Bikebox Online co-founder, VeloVault designer and Britain’s most successful ever XTERRA triathlete ever Sam Gardner cherry-picks his favourite swims, cycles and runs from competitions around the world
You have competed in countless competitions across the world. What’s been your absolute favourite?
I love the island of Saipan [in the Western Pacific], partly because I had many successful races there and partly because it launched my pro career in many ways. The sea is about 28ºc and crystal clear, full of tropical fish and manta rays, and the odd WWII tank, many of which have become aquariums. The mountain bike course is not the most technical but still very scenic, and the run is a full-on jungle adventure that takes you through caves and down rocky gorges.
Starting from the top, what’s been the most memorable stretch of water you’ve swum?
Maui XTERRA World Champs in 2011, I think. We had a tsunami warning the night before and many hotels were evacuated. On race day, there were loads of crazy currents and waves from different directions to contend with, then at the furthest point in the swim I looked down and saw two large sharks circling below me. There was nothing much I could do but continue on and hope for the best!
Sounds pretty scary. Any other hair-raising moments you’d like to share?
My favorite dinner party story is a swim I took after XTERRA Japan. I was on a holiday with my wife in Hiroshima and we decided to take a boat trip to a nearby island called Miyajima – except I decided to swim, as it didn’t look too far. The short version is that the stretch of water turns out to be one of the world’s major shipping lanes, so after dodging the ships, jelly fish and however many species of shark, I got ‘rescued’ by the coast guard about 100m from shore… after a 4km swim.
Now on to the cycling. What’s the toughest route you’ve ever tackled?
In about 1996 I rode the Tour of Lancashire as a member of the under 23 National MTB squad. As the race was in May I packed summer clothes, but on one stage we were greeted with snow. All the locals in the know put on layer after layer but most of us just froze! I remember my teammate trying to drink as much fluid as possible and then riding past smiling with warmth with his shorts steaming with wee. I think I ended up in a pub trying to get some shelter.
Finally, which competition has the best stretch of tarmac/road/trail?
XTERRA Guam would have to win that one, where the run course takes you down a waterfall (you have to slide down on your bum!), down a stream and through bamboo forests. It’s a proper adventure – and you won’t be setting any PBs on that course.
Which competitions do you feel should get more attention than they do?
XTERRA Japan never really attracted big numbers from abroad, but it had a great feel as a race. It was at a spa hotel at altitude in the Japanese Alps, no one spoke English and you couldn’t recognise any of the dishes on the 13-dish breakfast that was served. But the bike course was about the most technical on the race circuit and it was a great experience all round… except for the one year when a competitor was attacked by a bear on a practice lap.