8 Questions With Xterra World Champ, Bradley Weiss
Talk us through the day you won the Xterra Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii.
The Xterra World Championships is always an incredibly stressful day for professional, elite and amateur athletes alike. But it’s the day we’ve all prepared so diligently for, and waking up on race morning knowing you’ve done all you can in training brings a certain calmness to the situation.
I ran through my usual pre-race routine, and before I knew it we were on the start line, ready for whatever the Maui Gods had planned for us. The swim is my Achilles heel; that’s usually where I lose the majority of my time to fellow athletes. But this day was different. I had the swim of my life, and exiting the water, I was right on the leaders’ heels, exactly where I needed to be.
Transition blew past, and at the start of this incredibly demanding mountain-biking course, a group of five had formed at the head of the race.
I love the mountain-bike leg of an Xterra triathlon, and knew that if I wanted to win this race, I had to break away from this group and start putting time into the faster runners. 2016 Xterra World Champion Mauricio Mendez from Mexico was in the lead group, and with his lightning-fast run, I had no choice but to attack.
I got the lead about 5km into the biking leg, and just kept pushing. Ruben Ruzafa from Spain was closing in fast; and about two thirds into the course he finally bridged the gap and caught up to me – thankfully, not bringing any athletes along with him. I welcomed the company and we worked well together for the remainder of the bike course, until eventually he opened a small gap on the final singletrack section.
But I wasn’t overly concerned; entering T2, the deficit was just 20 seconds. The run in Maui is 5km straight uphill, and 5km descent back down to the ocean. I closed the gap to Ruben within the first kilometre, but he hung tough and I couldn’t shake him. The gap to third was significant, and with only 6km of running left, the race was between Ruben and me.
At the 5km marker I finally opened a gap on Ruben; I put everything I had left in my body to make this move stick. My body felt shattered, but at this stage I was running on pure adrenaline. Hitting the final beach section I allowed myself a glance over the shoulder, and that empty beach brought joy to my heart. I had done it. Crossing that line was a completely surreal experience, and one I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Did you get any advice from our four-time Xterra World Champ Conrad Stoltz?
Conrad has been the pioneer in many ways, in Xterra triathlon specifically, and has been the one leading the way for us South Africans back home – showing us all what is possible. Conrad has given me plenty of advice over the years, all of which has helped in some small way to get me to where I am today. He was an incredible athlete, and I’m proud to say I was able to race against him towards the end of an unprecedented career.
What are the differences between Xterra and a classic road triathlon?
The most notable difference is that Xterra takes place in the mountains. The swim is similar to on-road triathlon; but from there, things are completely different.
In Xterra, the swim is followed by a tough mountain-biking leg ranging anywhere from 27 to 40km, and then generally a steep and rugged 10km run, with plenty of mountain scrambling in between. Of course, the average speed is a little slower than on road triathlon; but the intensity level is off the charts, and the never-ending natural obstacles are enough to keep even the professional field on their toes at all times!
How do you think SA ranks in the world of Xterra?
South Africa now has five Xterra world titles – just one behind Spain, who have racked up an impressive six in Xterra’s short existence as an official sport. I am slightly biased of course, but I would say South Africa has produced some of the best Xterra athletes in the world.
Many thanks must go to Conrad and to Dan Hugo, for leading the way and showing all of us young aspiring Xterra triathletes just what is possible with a little commitment and a ton of passion and perseverance.
Another huge contributing factor is the fact that Stillwater Sports have been the leaders in setting the trend for how an Xterra should be run. Xterra South Africa isn’t the biggest Xterra in the world for no reason, and the organisation behind this incredibly successful event needs its fair share of acknowledgement.
Talk us through your equipment and your bike. What makes it good for Xterra?
I raced the Specialized Epic World Cup S-Works at the Xterra World Championships. I’ve raced this bike for the past three years, and it’s everything I could ever want in a bicycle. It climbs incredibly well; and even for a small athlete like myself, it feels so nimble and agile in tight singletrack sections. It truly does cover all the bases, and starting any race, I always know I’m on the best equipment possible.
For this particular course I raced on the Specialized Renegade 2.1 tyre option front and rear, which is Specialized’s fastest-rolling tyre. It was the perfect choice for the dry and fast conditions we had on race day.
What’s the biggest challenge on the bike leg of a World Champs race?
The most challenging part for me is just making sure not to make any silly mistakes. I was in the lead, and in control, so I made a really big effort to try and control my thoughts and not get overly carried away with the situation.
With helicopters overhead and photographers around every corner, it’s easy to allow your adrenaline to get the better of you. I just had to keep telling myself that there was a long way to go, and I needed to look after my equipment; or with one misplaced step, this whole dream could unravel very quickly.
Physically, the hardest part was once Ruben Ruzafa had caught me, and I had to turn myself inside out trying to keep pace with him. He’s an animal on a bicycle; but I knew that if I could just hang tough and make it to the run, then he was on my playing field again.
Take us through a typical day in your training life…
Training typically starts at 5:30am with the Stellenbosch University Swimming squad, where I’m normally one of the slowest swimmers in the pool. The university has an exceptionally strong squad, and I’m very grateful to have access to such a high calibre of swimming training.
After a big breakfast I’ll head out for a ride, generally with intervals varying in distance, intensity and elevation depending on what stage of my programme I’m in. Following a big feed and a nap, I’ll join up with my running squad at the track, and complete the workout our coach has prepared for the day.
Some days will include much shorter training sessions, used as recovery; and I also include three strength sessions per week, to keep the body strong and injury-free.
Tell us about the one bike-training session that you think gives you the most benefit.
Three x 20min overgear. Overgear training has completely changed my cycling, with huge gains in power, strength and torque.