On Saturday I completed the Xterra Asia Pacific Championships (Sprint Distance) in Jervis Bay NSW. It was a brilliant event, I loved it and hope to go back next year. This is the second of only two Xterra events in Australia, the first being held on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria in March. According to Xterra, they are “booming in the Asia-Pacfic region”. Much to my dismay, I changed from the long course to the short course the day before the event after trialing the ride course. The course was incredibly technical and too difficult for me. So was the course too tough or am I not tough enough? Is Xterra booming, or is there plenty of growth they haven’t tapped into yet?
After riding a section of the course the day before the race and discovering just how technical it was, we expressed our frustration and upset to the event organisers; nowhere had it stated that only experienced mountain bike riders should enter the full distance race. I spoke to Jacqui Slack (3rd female Pro) who commented how “awesome” the course was as it was so difficult; four-time World Champ Conrad Stoltz called the bike course “epic” and we even chatted to an experienced age grouper (who placed 2nd in his AG) when out practicing the course who said you would have to train mountain bikes a couple times a week to manage the course. It wasn’t just me who thought this course was tough. Is Xterra purely for experienced mountain bike riders, or should it set a standard that is manageably for most?
Comparing the start list to the finishers list, there were 175 finishers and nearly 45 people who did not complete the course. This is a DNF rate of 20%, which is very high for a sports event (particularly when the conditions were perfect). Those who did not finish are a combination of people who changed to the short course before the start (e.g. me), people who started the long course and were unable to finish and those who did not start to begin with. Unfortunately these statistics are not available, but if they were it would create a much clearer picture of whether the course was too tough.
Xterra has a huge opportunity to grow in Australia. If you look at Ironman, only a few years ago there were only two events in the country, with competitors having to travel abroad to race an IM. There are now four sell out events. Ironman previously held a prestige and standard whereby entrants had to complete a 70.3 first to be eligible to enter, and there was a huge sense of awe and honour in completing an Ironman. Whilst the achievement of completing an IM is no less, Ironman have changed rules and now John Smith who hasn’t completed a single triathlon before can enter, and finish. People argue this has tarnished the Ironman brand, yet it has meant double the events in Australia in a matter of years. This is only a good thing for the Australian market. For serious competitors there are more Kona opportunities and more races to compete at during the year, for professionals there are more races close to home with prize packets, and for the everyday competitor there is an opportunity to complete the unthinkable. Add on top of this the benefits to tourism, community health, sponsorship opportunities… the list is endless. If Xterra follows a similar dynamic and targets athletes in ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’ it has a huge potential to grow participation numbers of existing events, plus future events in other states.
Currently, a race of the technical difficulty of Jervis Bay eliminates a huge number of potential participants. There would be a large number of road triathletes that I believe would be interested in participating, looking to challenge themselves in something different and fun, particularly with the timing of the races being at the end of summer racing. After our experience, we would be telling our friends not to enter the full distance event. Is the short distance enticing enough for people to travel that far? Probably not.
On the other hand, after looking into Xterra and what it is all about, they market themselves as “an extreme sports marketing company”. They have ‘a television production company with nearly 300 shows, 3 Emmy nominations and 39 Telly Awards for production excellence’. Displaying the sport on TV equals exposure and sponsors which equals money for the sport. The sport will only survive on TV if it is “extreme”, which will generate significantly higher ratings than a run of the mill triathlon event, which has very little TV air time currently. But who’s to say Xterra can’t have their cake and eat it too? There is a huge opportunity to replicate ITU races where Age Groupers race one course (often one lap cycle/one lap run) while the pro’s race a multi lap course which enhances the spectating and TV viewing as groups are formed, chases occur and crashes go down. Xterra can easily have challenging and exciting courses for the pro’s and an alternative course for Age Groupers.
Whilst I was disappointed I didn’t complete the long course, I absolutely loved the short course. The swim in Jervis Bay was picturesque and as flat as a pool. The ride was exciting, fun and challenging, and included a lot of mud puddles, sand, log roll overs, rocks – the lot. By no means was it easy, I had to stop a number of times, plenty of people fell off (a few guys flew over their handle bars into the mud!) but most importantly, it was achievable. The run was beautiful and through a small trail that was difficult to follow at times but made it more fun. Other great things about the race was the local feel, holding it in a small town that will benefit from the increased tourism is always a great thing. The weather was perfect, the event staff were helpful, the course volunteers friendly, there were other events including a fun run, ocean swim and kids events, holding it on a Saturday on a long weekend was convenient and the (short) course was great fun.
In my opinion, Xterra could grow enormously and rapidly. I would love to see the pro’s race a different more challenging course for TV ratings, whilst Age Groupers can race the longer course option that is achievable, which from word of mouth is what Lorne was (Xterra officials responded to this saying Lorne was “too easy”). Xterra can market it similarly as Tough Mudder (another huge sports event phenomenon of recent times) as a challenge for people to complete. By no means am I saying make it easy, but make it achievable. They can maintain their prestige of being an extreme off road adventure, whilst making a few bucks out of it and keep our sport growing.
PS huge shout out to Ultimate Cycles from Nowra who practically did a full service on both our bikes prior to the race AND gave John some flat pedals for the race (and to keep). Wouldn’t get service like that anywhere else, they were brilliant. (see ultimatecycles.com.au)