Japan was one of the very first international races on the XTERRA World Tour when it made its debut in Shiobara back in 2000 and for 10 years, 2004 to 2014, it called Marunuma home.
This year the XTERRA Japan Championship, again led by triathlon legend Taro Shirato, is introducing the Tribe to a new destination.
XTERRA Pro and roving race correspondent Charlie Epperson (pictured above with Mieko Carey) is one of the hundreds of XTERRA warriors headed to Hokkaido for Saturday’s race and brings us this preview…
XTERRA Japan returns to kick-start the 2015-2016 XTERRA Asian Tour after a one-year hiatus. During their break, race organizers secured a new venue that led them to one of the northern most prefectures in Hokkaido. A region renown for their snow skiing, cuisine, and pristine landscape, this year’s XTERRA Japan Championship promises to offer competitors a great new experience.
The resort is amazing… with more than dozen restaurants serving world class Hokkaido cuisine, golf courses, gondola ride, hot springs, and some crisp clean air- it feels more like I’m on holiday. Great venue for the race and the community has been equally amazing in their support of the race, course preparations, and general warmness toward the athletes.
The swim will start at the snow-fed and remote Lake Kanayama, home to the ancient & mythical Sakhalin taimen flying fish. After a likely cool morning swim, racers will enjoy a two-loop bike course that climbs over 800-meters while navigating a floating bridge that leaves little room for error. Spectators will get to see runners twice on a two-lap course that takes competitors through Lake Kanayama Forest Park, an area commonly occupied by the Japanese brown bear (as many as 2,000 roam the Hokkaido region). No kidding!
With the last XTERRA Japan Champion Dan Hugo now retired, the men’s elite race is wide open for those of us hoping to be crowned the champion in the Land of the Rising Sun. A late entry into the race, two-time Australian Olympian and XTERRA Australia Champion Courtney Atkinson becomes the clear favorite in this field. Japan’s Takahiro Ogasawara is the local favorite and stands a good chance to offer Atkinson a close race with his mastery of technical mountain bike tracks.
Cedric Lassonde of France, a veteran XTERRA racer, will arrive in peak form after crushing an Ironman distance race two weeks prior. Scotland’s Rory Downie passed on the XTERRA European Championship in London to compete in the mountains of Hokkaido. South Korea’s Kaon Cho will use XTERRA Japan to tune-up the inaugural XTERRA Korea race that will be contested the following weekend. Japan’s veteran racer, Taro Shirato, who has also been the driving force behind the new race venue, has enough course knowledge to be a factor. Rounding out the field is my Guam training partner, Cameron O’Neal, who competes for the Guam National Triathlon team and who is debuting in his first elite off-road race at XTERRA Japan. A number of other professional and seasoned XTERRA racers are rumored to be en-route include Slovakia’s Michal Bucek, Hong Kong’s Jason Hsieh, and Josh Kenyon of New Zealand.
The women’s elite race is shaping up to be a mano-a-mano affair. Four-time XTERRA Japan Champion Mieko Carey returns to her home country in search of her fifth title. Carey, who came face-to-face with a black bear during a pre-ride at the old course will no doubt have her “bear bell” (a required item for this course) in full jingle as she sets out on her quest. Her competition, the speedy Lizzy Orchard of New Zealand, had a great performance at XTERRA Malaysia in Langkawi this past May and looks to be in even better shape going into Saturday.
Competitors should come prepared for a wetsuit swim and expect some vicious climbs in the midst of the beauty of Lake Kanayama Forest Park. With bears, floating bridges, flying fish, and icy cold water, the outlook is pure adventure for the 2015 XTERRA Japan Championships.