|by Greg Welch|
It's double the pain, double the money, and also double the fun! This year's Nissan Xterra World Championship, at its new home at the Maui Prince will certainly double your pleasure.
The venue is a far-off, old Hawaii style oasis that sits at the farthest point south of Kihei. The Prince is the last property on Makena Ala Nui, which traces some of the world's most beautiful beaches.
When you think of a perfect holiday you think of paradise, cool things to do in the ocean, great restaurants and happy faces, I love to say it: It's all here.
Though the venue is new, it's still the same great event, same unbelievable crew and, oh, some new faces in the Hawaiian Airlines Double.
Now in its eighth year The Double has been dominated by Peter Reid (CAN) with five wins.
Reid is returning as defending champion, but has stiff competition from Cameron Widoff (USA) who's the Hawaiian Airlines Double champ from '01.
Last weekend Reid finished third at the Ironman World Championship in the fastest race in nine years. The three-time Ironman Champion, has had better days at the Ironman, but he ran into a German buzz saw named Faris Al Sultan.
Peter always put the Nissan Xterra World Championship in his schedule, saying this race keeps his year sane! The fast pace in Kona could hinder performance here in Maui, as fatigue sets in late in the race. He will be pushed all the way this year by Widoff who is fired up for the challenge. Widoff is very outspoken and has no problem expressing his emotions about taking on the field for The Double. Widoff's fifth placing in Kona was his best, and he is probably in the best shape of his life right now.
Widoff will have some time to make up. Reid comes into The Double at 8:20:04 and Widoff at 8:23:01, so only 2:57 separate the two. With flat tires and mechanicals, this race will come down to the wire.
Also in the mix is Northern California's Chris Lieto. He has found his form recently with a win at Ironman Canada in late August. He competed last weekend and finished in 8:41:34 putting him 21:30 behind. Lieto has excellent biking ability. If he can pressure the top two contenders, he might throw this race wide open.
The women's race will not see the defending champion Heather Fuhr from Canada compete. Heather has decided to call it a year after a tough day out in Kona. So we will see a new champ crowned here.
Over the last few years we have seen the same faces but now we have a new breed moving through. Aussie Kate Major (fuzzball, curly head or Major Kate, call her what you will) was third again this year at Ironman. Last year she had planned on making the trip to Maui, but decided to go surfing instead.
After Ironman this year she didn't feel so well and re-admitted herself to medical. After a rough night she woke Sunday morning to find her sister dragging her off to the hairdresser. (Her twin sister Emma was married Sunday in Kona.) After getting her surfing out of the way, Major (Kate, that is) will arrive as the favorite to take women's Double title. Major has not ridden her mountain bike in a while, so look for a tight race here.
Major comes into the Maui race with a time of 9:12:39 giving her a 15:15 advantage on Katja Schumacher (GER). Schumacher had her best-ever time last weekend (finishing sixth) so she is running into hot form.
Major and Schumacher have a sizeable lead on the rest of the field. Their closest competitors are Imke Schirsch (GER) with 10:18:43 at Ironman and Yasuko Miyazaki (JPN) at 10:28.
The women's race isn't as deep as the men's, but we are certainly in for a good race. There are 40 athletes doing The Double here this year. That's an amazing amount of talent and a testament to the popularity of XTERRA. Even when an athlete is tired, they still want to race XTERRA and be around the atmosphere that has taken this championship to one of the greatest days in endurance sports.
The Hawaiian Airlines Double is a feat in itself. It is hard, tough and mentally grinding. But those who take it on have pushed themselves through the pain thresholds and are eagerly awaiting another day on the slopes of Haleakala and the house of sun.