Most people take a breather once they win their first XTERRA World Championship.
Mauricio “Mau” Mendez Cruz had a different plan.
One week after the 21-year-old professional athlete was crowned the 2016 XTERRA World Championship, making him the youngest ever and the first Mexican athlete to claim the title, Mendez again stood on a podium for first place at IRONMAN 70.3 Los Cabos, a road triathlon nearly double the distance of the XTERRA course.
Those back-to-back wins, and Mendez’s approach to life, confirm that the triathlon prodigy is assembling a one-of-a-kind career.
Work Ethic & Family Ties
Before turning pro in 2014, Mendez created a buzz about his potential as a multi-sport athlete thanks to superior age-group performances, including being the first overall amateur at the 2013 XTERRA World Championships at 18 years old. He also joined Mexico’s national triathlon team in 2011.
Even at that age, Mendez displayed a genuine passion and respect for the entirety of triathlon. From the daily training and constant traveling to sponsorship fulfillment and multiple race day pressures, Mendez naturally welcomes the demands and grind of being a professional athlete.
“Mau is unusually hyper-focused on his career but at the same time, thoroughly enjoys the process, in a way that makes this grueling sport look easy,” said Michael Cardoza, Director of the Human Interest Group, the sports management firm representing Mendez since 2014.
“It’s obvious to anyone who has worked with Mau that he does not think the sport owes him something. He accepts what he needs to do to excel in the sport.”
His positive attitude combined with a powerful, yet to peak, athleticism also caught the attention of several brands since turning pro. Mendez enjoys partnerships with numerous companies such as Muscle Milk, ON Running, Viansi (Orbea/Orca), and Xterra Wetsuits.
Mendez’s work ethic is almost as important to his success as the connection with his family. Since he began training and competing at an early age – he participated in Mexico’s IRON Kids Series at ten years old – Mendez grew up as an athlete surrounded by family, and the link between his family and triathlon career continues today.
Mendez’s father coaches his son and cheers from the sidelines for Mendez to stay strong in the final push of a race. The family camping trips in the summer included mountain biking, stoking Mendez’s comfort on the trails.
Mendez exclusively trained during the first three months of the year before several early season races offered hints of what would propel him to the XTERRA podium in October.
At IRONMAN 70.3 Texas in April, he earned the fourth-fastest swim and second-fastest run to finish fifth. The next month, Mendez took second place at XTERRA Oak Mountain in Alabama with the top swim and run splits among the male pros. Mendez’s running power again was evident in June at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon (where he set two records as an age grouper, M14&under and M17-19) after he clocked the third fastest run.
With three challenging races completed, Mendez next prepared for what would be an epic trip for any twenty-year-old: a six-week trip through Europe for five races on the XTERRA European Tour.
“My trip to Europe was, for sure, a once in a lifetime experience, something that is now part of me and motivates me to keep moving forward,” explained Mendez.
“From that trip, I have been able to see the purest happiness in the eyes of people following their values and dreams. I learned that what society often calls “normal” is the purest way to waste your time.”
The tour began in Italy where Mendez celebrated his first XTERRA race win as a professional athlete; the experience was made even more special since his mentor and coach, two-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson, also took first place. The victory at XTERRA Italy was followed by wins at XTERRA Sweden and XTERRA Denmark; Mendez completed his tour with second place at XTERRA Poland and fifth at the XTERRA European Championship.
While the various terrains – choppy waves for the swim, rocky accents on the bike, technical trails for the run – tested the athletes, Mendez endured and often secured his lead against many older and more experienced pro off-road triathletes during the run portion of the races.
Mendez’ again flew with his feet at IRONMAN 70.3 Cozumel about three weeks after returning from Europe and two weeks before the XTERRA World Championships. At Cozumel, where he finished 11th in 2015, Mendez erased a time gap on the run to sprint past competitors and finish approximately seven minutes ahead of second and third places. The performance delivered Mendez the first IRONMAN 70.3 win of his career.
XTERRA World Championship
Two weeks later, Mendez traveled to Maui where he joined fifty-one pro athletes, including reigning XTERRA World Champion Josh Middaugh and three-time XTERRA World Champion Ruben Ruzafa, to compete for the XTERRA World Championship title and $20,000 prize purse.
In what many athletes and fans called the roughest (and muddiest) weather conditions for the XTERRA race in twenty-one years, Mendez completed the 1.5-mile Pacific Ocean swim, 20-mile mountain bike ride, and a 6.5-mile trail run in 2:49:38, about three minutes ahead of runner-up Ruzafa to take the title.
Mendez additionally earned the fastest run split of the day. Mendez’s official splits were swim (20:33), bike (1:46:59), and run (42:06). The first-place win follows 5th in 2014 and 4th in 2015.
Resting for Next Season
After his wins on Maui and in Los Cabos, Mendez returned to his home in Mexico City for a brief rest to prepare for the coming season. As expected, the reigning XTERRA World Champion will spend time with his family and dog, and do a little training, sometimes all at once.
Follow XTERRA World Champion Mauricio Mendez on Instagram @maumendezc, and sign up for the Professional Triathlon newsletter for updates on Mendez and other World Champion professional triathletes by visiting the Professional Triathlon website.