By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Lizzie Orchard and Kieran McPherson are primed to extend New Zealand’s proud history at the €100,000 XTERRA World Championships when off-road triathlon’s blue-riband event takes the gun in Trentino, Italy on Saturday night (NZT).
Current World Triathlon Championship Series and Super League leader Hayden Wilde became the third Kiwi to win the world title in Kapalua, Maui last December, adding to his legend in the event after also capturing the 15-19 age-group in 2015 and 2016.
The multi-talented Whakatane star followed in the open water swim, mountain-biking and trail running wake of Nicky Samuels and former Olympic champion Hamish Carter who were crowned elite champions in 2013 and 2006 respectively.
Given their XTERRA world rankings of 27th (Orchard) and 34th (McPherson), a top 10 result to squeeze into the prize money in Italy would be exceptional for this year’s Kiwi starters. To achieve that, the duo will have to overcome something none of their Kiwi predecessors has had to do – a brand new course.
For the first time since its inception in 1996, the XTERRA World Championship has been moved away from Hawaii meaning McPherson and Orchard will be strutting their stuff under the shadows of the imposing Brenta Dolomite Mountains.
Four Kiwi age-groupers are also racing in Trentino: Lisa Horn (45-49), Josie Sinclair (60-64), Jason Savill (40-44) and Martin Ralph (50-54).
Saturday night’s elite races, live from 7.30pm on TriathlonLive.tv, feature a 1.5km swim in stunning Lake Molveno, a two-loop 32km mountain bike high up into the Dolomites and a technical 10km trail run through forest tracks bordering the lake.
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As a two-time XTERRA World Champion, a three-time XTERRA European champion and winner of last year’s European Triathlon Cross Championship on the same Trentino course, Frenchman Arthur Serrieres is the elite men’s favourite. The Montpellier off-roader is looking to go one better after back-to-back runner-up finishes, including last December to Wilde.
Italy’s reigning World Cross Triathlon champion Sandra Mairhofer is the elite women’s favourite. She lives just 2.5 hours away in South Tyrol and is in the midst of a phenomenal season that has seen her crowned XTERRA European and Germany champion, Italian Cross Tri Champion and win the Italian Winter Triathlon title for the fifth straight year.