaw from New Zealand, who has been fantastic in the two races he’s done this year – which resulted in a runner-up showing at XTERRA New Zealand and a third-place finish behind only Osborne and Weiss at XTERRA Albay.
Last year at XTERRA Germany Brigitta Poor from Hungary (pictured middle) won it, Helena Karaskova from the Czech Republic (pictured left) was second, and Carina Wasle from Austria (pictured right) was third. Those three are back for more and also happen to be the top three ranked elite women in the XTERRA European Tour standings; Wasle is No. 1, Poor is ranked second, and Karaskova is third.
XTERRA European director Nico Lebrun says Poor is the favorite.
“She has to be the favorite,” he said. “She’s won six times in Europe this season and is the current European champion after winning in Denmark last year. However, I said the same thing last week in Poland before Karaskova got the better of her. Both athletes raced Poland at the end of a big training block, so with a little rest this week we should see a fantastic race between the two big favorites. I think that XTERRA Germany could suit Karaskova better, with the big climbs suiting her mountain bike ability. Wasle will be close to the front as well. With 10 podium finishes in 2018 she leads the tour by a considerable margin. She’s never won here in Zittau but won XTERRA Germany three times in a row (2005-07) when the race was hosted in Titisee. Thirteen years later, she is still racing strong and hungry for the win.”
For Poor, this race means a lot. “Poland wasn’t my best race, but it was a great warm-up before the European Championship. Of course, this race is very important for me, because I want to be the XTERRA European Champion again!”
It’s important for Karaskova as well, as she recently decided to retire from racing at the end of this season to spend more time with her family.
“I was so happy to win last week in Poland, and cross the finish line with my daughter,” said Karaskova, the reigning and four-time XTERRA European Tour Champion. “…and yes, I decided to stop racing. Triathlon is a very difficult sport, and I feel that I don’t have the energy to train for all the disciplines. At the same time, I want to take care of my daughter and my family and spend more time with them. We love sport and racing, but I think now it’s time to give this to my daughter. She started her own training and I want to be part of it. It has been a beautiful eight years with XTERRA. It’s made me stronger and I’ve met so many great people. As for Zittau, I love this bike course. It’s beautiful, has long uphills and technical downhills and great singletrack. I just hope my legs will be fresh for this tough race.”
Then there is Wasle, who is without a doubt the most well-traveled XTERRA racer over the past several years.
“This year I’ve had a good race schedule,” said Wasle. “I started with XTERRA South Africa, then went to Malta, Danao, Greece, Lake Garda, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, France, ITU Cross Worlds in Denmark, Czech, Scanno, and last weekend, Poland. So, 13 races so far.”
Despite all the travel, Wasle says she still feels sharp.
“I’m feeling quite good. Sure, when I race so much the training comes short and all the traveling doesn’t help with recovery. Now, I take it very easy during the week, so I can go full gas on the weekends. I did lots of training during winter time at home and have a solid base to work from. At the moment I’m not at my high level, but in good enough shape to make the podium at all the races. After Scanno, I had two weeks without races and quality training, so that helped to prepare me for XTERRA Germany. I’ve raced many times now in Zittau. It’s a very fast course and maybe not the best for me, but last year I had quite a good race (she finished third) so I’ve made friends with the course now. Here you need a good swim, because the first part is flat and very fast. So, I hope I can catch a fast wheel, then start climbing. To take the win here would be incredible for me, because it’s European Champs and I haven’t won a Euro race this season. But Brigitta, Helena, Morgane…they are also very hungry to win. It will be a good fight for the top step.”
Other elite women of note include Nicole Walters from the UK, who had to take a break to recover from injury after finishing second at ITU Cross Tri Worlds. Eva Garcia from Spain, winner at XTERRA Scanno, and Morgane Riou, winner at XTERRA Belgium, are expected to chase podium spots.
“Lizzie Orchard and Samantha Kingsford from New Zealand will animate the front of the race too,” said Lebrun, who himself won the first-ever XTERRA European Championship race back in 2006. “Lizzie skipped Poland last week to focus on preparing for this weekend, so I expect big things from her.”
The next generation of elite women stars will also be on the start line, with XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champ Penny Slater from Australia and last year’s overall amateur women’s XTERRA World Champ Loanne Duvoisin from Switzerland.
“Plus, as we’ve seen at many races this year, we’ll have a strong Italian presence with Sandra Mairhofer, Bianca Morvillo and Marta Mendito. For this race I will bet on Mairhofer to be the first Italian home.
Daria Rogozina from Russia was 7th here in 2017 and will have to run fast again to come back into the top 10 this year. We also have two athletes from Germany, Bianca Reitwiessner who was 11th in Zittau last year and Maria Doring.”