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XTERRA Asia Tour starts Saturday

XTERRA Guam debuts as a championship race on March 10.

2012 marks the 17th consecutive year of XTERRA racing, and the 13th straight year for the sport in Asia. Japan was among the first international events when XTERRA went “global” in 2000 with races in Canada, England, and Japan.

XTERRA Hall-of-famer Michael Tobin from the U.S. and Australian triathlon star Jody Mielke won that first race in Asia – the  2000 XTERRA Japan Championship in Shiobara – and thousands of competitors have crossed finish lines ever since.

Starting today in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean the XTERRA World Tour hosts three exotic championship races on successive weekends in Asia – Guam/Philippines/Saipan – that each offer $15,000 in prize money to professionals and 46 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship for amateurs.

The events have attracted top flight pros from around the world including Olivier Marceau (SUI), Branden Rakita (USA), Ben Allen (AUS), Will Kelsay (USA), Graham Wadsworth (GBR), Cedric Lassonde (FRA), Takahiro Ogasawara (JPN), Renata Bucher (SUI), Carina Wasle (AUT), Mieko Carey (JPN), Jacqui Slack (GBR), Daz Parker (GBR) and a cast of adventurous age groupers like Mike Waring from Washington, Yasue Yoshimi from Japan, and Chuck Fortier from Canada.

“Once you’ve done a couple of XTERRA races you are pretty much instantly part of the family and you feel drawn to support races in all corners of the globe as you know you’ll always get top quality courses and organizations,” said British elite Cedric Lassonde.  “Professional XTERRA racing is a way of life that can’t be beaten, and the fact that Guam is now a championship qualifier will no doubt attract a serious field out there, both in the pro and age group categories. ”

XTERRA Guam, after six years as part of the America Tour points series, makes its debut as a championship race with prize money and qualifying spots to Maui, March 10, with a 1 pm PST start time (follow on twitter at @xterraguam).

The race features  a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, followed by a 31km mountain bike and a memorable 8.2k trail run that has athletes navigating through jungle rivers and down slippery waterfalls. The Guam run has been described as a “signature test of courage” by Inside Triathlon and the race has been dubbed one of the “Top 5 Off-Road Triathlons in the World” by Triathlete Magazine.

“The addition of Guam as a Championship race, alongside Philippines and Saipan, makes for a perfect racing package and has clearly generated interest due to the stacked field,” said Graham Wadsworth from the UK, who finished in the top 10 on the XTERRA European Tour last season.  “Having such tough XTERRA races at the beginning of my season has been the perfect motivator to get me out training during the UK winter! I’ve heard some fantastic things about the courses and the pictures suggest the time spent at the XTERRA Asia Tour races will be both great racing and an unforgettable travelling experience.”

Next up is the Philippines on March 18. Last year’s inaugural event had the largest spectator crowd in XTERRA history with thousands lining the bike and run courses, and high school cheerleaders in uniform waving the athletes on.

“You got so much energy from the cheering of the community,” said women’s winner Shonny Vanlandingham, the 2010 XTERRA World Champ. “The kids who watched the bike and run part of the race were chanting and cheering. It’s great to come to a place like the Philippines and feel the warm reception.”

The third big race of the month is the XTERRA Saipan Championship, aka the “Crown Jewel of XTERRA,” on March 24, and athletes who stick around can train and have fun with the visiting internationals and locals and race the Tagaman road tri the following weekend on March 31.

“An unforgettable voyage, and a mythical race you will never forget.  XTERRA Saipan is surely one of the most beautiful I have done in 20 years of triathlon throughout the world,” said three-time Olympian and former triathlon world champion Olivier Marceau.

Indeed, the XTERRA Asia series of events provides a brilliant opportunity for professional and amateur competitors from around the world with the opportunity to train and race in perfect conditions at exotic destinations where the ocean is clean and clear, the air is warm, the people are friendly, and the experience is authentic.

“Since I started racing XTERRA again in 2008 everyone that has gone to the Western Pacific and raced Saipan has always said great things about how beautiful it is and how great the support from the community was,” said American pro Branden Rakita. “Now with the addition of the Guam and Philippines races in the last few years you can really make it a good training trip that will last a few weeks in warm weather.  The races also help get the jitters out of that first race of the year and allow you to get the body moving before the meat of the season starts.  Being able to travel to such unique locations as well and experience the lifestyle and culture there will be amazing.”

Asia has played a prominent role in the development of XTERRA as a truly international event since 1998, when the first Asian competitor -Taro Shirato (who would later become the XTERRA Japan organizer) – came to Maui “to play in the dirt.”

“I had heard of the event but never seen such exciting pictures with the beautiful ocean, red clay, clear blue sky,” said Shirato. “I was intrigued with the article and had to try it for myself. That year I became the first XTERRA challenger from Japan, and I was deeply fascinated by the race, by ‘playing in nature.’ The adventure made me feel great, and reminded me of my childhood when I first started riding my bike and exploring the world.  I wanted to introduce this feeling to our people.”