Triathlete Courtney Atkinson may be well on his way back to a record third Olympic Games but that didn’t stop the champion triathlete from returning to his roots - tree roots, that is - of XTerra racing, the sport that re-invigorated Courtney’s for sprint racing.
The reigning Australian XTERRA champion, Courtney descended on Jervis Bay, New South Wales to defend his maiden off-road just one week after claiming a top-10 finish in his first ITU triathlon in more than two years. Call it cross training, competitive spirit, risky or what you will, but competing in brutal terrain where beaten track gives way for mud slides and fallen trees is ideal to harness reaction time and reflexes. And Courtney did just that, leading the race from the swim before finishing second overall to New Zealand off-road powerhouse Braden Currie in Asia-Pacific rankings and re-claiming his Australian title.
In wet, muddy and slippery conditions in the NSW forestry, the race was always going to be more about guts and skill than outright fitness. And in the swim and run legs, Courtney proved his pedigree - on the verge of the Australian and Asia-Pacific double-double. But on the mountain bike, with slippery tree roots, stumps and more hazards than the Sydney CBD at peak hour, Courtney couldn’t quite match the brilliance of mountain bike and adventure racing expert Currie.
The ground was loose, making the course more technical than typical, Courtney giving up the one-minute lead he built in the swim to finish a harrowing and satisfying second. At one stage, Courtney had lost as much as six minutes to the eventual winner, before clawing back more than two minutes in the run.
I knew when Braden was the first to catch me on the bike that I was in trouble,” says Courtney, who finished the bike run fifth before reclaiming three spots ahead of him in the run to finish second overall and be the first Australian across the finish line.
“And you know Braden, he’s not the world’s best adventurer for no reason. But it’s pretty cool to win the XTERRA Australian title for the third year in a row.”
And as for that brutal bike run?
“I came down twice on the bike today on some slippery stuff,” Courtney continues.
“It’s a challenge for me. There were times on the bike when I was thinking that I could get off and run faster than this, and much less dangerously! I know overseas they have sloppy jungle for XTERRA but this is probably the first time I’ve experienced this level of mud. I ran as quick as I could but the thing with XTERRA is the bike kills your legs.
It was a tough day at the muddy office. But a fun one.
Courtney now has four weeks before his next ITU event as he continues his plight to qualify for a record third Olympic Games.