Els Visser aims for Challenge Wanaka victory: ‘There is something cool about being seen as a favorite more often’

Els Visser at last year's Challenge Wanaka (Picture: Challenge Family)

Tomorrow she will arrive in New Zealand’s Wanaka and this weekend she may be the biggest favorite: after riding the wrong way last year and finishing second, Dutch Els Visser now wants only one thing at Challenge Wanaka: to win.

It’s clearly Visser’s ambition, although she doesn’t even express it directly. “Results are not always completely in your control. It depends on the starting field and conditions. Last year I knew I should have won and this year I can give nothing more and nothing less than everything. That’s the best thing of racing: we’ll all be at the start line, equal to each other and have the same chances. In the end, I hope to show the best of myself for four, four and a half hours. Then the result, which I deserve, will come naturally. For sure I’m going for the best result.”

‘One of the coolest races’
Challenge Wanaka is – at least if many athletes are to be believed – one of the most beautiful races in the world, if only because of the almost breathtaking scenery. Visser agrees on that. “It’s almost not normal, as beautiful as Wanaka is. If you ever get the chance to race here, you really should. As far as I’m concerned, this really is a bucket list race.” But, it’s not only about enjoying the beautiful course, as racing will be tough and the run course in particular is known to be pretty heavy. “I have never had so much muscle pain after a race,” Visser looks back on last year. “Challenge Wanaka is almost similar to an Xterra in that respect: you first run five kilometers up, then five kilometers down and then repeat this for another lap of 10km. And all the running takes place on a kind of off-road mountain bike trail. If you adjust for that fact, that so the running is definitely not the fastest course either, you get one of the coolest and most beautiful races in return.”

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Els Visser at last year’s Challenge Wanaka (Picture: Challenge Family)

Meanwhile, Visser’s star is rising fast, and in recent years she has become an athlete who is actually counted among the favorites almost everywhere she races. “I think that’s very nice. Especially that I know about myself – and also feel – that I am one of the favorites. In the end, that’s what I do it for. I participate in races to be one of the best athletes. I work super hard for that.”

‘Most important thing is to keep believing in myself’
A few years back hardly anyone knew Visser, at least not within the world of triathlon, but a lot has happened since then. Did Visser herself always believe in the possibility that she would be in the position where she would be counted as a world-class athlete? “I think I am someone who has always been able to realistically assess where I stand. And yes, I have always believed that I could grow to this level. I know what potential I have and what is possible. I believe that I can still grow over the Middle and Long Distance races. The most important thing is that I keep training consistently, working hard and believing in myself.”

So this year, Visser is choosing her races carefully, as she really always does. In doing so, the choice is huge for top athletes these days, with the PTO T100 Series, the Ironman Pro Series and the Challenge Family World Bonus races, among others. Visser will focus mainly on the latter. “I’m not necessarily going for a PTO wildcard. Should they invite me, I will consider it, but right now I don’t have the right level to get a top ranking there. If you don’t finish top five at the PTO races, you don’t really even earn that much prize money, while you do incur costs for flights and accommodation. Besides, I won’t get much exposure there, so why should I do those PTO races?”

And even though Visser will definitely be doing Ironmans this year – starting in early March in New Zealand – her focus will not be on the IM series either. “I’m mainly looking at how I can best improve myself and what’s best for my body. The impact of traveling is huge and at many Ironmans the race dynamics will be very difficult for someone who is not the best swimmer, like me. Often there is a large group of strong swimmers coming out of the water at the same time, so that they can draft on the bike at least a bit. For me it is then basically impossible to close the gap and so there is little chance to perform well at those races.”