When it comes to off road triathlon there is one event every year which the world's elite obsess over. The Xterra World Championship in Maui, Hawaii is the sport's main event and at the weekend Rotorua's Sam Osborne was on the start line, desperate to improve on last year's third-place finish. Since late last year he has placed all his focus on marching up the World Championship podium – every training run, every race in the lead-up used as a stepping stone to the big dance. Sports reporter David Beck spoke to Osborne about how he went.
After winning the Xterra Pan Am Tour and Championship titles, Rotorua's Sam Osborne was well and truly among the favourites going into the Xterra World Championship in Maui.
More than 600 endurance athletes from 42 countries competed in the event, which started with a 1.5km swim at D.T. Fleming Beach, followed by a testing two-lap 32km mountain bike ride which traversed the West Maui Mountains, and finished with a 10.5km trail run through forest trails and beach sand.
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Osborne went into the race at the weekend in fine form and when he finished the 1.5km swim in first place it looked like it was his race to lose. However, a heavy downpour on race morning made the technical bike course challenging.
The conditions did not favour the good bike handlers such as Osborne and after a couple of crashes he had to dial it back and sat in third place going into the run.
He was overtaken by Spanish athlete Ruben Ruzafa on the run and finished the race in fourth place, crossing the line in 2h 37m 2s.
South African Bradley Weiss won his second title in three years (2h 33m 39s), Frenchman Arthur Serrieres was second (2h 34m 54s) and Ruzafa was third (2h 35m 23s).
Osborne said his plan all year had been to open up a gap in the swim.
"The gaps are closing so much in the bike and the run and I just saw an opportunity to try and get away from some of the big cyclists. The way the sport has gone, everyone has put such a big emphasis on the biking and the running."
While the swim went to plan, it was not such smooth sailing on the bike.
"We hadn't had a drop of rain all week really and I was riding some tyres that were crazy fast. We were pretty much on the start line when the big downpour rolled in. This Maui mud is not like home where there's still a bit of grip.
"It was like riding in a skating rink. I tried to stay optimistic that the rain wouldn't do too much but we rolled into the first trail and it was pretty hectic. I got dropped early on during the steep climbs, Brad was riding them crazy fast.
"I figured out pretty quickly, after I went down early on, that I couldn't ride my usual style of being aggressive with the corners because there was no traction. The conditions didn't really reward somebody who could really handle the bike."
While fourth in the world is an impressive achievement and Osborne was proud of his efforts, there was some disappointment. He was racing to win.
"It's obviously not what I came here for and after third last year and the season that I've had, I truly believe that on my day I can win this race. I guess, anything outside of that, I wouldn't say disappointed but that was the goal.
"I came with the mindset of trying to win and that's how I played my cards - I was all in to try and win the thing. Sure, you could probably race for third place and be a lot more conservative but that's not going to win you a world title.
"I finished pretty empty so you have to be happy with that, I gave my everything."
Osborne will now take the time for some much needed rest and recovery after what has been a busy season. He was looking forward to getting back to Rotorua and mastering the perfect coffee at Planet Bike cafe near the Whakarewarewa Forest.
After about a month off he will be ready to reassess, make some goals for next year and get back into training.
In the women's race, Flora Duffy, of Bermuda, claimed an unprecedented fifth Xterra World Championship crown. She has won 17 of 20 Xterra races since 2013.
Three-time world champion Lesley Paterson was second and Czech athlete Helena Erbenova was third. Rotorua's Samantha Kingsford finished ninth.
Xterra World Championship Results
Men: 1st Bradley Weiss (South Africa) 2h 33m 39s; 2nd Arthur Serrieres (France) 2h 34m 54s; 3rd Ruben Ruzafa (Spain) 2h 35m 23s.
Women: 1st Flora Duffy (Bermuda) 2h 49m 23s; 2nd Lesley Paterson (Scotland) 3h 3m 35s; 3rd Helena Erbenova (Czech) 3h 4m 37s.