The XTERRA European Tour kicks off Sunday on the island of Sardinia, just west of Rome, with the XTERRA Italy Championship.
Renata Bucher, who over the last two weekends placed a strong second at the XTERRA Pacific Championship in Santa Cruz, California, and third at the Southeast Championship in Alabama, is feeling strong and confident. Marion “Bubu” Lorblanchet has become a true force by winning twice on the XTERRA European Tour last season and taking her first XTERRA European Tour title as well. Carina Wasle was very fast in the early season in South Africa, the Philippines and Saipan and she knows the Italian course well. That gives three very fast women and any of them could take the top step of the podium on Sunday.
With the retirement of Franky Batelier the men’s field is wide open. The top of the favorites list, however, has to be Olivier Marceau who has been strong at Sardinia for several years. France’s Nico Lebrun has recovered from being sick and withdrawing from the XTERRA Pacific Championship and would like to retake the European crown he wore for years.
Where do the dark horses come from? Young Yeray Luxem of Belgium was coming on strong at the end of last season and may be poised to start taking some money from the established stars. England’s Ian Leitch was also strong last year and Belgium’s Jim Thijs and Germany’s Ronnie Dietz are always contenders for the podium.
The XTERRA European Tour for 2011 is solid. The XTERRA France Championship in July is already sold out and is looking at nearly 800 entrants. The Czech Championship returns to the mountains north of Prague, Germany will host our one-day European Championship event, and Switzerland will finish up the year in September.
This first race should set the tone as to whether the new guard is ready to replace the established stars. It seems both in the U.S. and abroad a whole new cadre of XTERRA pro’s are coming forth, which should make for a great year.