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Sissons, Bramley win XTERRA Wellington Festival

Press Release / 03.02.2020
Kate Bramley from Australia
Kate Bramley from Australia / © XTERRA

Two-time Olympian Ryan Sissons from New Zealand and Kate Bramley from Australia captured the elite titles at the inaugural XTERRA Wellington Festival in Queen Elizabeth Park on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand on Saturday, February 1, 2020.

It’s the first XTERRA win for Sissons and the second for Bramley, who took home the title at XTERRA Netherlands in her rookie season as an elite last year.

Although it was a beautiful day at the park, massive winds, fierce currents, and rough surf forced the cancellation of the swim leg of the off-road triathlon, replaced instead with a four-kilometer opening trail run before the traditional 31K mountain bike segment and concluding 10K trail run.

“It was a tough call to cancel the swim, but it was the right decision,” said Renata Bucher, the technical director for the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour.  “Athlete safety is always the priority, and the very experienced water safety team and organizing committee all agreed to the duathlon-format contingency plan.”

In the men’s elite race two-time XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champ Sam Osborne posted the fastest 4K run split with a time of 13:09, but Kyle Smith (recent winner of the Tauranga Half and IM 70.3 Taupo road triathlons) beat him out of transition by one-second, followed closely by Kieran McPherson +0:05, Sissons +0:07, and Taylor Charlton +0:08.

“The elite men's field was filled with XTERRA, ITU, and Olympic legends & was fast & furious from the start gun,” said XTERRA Asia-Pacific marketing director, J-D Cousens. “By the time they'd crossed the railway line on the bike, Smith & Osborne were sharing the lead after 18 minutes and 32 seconds, but hot on their heels was Sissons +0:09, while McPherson and Charlton were working together +0:28 back from the leaders.”

Further on, just past the halfway point after some heavy climbing, Smith, Osborne, and Sissons were riding together in the lead pack and increasing the gap to McPherson and Charlton.
 
“Just after the 1hr mark, disaster struck Smith who hit a rock while on one of the downhills and ended up landing in a ditch,” said Cousens.  “He knocked his arm heavily in the fall & while he lay in the ditch the pain was so intense that he thought he'd broken his arm. When he picked himself up, he was met with a front flat which was irreparable. He'd end up riding the rest of the bike with the front flat. However, he was determined to finish in order to achieve his goal of qualifying for the XTERRA World Championship race this November in Maui.”

With that, the race came down to a two-man battle between Osborne and Sissons.  Osborne exited T2 at 1:32:57, +0:08 ahead of Sissons, but his lead was short lived once Sissons legs opened up. By this stage Charlton had caught Kieran McPherson and he exited T2 in third at 1:42:46, just ahead of McPherson, who due to a recent injury to his foot decided to throw in the towel as soon as he left T2 for the run.

“He had cut his foot in the days leading up to the race and while the adrenaline got him through the first trail run and 31K bike, he realized with the pain he wouldn't be able to finish the final 10K,” explained Cousens.

By the halfway mark of the final run Sissons had opened the gap on Osborne to 25-seconds and continued to increase his lead and take the tape in 2:11:39, +1:34 ahead of Osborne in second.  Charlton never looked back and ended up posting a career best 3rd place result in 2:23:50, with Smith preserving for a remarkable 4th place finish, while Flavio Vianna rounded out the top five.

“Stoked to win, first time I’ve beaten Sam in XTERRA,” said Sissons.  “He has taught me everything I know, so he’s a pretty good teacher.   As the day started I tried to stay pretty relaxed with the first run, and then Sam and I really hammered that bike and got quite a decent gap.  It was really hard because Sam is very good on a mountain bike and I’m still learning, so I was right at the limit a few times trying to keep up.  And then the second run leg was really tough and challenging, I was suffering. The course goes up and down the whole way, so it’s hard to get in a rhythm and I’m not used to that style of racing coming from an ITU background where the run is usually pretty flat.”

While Sissons is in top shape and shooting to make his third straight Olympics, it’s still early going for Osborne who just wrapped up a heavy racing season a few months ago.

“I’m pretty happy with this, it’s early in the season, and I had a good stretch after Maui of not running and swimming much,” said Osborne. “I always knew it was going to be a tough race with Ryan and Kyle today. There wasn’t a lot of technical riding, but I tried to push the pace really hard and I got a bit of a gap on the bike but not enough.  I probably taught Sissons too much, he’s riding really well now, and it’s tough to outrun someone of Sisson’s class.  He’s really going well and I’m early in my build, but I’m looking forward to another home race, another chance at it.”

Osborne will get that chance on April 4 at the XTERRA New Zealand off-road triathlon in his hometown of Rotorua, a race he's won three straight years.

After the race, Taylor Charlton, who had a career day, added; “to share a podium with Ryan and Sam is awesome, words can’t explain how happy I am right now.”

Bramley Dominates

In the women’s elite race it was Bramley from wire-to-wire.  She had the fastest 4K and 10K run splits and the second-best bike time to secure the win in 2:42:20, more than six minutes ahead of runner-up Lizzie Orchard.

“Not having the swim worked in my favor because the run is my strength,” said Bramley.  “So I took it out hard on the first run and got a gap, and then felt really strong on the bike.  My goal was just to be smooth and stay in front as long as I could.  The run was really tough, lot of up and down, lots of sand, it felt like it went on for a long time.”

Here’s how the race unfolded: Bramley left T1 at 15:18 and was followed +1:06 by newcomer to the world of XTERRA elite racing Maeve Kennedy. Orchard, a local legend who has finished in the top five at XTERRA Worlds the past two years, and another newcomer to the elite field, France's Solenne Billouin, were in hot pursuit of Kennedy, exiting T1 +00:48 and +00:56, respectively.

“Both Kennedy and Billouin showed they know exactly what it takes to race at this level ad have bright futures ahead of them,” said Cousens.

Bramley passed the railway crossing at 21:36, with Kennedy +0:41 back & chasing hard. At this point, Orchard and Billouin were riding together, +1:58 down from the leader & hit the crossing at 23:34, with Leela Hancox close behind +1:44.

After 51:17 and reaching the “King of the Mountain,” Bramley was still comfortably in the lead. Kennedy was +2:10 back and Orchard had broken away from Billouin to move into third.

During the last of the tough climbing section, Orchard overtook Kennedy & by the end of the fast downhill was comfortably in second position with a gap of +1:13 over Kennedy but +1:42 down from the race leader, Bramley.

“I was just excited to be on the start line, and happy to have made it through this duathlon,” said Orchard.  “The bike was really tough, some massive hills, but the downhills were fun.  All in all it was a happy day, and a good start to the season.”

Bramley exited T2 onto the run at 1:57:12, while Orchard's gap on Kennedy had remained almost exactly the same at +1:10 exiting T2 and +1:34 down from the lead. Halfway through the run Bramley had extended her lead over Orchard by +5:30 while Orchard increased her lead over Kennedy by +2:00.

In the end, Bramley prevailed, posting the fastest bike & 10K run combo to win it in 2:42:20. Orchard held onto second ahead of Kennedy in third, with Billouin in fourth, and Hancox in fifth. 

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