Several former pro mountain bike racers excelled at the recent Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii last weekend. Chief among them was Ruben Ruzafa, who powered to his second-ever Xterra title. The 29-year-old Spaniard won his first title in 2008, was injured just before the 2009 edition, then spent the intervening time racing his mountain bike before returning to off-road triathlons.
The racers competed on a course with a 1.6km swim, a 32km mountain bike ride and a 10km trail run. Temperatures were about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ruzafa came out of the swim more than two minutes off the lead pace, but he made it all up and more on the bike, getting the fastest split of 1:30:11. Going into the run, he had a 45-second lead to defend, and he extended it to a final advantage of one minute and 27 seconds. His finishing time was 2:34:34 and for his efforts, he won $20,000.
Crossing the finish line, Ruzafa raised his arms to the sky in tribute to both his late teammate and friend Iñaki Lejarreta, a pro mountain biker who was killed last winter while training on his road bike, and to his father, who died away after a battle with cancer two years ago.
"Everything turned out perfect, without problems and feeling good during all segments," said Ruzafa.
"During the swim, I stayed in a group, losing the expected time. On the bike, I felt great and powerful and was not taking risks. When I passed the two leaders, the last long downhill was still remaining, and I managed to reach the transition alone. The run was tough, I set short goals and tried to keep my stride. I didn't feel like I was winning until the beach, and from there on, it was a about enjoying it!"
Ruzafa said he had been dreaming of another world title since 2008. "During recent years, my performance hasn't been as expected, together with the bad moments that life brings you. To me, this victory is a great reward, but it isn't only mine. It's thanks to everyone who helped me and support me at some point."
In the women's race, former two-time Xterra World Champion Lesley Paterson finished second in a time of 3:00:14. Cyclingnews' readers may remember her winning the Bonelli Park US Pro XCT earlier this season. Former Luna pro mountain biker Shonny Vanlandingham was eighth. Paterson and Vanlandingham took home $12,000 and $800, respectively, for their achievements.