Ruben Ruzafa (28 – Malaga, Spain) and Renata Bucher (36 – Lucerne, Switzerland) won the XTERRA European Tour season-opener, the XTERRA Spain Championship in Cieza, Murcia on Sunday, June 2.

For Ruzafa, a successful pro mountain biker who collected four national titles in cross country and marathon for Spain, it marks his return to triathlon almost five years after winning the 2008 XTERRA World Championship in Maui.

For Bucher, it’s her fourth straight XTERRA World Tour win (33rd career) following her impressive string of victories in April spanning XTERRA Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia.

The day started with local pro Roger “Raja” Serrano and Ben Allen leading the swim and putting a minute into last year’s Euro Tour runner-up Asa Shaw. Ruzafa, who looked very fit and relaxed, had a solid swim just two minutes back. Out on the bike, Allen and Serrano quickly dropped young Frenchman Brice Daubord (a certain future star) and Joan Ruvireta Brufau to battle for the lead.

Ruzafa caught the pair near the end of the bike but did not make a move to pass.  Later, both Raja and Allen thought Ruzafa could have passed but was conserving strength for the run.  They were spot on. 

Into T2 there was not 10 yards between the three of them and all left in one fast pack.  The run from T2 goes uphill immediately and continues to climb for quite a while.  Ruzafa took off from the start and grabbed a lead he would not relinquish.  Serrano, who is a road warrior and not used to this kind of running, had a hard time and eventually faded to 6th place, but this 22-year-old is a contender for the future. 

Allen was not giving in at all and kept Ruzafa in sight.  Near the end on the dusty, hot flat sections, the Aussie was catching the Spaniard but it was too little, too late and he came home second just 47 seconds out. 

Asa Shaw pulled his way back to third but not without a fight from Hector Guerra who had the second fastest bike split to Ruzafa by one-second.  Guerra raced XTERRA a bit last year and will concentrate on the Tour this season.  While Shaw got away from him, Guerro has to be very pleased with 4th, and contented for third all the way to the line.

Defending XTERRA European Tour champion Nico Lebrun put in the fastest run by far and came home 5th, a typical early season race for “The Professor.”  Nico still has the chops and nobody should think his last season after 11 fantastic years will be taken lightly.

Roger Serrano was 6th, Brice Daubord 7th, Belgium Jim Thijs 8th, Ruvireta Brufau 9th, and Cedric Lassonde 10th after a nasty training accident on Saturday that gave him three stitches and some bad bruising.

In the women’s race Germany’s Katrin Muller blitzed the swim for the women and came out 30-seconds ahead of Brit Jacqui Slack.  Both of them were caught by the amazingly fast Renata Bucher early on.  Bucher had three wins in April and is in fantastic form.  Slack was second at the half way point in the bike with Muller 3rd and then a long gap to Czech Helena Erbenova with young and improving Hungarian Brigitta Poor in 5th.  Bucher never looked back. 

Erbenova, who is usually the fastest on the bike lost over three minutes to the speedy “Swiss Miss” at this race.  Out of T2 it was Bucher with four minutes over Slack, then Muller and Erbenova very close together.  Erbenova crushed the run taking back five minutes from Bucher but had lost too much in the swim and bike.  It was a great performance by the 2012 European Women’s Champ and if Bucher stays in form this has the makings of a great summer long battle. 

Slack and Muller raced hard passing and then re-passing with Katrin besting Jacqui by just 3 seconds.  Bubu Lorblanchet was making her first start since a bad foot injury to finish 5th and quickly collapsed at the finish, totally exhausted.  She bounced back after a quick trip to the “medico’s” and will concentrate on training over the next few weeks.  She will miss Greece but return in Switzerland later this month.

So Ruben Ruzafa is now two-for-two.  World Champion 2008 and Spanish champion 2013.  He cannot commit to the entire Tour this summer as he has team commitments on the mountain bike circuit but will be back for Maui.  Ben was OK with finishing second and gaining valuable points on Lebrun but wanted the win.  Asa was only OK with his 3rd and will go to Greece wanting a win.  The season has the appearance of a great shootout between Allen, Shaw and Lebrun with interlopers like Ruzafa coming along from time to time and let’s not overlook Alex Haas who came down with a chest virus and Hector Guerra who showed some amazing form today.