After a week of scattered rain, grey skies turned to blue as the blistering Taiwan sun broke through to set the stage for the highly-anticipated 5th anniversary of XTERRA Taiwan.
Hosted in the southern beach town of Kenting, the 2-day event saw off-road triathletes, duathletes, and trail runners take on a sun-drenched course, notorious for its merciless climbs and technical rocky descents, in hot and humid conditions that demand nothing less than pure tenacity and will.
And the result could not have been more fitting for the occasion.
Twists, turns, and tales continued throughout the weekend to show once again why there is nothing quite like an off-road event, and that the spirit of XTERRA in Taiwan is stronger than ever.
Cliff Jiang Clinches First XTERRA Full-Distance Win
As the sound of tribal drums called the XTERRA Triathletes to the shore of Little Bay shortly after sunrise, they were met with ocean swells and chilly waters of 24.7 degrees.
At the sound of the horn, 2021 winner, Sam Hsieh, was quick to claim the leading position and after 2 laps exited the water in first position. But from start to finish he was only seconds ahead of a seemingly measured Carson Christen, a strong contestant for 2022 gold, who quickly closed the gap during the first transition to emerge as the first rider out.
But in what seemed like a horrific throwback to 2021, where Christen was forced to give up his first place position after a serious bike accident injury, he once again saw his leading position and hopes of a podium finish disappear after his back tire burst while crossing a river section.
“Mechanicals happen to the best of riders, and at the worst of times. You can only do your best to prepare for them and be ready to adapt. You might not win, or set a personal record after suffering a mechanical, but it still doesn't have to derail your love of sport and finishing a competition."
With Christen set back by a mechanical, Hsieh reclaimed his lead to arrive at the second transition once again in first place.
But a clincher of a finish was in the making as the crowd at the second transition, expecting to see Christen in close pursuit of Hsieh, were instead met by Cliff Jiang, who is widely known for his strength on the trail.
The final 10K trail proved too much for Hsieh, with Jiang crossing the finish line with close to a 5 minute lead to claim his first XTERRA win in an overall time of 3:01:19
“I really enjoyed everything about this race,” said Jiang. “The advanced level of the course makes it exciting and challenging, and the views are amazing. Thank you to XTERRA and all the volunteers, I can't wait to compete in Kenting again!”In the womens’ category it was the 2021 champion, Cheer Chang, to exit the water first with a strong swim that saw her go into the first transition with a large lead, but a dominant performance on the bike and the trail run by Wang Chien You put her firmly in the lead to take the gold in her first ever off-road triathlon with a finishing time of 3:44:29.
Speaking on her transition from on-road to off-road triathlons, Wang Chien You said, “The biggest difference for me was being alone on the bike and run course. It takes a lot of focus as the speed and terrain is constantly changing. Even though you want to go fast there is always the element of danger, so you have to find that balance.”But even with the winners in, there was still more to come.
In a true embodiment of the XTERRA spirit, 62-year-old Yenhwang Chiang persevered after breaking his nose on the bike course to cross the line to take first place in the 60-64 category. Not only does he qualify for the 2022 World Championship, he also maintains his streak of finishing all XTERRA Taiwan full-distance triathlons to date.
But by far the most inspirational story of the day began not at the starting line but 3 years ago when Chia-Ru Juo was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Fighting back through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, including liver surgery just 2.5 weeks ago, Juo went on to finish first in the 50-54 category to secure her spot in the 2022 World Championship and continue her incredible journey in Italy.
What it meant to Juo was evident in her face as she crossed the line and felt by all in an impassioned speech at the awards ceremony.
Dan Chiang Takes Duathlon Gold
XTERRA Taiwan 2022 also saw the return of the duathlon category, combining a 23K bike course with a 12K trail run to give single-discipline athletes the chance to push harder and further and move that one step closer to the full-distance event.
Defending champion, Yu Lun Chang, gave it his all on the bike ride but suffered cramps on the run that opened a path to victory for Dan Chiang. Forced to pull out the 2021 duathlon due to injury, Chiang secured first place with a time of 2:41:46.
In the womens’ category, Emily Chen was the first to cross the line with a time of 3:20:28.
Chou Ching Dominates on the Trail Run Course
A cool breeze continued throughout the second day to offer a welcome relief from the heat and set up ideal conditions for trail runners and spectators alike.
Fan favourite, Chou Ching, claimed yet another dominant win, completing the 30K course in a time of 2:26:39 while 4-time womans’ champion, Lisa Ries, continued her winning streak with a finishing time of 2:57:36.The 14K trail run was the biggest draw for first-timers, showing the growing interest in off-road sports in Taiwan and offering newcomers their first taste of an XTERRA event.
Speaking on his first off-road event, Gautier Martinot commented "I couldn't have dreamed of a better first trail! Forest paths, riverbeds, rocky hills, views of the ocean, I really felt immersed into the wilderness of Kenting! And the cherry on the cake was the incredible weather we had! It was a great first experience, big up to my friend for pushing me to join!"
Taking top honours for the men was Cheng Jui Chu and for the woman, I Ting Huang.
“The spirit of the athletes is always what makes these events so special, and this year was no different,” said Landry Benoit, XTERRA Asia-Pacific Marketing and Technical Director.“Congrats to all the athletes, and let’s do it again in 2023!”