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Xterra World Championships in Molveno, Italy, Race Report

Updated: Mar 22

by Kurt Dallow, MD

October 1st, 2022, finally arrived after 10+ months of preparation. The Xterra World Championships were held in Trentino, Italy, for the first time and I was a participant. Prior to this year, the event was held in Maui, Hawaii, for 25 years and I was lucky enough to compete in that race twice. Even though we loved going to Maui, we were really excited to travel to Italy for this prestigious race!


Like the World Championships in Kona for road triathlons, participants have to qualify to participate in the Xterra World Championships. But unlike Kona, only the winner of each age group is allowed to compete in this Xterra event and unlike Kona, there isn’t a lottery for this race so only the pro’s and those who qualify get to go to Worlds.


Although there were qualifying races all over the world, I was able to qualify in my own backyard at Xterra Lory held in Lory State Park, Colorado, just 30 miles from where I live.

 

Travel to Trentino involved flying from Denver to Munich overnight, with a connection to Milan and then a 3 hour van ride to Fai della Paganella and the Solea Spa and Hotel. A long 24 hour + travel! 


Solea Spa and Hotel, Molveno, Italy

The Spa was incredible with lovely views and an indoor/outdoor pool that my family enjoyed immensely. The downside was that we were 20 minutes from Molveno (where the race would be held) which made it a bit difficult for all of us to get to the race venue as we didn’t have a car and there wasn’t regular transportation to Molveno from the spa. With six adults and one child, we needed to hire a van driver to get us all there so the family waited until race day to venture down to Molveno. It all worked out fine as they were enjoying the pool and spa in the meantime!


On Wednesday, I attended a reception for US athletes sponsored by USA Triathlon and Xterra, where several athletes who were cancer survivors shared their stories of what they had gone through to get to this race. It was inspiring to hear how they had overcome many obstacles and health issues to train and travel great distances to participate in this race. 


On Thursday, I rode my mountain bike 11 kilometers down to Molveno from the hotel to lead a run clinic for race participants. I got there early enough to run one loop of the course (3.1 miles) so that I would know what the course was like. The course was muddy but not as bad as it was going to get very soon!


After the run clinic, I decided to ride one loop (16KM)  of the mountain bike course and shortly after I started riding, it started raining. As I was riding up the first part of the course on gravel, the traction wasn’t bad, but as soon as I was on single track, the MUD began. It quickly clogged my tire lugs, and made it impossible to pedal up the course, so the “hike a bike” began.


At times when the trail was steep it was difficult to stay upright while pushing my bike as my bike shoes were for flat pedals and had no cleats on them. The downhill sections were a combination of riding down and having the bike sliding out from under me and the bike and I ending up in a muddy heap at the bottom.  I pressed on because I was past the ½ way point on the first lap and it was getting dark. I finally made the downhill section of the course which was somewhat rideable, although I ended up on my fanny in the mud several times!


Part of the course went through the town center which was a blast! There were lots of curves and even a flight of stairs to ride down. After riding through all the mud, it was a breath of fresh air to ride on concrete for a short time.


I finished the practice lap in less than two hours but because I had run a 10k before the practice ride, I was pretty sweaty and the chilly air made me get cold very quickly. Fortunately my wife Cindy had called a taxi for me so I didn’t have to ride the 11 kilometers back up to the hotel.


When I awoke on Friday my legs told me that I had perhaps done a bit too much the day before so I spent the day resting and enjoying an afternoon nap.


Race Day


The Dolomites peaking through the clouds.

Saturday, October 1st, arrived with some clearing of the skies and temps in the high 40s to low 50s. Fortunately, the race was set to start at 9:00 AM for the Pro men and women and at 10:00 AM for the age groupers, allowing some time for the temps to warm up a bit.


Water temperature was a brisk 60 degrees F (15.6 degrees C). I set up my transition following International Triathlon Union (ITU) rules which mandate that you keep all of your gear in a small plastic box about 16 x 20 inches by your bike. You are given a time penalty if anything is outside of the box.  


The swim start!

The swim course was an unusual M shape with an exit and re-entry halfway through the course.  So, we exited the water halfway, ran under an inflatable arch and onto a dock, then dove into the water to swim the second half of the course. During the swim, my age group of 70-74 was overrun by the younger women who were much faster swimmers than we were.  Fortunately, I was able to draft off some feet because of the clear lake water and enjoyed the drafting experience.


T1 was a bit slow because of the distance we had to run from the water exit and I had a bit of trouble getting my wetsuit off.  As it was still a bit chilly, I opted for socks and a long sleeve jersey over my tri kit. 


A wooden bridge served as the first obstacle. Not everyone was able to ride over it because it was slick in the middle.

The first part of the bike course had two man-made obstacles with a short ascent and descent, similar to a bridge with a large arch. Unfortunately, earlier riders had not “powered up and over” so a bottleneck occurred leading to most of us walking our bikes over the obstacles, which slowed things down for the people behind me.


We then headed out onto the first of two laps on what turned out to be a muddy mess. After 800 riders and 3 days of rain, the bike course was a mix of rideable gravel and unrideable mud that was up to six inches deep! It clogged our derailleurs, broke some chains, and pretty much made riding impossible at times. 


Kurt Dallow on the bike course, Xterra World Championships, Trentino, Italy

I stopped 5-6 times to clean out my frame and realized that a front derailleur bike was a bad decision for a course as muddy as this one was. Also, 2.4-2.6 size mud tires were absolutely necessary to have a chance of riding in the slop. Finally the downhill section appeared and I was able to navigate that much better with only a few crashes (with soft landings!).


The second lap surprisingly went much better. I decided to walk the muddy sections and bike what I could so it went faster than the first lap. The ride through the town of Molveno was a blast as we navigated hair-pin turns, stairs, and speed bumps.


 

Kurt Dallow on the run course, Xterra World Championships, Italy

T2 was no problem, and I entered the two-lap run feeling pretty good. The first portion was on gravel with gentle ups and downs. However the steep wooded section was extremely difficult after the number of runners that had already passed through this section and, of course, the rain. At one point they had a volunteer lending a hand to prevent falling down a 30 foot steep bank. This was followed with a hand-over-hand climb using a climbing rope to help ascend a very steep section. On the second lap, I just focused on staying upright and maintaining a steady pace. My goal at that point was to finish the race, and not worry about placing!


The most important thing I was feeling during the whole race was the need to finish and not disappoint my family, who had traveled to Italy with me, and myself after training so hard and coming this far! Hearing my wife, kids, and two year old grandchild cheering me on and then having them all at the finish line was the best gift ever!


I finished 6th in my age group. There were at least two in my age group that didn’t complete the bike course and DNF’ed. I am thankful I didn’t suffer a similar fate!


Overall, I enjoyed competing in this race and despite the mud, would highly recommend it to anyone who is considering attempting to qualify. Just the experience of going to Italy is worth the effort and there’s a reasonably good chance that they won’t get as much rain as they did this year the week of the race.


Feel free to email me any questions and if you’re interested in coaching, I’ll be taking on new athletes after the first of the year (2023). Ride on and be safe!


Kurt Dallow, MD FACSM


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