Is Short Track The Future?

XTERRA Short track.

What is it?

XTERRA short track is a new concept, brought to life by Michal Pilousek (XTERRA Czech) and European tour director Nico Lebrun. An elite only event, athletes must finish in the top 20 in the championship race the day before in order to gain a start. A two lap(!) 400m swim with an Australian exit precedes a very technical 6km bike around a 1.6km circuit littered with jumps, rock gardens, root infested single track and a couple of flat out pedaling sections. The run will then be contested over 2 laps using a slightly shortened course.

This event debuts on Sunday the day after the XTERRA European Championship, I asked Nico what inspired him to push the format…

“Biathlon did it first, creating a short and fast dynamic race that was exciting to watch. Then the Superleague triathlon followed and to some extent the WTS Team relays are all nice to look at. You only have to look World Cup mountain biking, how shortening the lap makes for exciting racing that’s now easier than ever to film and produce a nice show. So why not combine these concepts for XTERRA, fortunately Michal Pilousek from Czech was also up for hosting this new format alongside the European Championships.”  

Why introduce it?

One of my favorite things about XTERRA racing is the feeling of being ‘out there’, in the wilderness racing against nature. Unfortunately, this doesn’t typically make for great media coverage. XTERRA do a fantastic job of showing what they can, combined with the live Facebook coverage has helped hundreds if not thousands of people peek a glimpse into our fantastic sport, but its tricky to package a 3 hour race across kilometers of difficult terrain into a TV friendly format.

The very nature of short track racing makes it exciting. The total race time should be less than 40mins for both the men and the women with frequent overtakes, shoulder to shoulder racing and multiple lead changes from start to finish make this an exciting event to watch and broadcast. Hopefully it’ll really show just how competitive athletes are, what goes into an overtake and just how fast Xavier Dafflon is over technical terrain!

How will the races play out?

Firstly, racing the day after a huge event such as the European Champs presents a problem for the athletes, with prize money in the big race only going ten deep will the athletes running 11th-20th cruise home, saving their legs, expending as little energy as possible to fight the next day? I guess we’ll find out.

The swim will be brutal, a super short lap with less than 100m to the first turn buoy which will require an all-out max sprint to find some clear water. The trouble is, every elite can swim a good opening 100m! Hitting the rev limiter in the first 60secs of the race will hurt too. Unless you can swim a <56sec 100m perhaps the key tactic will be to take a wide line, follow some feet and stay out of trouble?

The bike will be a balancing act between delivering power and carrying speed by being technically efficient. There are few spots to overtake, so when the opportunity arises athletes will have to take a few risks combined with some huge spikes in power! As this is an elite only course, its extremely technical in places where mistakes will be punished with mechanical or worse – crashing!

As it is held on the same lap, the run will be very technical too. Having confidence in your foot placement whilst running at full speed on tired legs should stand you well. It will be a fight all the way to the finish!

Personally, I think we will see a different set of athletes excel over the short track format. The races are so short that you can’t afford to have a weakness anywhere, good race skills will help too. Athletes coming from an ITU background, familiar with fast transitions should make up the podium.

Whatever happens it will be exciting to watch!

What is the future of XTERRA Short track?

I’m sure this will be the first of many short track events, whilst its not practical for every event organiser to add an additional race into an already busy weekend schedule, I’d love to see a series of continental championships, perhaps held in city centre locations. Id also like to see the professional athletes really get behind it. This format attracts TV, TV attracts viewers, viewers attract advertisers and sponsors!

 

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