The Xterra World Championship is the pinnacle event for off-road triathletes and draws some of the best athletes in the world.

Among those on the start line in Maui last week was Rotorua's Sam Osborne, who finished his season on a high with a third placing despite getting off to the worst possible start.

"I was tripped in the first few steps running into the water, which meant I was one of the last into the surf and had a lot of bodies to swim around. By the first buoy I got myself safely back into the lead group and just after the first buoy I was at the front of the group," Osborne says.

"Roger [Serano, of Spain] had managed to break away solo by that time, coming into the end of the first lap I managed to pick up a wave all the way in and closed most of the gap, closed the rest in next 200m off shore and eventually took the front to lead out of the swim."

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He finished the 1.5k swim, 32km mountain bike, which included 3500 feet of climbing, and 10.5km run in 2h 54m 37s behind South Africa's Bradley Weiss (2h 53m 16s) in second and winner Rom Akerson, of Costa Rica (2h 52m 41s).

There were 800 athletes in the field, including 75 professionals, representing 46 countries.

Five kilometres into the bike leg, the lead pack were back together.

"Three-time world champion Ruben Ruzafa attacked at the front and it was only Brad and myself who were able to follow - Ruben eventually broke away at the top of the first climb and we had Rom join us to make a chase group of three."

Rotorua's Sam Osborne battles the mud during the bike leg of the Xterra World Championship in Maui. Photo / Supplied
Rotorua's Sam Osborne battles the mud during the bike leg of the Xterra World Championship in Maui. Photo / Supplied

Osborne entered the transition to the run in third, two minutes behind Ruzafa. He, Weiss and Akerson were able to chase down the Spanish athlete to take the podium spots.

"The Xterra World Champs is the pinnacle of our sport. Making the podium in Maui is such a massive achievement, but it does leave me still hungry. I felt that the win was within my reach and I was in the mix all day so feel very motivated to keep going after it."

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He credited his form to his preparation, which included training with Weiss in Boulder, Colorado, during the weeks leading up to the World Championship.

"Brad and I have teamed up a few times and we train very well together. Having your training partner as the previous world champ is so valuable and gives you that high performance stimulus and gauge daily.

"Our ideas on training are very similar and we don't let our egos take over in sessions, we're both happy to let that play out on the race course. We train by the mantra of 'build form, don't show form'. If we didn't, I think World Champs would have been raced in Boulder weeks prior and our performances when it really counted would be off.

"Whatever happens in the race stays in the race and we both have respect for each other, but he is no different to anyone else I race. The goal is to break them by whatever moves will achieve it best.

"He did lose his bottle at the start of the bike - I lent him some of my fluids but that was about all the words that were exchanged between us the whole race."

The World Championship was a fitting end to a season in which Osborne successfully defended his Xterra Asia-Pacific title, won silver in the Cross Triathlon World Championships and produced impressive results in Xterra races in Europe.

He is now back in Rotorua to "recharge the batteries" and start planning for 2019.