The choices are many and there is no sure thing in the men’s pro field of this year’s 2017 XTERRA Saipan.
You have the four-time champion Ben Allen, defending champion Brodie Gardner, Japanese Olympian Yuichi Hosoda, several hungry returnees, and promising first-timers. Add the heavy shower forecast for this Saturday’s race and an extra steep and long climb in the bike race to the equation and you will have a tough time guessing who is going to cross the finish line first.
“It will be an interesting race with several pros joining this year’s XTERRA Saipan. It will be a test of character as majority of us will be doing our first race of the season,” said Allen, who cut his honeymoon short with wife Jacqui in his bid to regain the men’s pro title that he missed last year after deciding to skip the Saipan leg of the Asia Pacific Tour.
“Jacqui is pissed,” Allen said with a laugh. “However, she understands that I love this race and I have to be here so she let me go. Hopefully, I get to repay her kindness by making it to the podium.”
Standing on the way of Allen getting the historic fifth XTERRA Saipan win and surpassing Olivier Marceau in the records books is Gardner, who surprised last year’s field when he ruled the off-road triathlon event despite arriving on island just a few hours before the race.
“I came in earlier this time, knowing that I’ll be in for a tougher competition. Being the defending champion obviously puts some pressure on me, but it also gives me confidence. However, I have to be careful because other competitors will be watching me, including Ben,” said Gardner, who likes the developing rivalry between him and his fellow Australian.
“Ben will step forward and then I’ll step forward, too and keep going. Hopefully, by the end of the race I am ahead,” Gardner said.
Joining Gardner and Allen in the very competitive men’s field are returnees Bradley Weiss of South Africa, Austria’s Markus Benesch, the USA’s Will Kelsay, Japan’s Takahiro Ogasawara, Russia’s Alexandr Dorovskikh, and the Philippines’ Joe Miller.
“I love the slight modification in the bike leg. I like climbs so hopefully, I could get a good lead in the bike to have a good chance of winning the race,” said Weiss, who will be competing here for the third time.
Benesch also favors the extra climb in the bike race and is looking to capitalize on the uphill trek to have a better showing this year and keep up with the strong field.
“It’s going to be exciting with these many pros coming for the first XTERRA race of the year,” he said.
Dorovskikh has been racing around the world, according to an interpreter, making him better prepared this year as he hopes to end his skid here.
Yuichi Hosoda, who represented Japan in the 2012 Olympics in London, does not know what to expect in this weekend’s race and will be fighting for survival as he is aware of the reputation of the brutal course in XTERRA Saipan.
Dominik Wychera, a third placer in the XTERRA World (age group) in 2012, is hoping for cooperation from Mother Nature as newcomers like him are in the disadvantage as far as familiarity with the course is concerned.
“I tried the bike course three times and it is very challenging. Hopefully, it will not be slippery and the weather will get better,” the Austrian said.
Sam Osborne of New Zealand is worried about the run trail part as he is used to “bouldering” in the snowy tournaments he has done around Europe in the past years.
“No two courses are similar, so you have to be very careful in your steps. I am hoping for a safe and good finish,” said Osborne, who appeared in Oceania Cup, World Cup, World Championships, and Euro Championships.
Mieko vs Carina
While the men’s pro division has an open field, the women’s race will only be between former Saipan pro Mieko Carey and Austria’s Carina Wasle.
Mieko will be gunning for her first XTERRA Saipan win in a decade, which will be her third crown.
“No pressure, but the race will be very hard, especially the bike course. I will be fighting for survival in this tough course and hopeful get the win,” said Mieko.
“I always find it difficult to race when it’s very hot, so probably if it rains, it will be a bit easier for me, but not so much rain please,” said Wasle, who suffered one of the worst bike crushes in the history of XTERRA Saipan a couple of years ago.