Nissan Xterra Mountain Championship report
CANADIANS CONQUER KEYSTONE
KEYSTONE RESORT, CO - A pair of Canadians from Victoria, B.C. - Mike Vine and Melanie McQuaid - won their respective pro divisions at the Nissan Xterra Mountain Championship on a picturesque clear and sunny afternoon in the magnificent Rocky Mountains today.
It all started at the Keystone Village Ice Rink, a 5-acre lake located 9,321 feet above sea level. Seth Wealing was the fastest swimmer in the two-lap course that angled along the edges of Keystone Resort where spectators lined the edges and cheered out their balcony's overlooking the action. Close behind was Michael Simpson and the usual leaders like Francisco Serrano, Jason Chalker, and Conrad Stoltz.
Mike Vine was dangling off the back of the lead pack.
"To be swimming with those guys, that pumped me right up," said Vine, who set the course record here in Keystone when he won in 2001. "I got on the bike and pushed up the first rise and I was in the lead before the first single track (about a mile into the course) so the adrenals were in overdrive. I was so hyped up I pushed all the way to the top."
And that was the key for Vine, as he created an insurmountable gap between himself and the rest of the field.
"We started climbing together and the moment he started riding I realized that he meant business today," said Stoltz, who last won here in 2002. "So he made 4:30 on top and I couldn't believe it."
Neither could Vine, who blistered the bike course in 1:11:52 - three minutes faster than Stoltz. "I thought I had a good lead at the top and I've had some good races here but never nailed it down on the climb like this."
It's a climb like few others in the sport, topping out at 11,700 feet and punishing all who chase.
"It is really tough," said Stoltz. "It feels like there is an elephant on your back, you feel flat, your legs feel weak, you're really tired, you have a hard time breathing and it's painful. At this altitude everything is so much more painful. If you overextend yourself just a little bit, especially when you're in a technical section and you have to put out a lot of effort just to get over something, the moment you're over it you're in trouble and it takes a very long time to recover."
Greg Krause came out of the water in 10th and picked off almost everybody in front of him except Vine.
"I emptied the tank on the climb and passed a bunch of guys but never did see Mike," said Krause. "I think Conrad paced right behind me during the climb up, but then went flying past me about half-way down."
Stoltz got past Krause and made up some ground on Vine because he bombed the downhill.
"I brought back two minutes on the downhill and thought 'o.k. with 2:30 out I may run him down' and after about two miles a girl said on the side of the rode said I was a minute behind and I thought 'oh yeah'," said Stoltz. "The next split I got was like four minutes."
Four minutes was the accurate split, and Vine's winning margin ended up at 4:32.
Meanwhile, Josiah Middaugh was hoping to mimic what he did last year - get within striking distance at the top and beat them all to the bottom.
"My bike felt a little bit flat," said Middaugh. "I thought I'd reel people in a little faster but didn't. Justin Thomas and I were climbing about the same speed and we reeled a few people in and got closer to the lead group but Mike Vine really pulled away."
Indeed. Not only did Vine crush the bike, he also ran faster than everyone but Middaugh and an age grouper.
Middaugh, Thomas and Krause came into the bike-to-run transition at about the same time, with Middaugh moving past Thomas in the first mile.
"I thought if I put together a really good run I could make it close with Conrad and I did," said Middaugh, who finished just six seconds behind the Caveman. "He saw me about a mile out and held me off."
Justin Thomas put together his best race in the U.S. Series this year to finish fourth and Krause had his best performance in Keystone to finish fifth.
A BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE FOR MCQUAID
Melanie McQuaid had never defeated Jamie Whitmore at a high-altitude race, until today. Heading into this one she was 0-for-8 if you count the three straight years of runner-up performances at Keystone and Tahoe, and two more in Big Bear.
What made this race different was that if she didn't win here, she'd lose control of having her fate in her own hands as XTERRA heads to Nevada for the USA Championship and finale of the Pro Points Series.
"I treated this like the world championships because there was no freaking way I was not going to be able to win the Series," said McQuaid, who had said she was going to win this race just moments after losing a heartbreaker in Milwaukee three weeks ago.
"Because I had to win here it forced me to say, o.k. it doesn't matter if its altitude, I have to win."
And that she did, with a better bike, better conditioning, and better preparation.
"Hard-tail is the only way to go on this course and I went to the Middaugh's in Vail and just chiseled for three weeks, so I had a light bike and a light butt, and it all helped. I need to thank Josiah and Conrad (who also stayed in Vail with the Middaugh's) because spending the last two weeks with them inspired me to be a better athlete, and also helped me get over my fear of altitude."
The day started with Janae Pritchett getting an early jump on the field with a minute-twenty lead heading out onto the bike. Behind her came Candy Angle, Whitmore, and McQuaid. It was in the very first steep pitch that McQuaid pulled out from behind Whitmore's wheel and went after Pritchett. A few clicks later in the trees McQuaid passed Pritchett and for the rest of the day she rode and then ran alone.
"I was all by myself the entire way. It was like a solo effort today," she said.
Whitmore was never that far behind, and posted the third best bike of the day to head out onto the run just two minutes back - a gap she's closed before.
"I did everything the same coming into this race," said Whitmore. "The only difference is I went to Brazil two weeks ago and caught a cold coming into this race. I just didn't have it today. I didn't have my legs for the first time in my life and I really felt horrible. It was the worst feeling ever to want to go but not be able to because your legs just won't go."
They did go fast enough to hold off a hard-charging chase pack that consisted of Monique Merrill, Melissa Thomas, Jenny Tobin, and Lisa Isom.
In their last 15 races together Jamie and Melanie have finished first and second 14 times (Whitmore still up 8-6).
"I won two races that probably she should've won and she won two races that probably I should've won," said Whitmore. "And know it's all about Tahoe."
Merrill, from nearby Breckenridge, was the 2001 U.S. Pro Series Champion but this was her best ever XTERRA finish.
"I was always fourth that year," said Merrill. "I'm shocked. I thought I was like in 15th place out of the water, and then all these people come flying past me and then I thought I was 18th. But it turned out I was sixth going out on the run and picked off three to the finish. I'm pretty thrilled. I'm going to have a hard time doing another one because I can't really top this."
The closest finish of the day belonged to Melissa Thomas and Jenny Tobin. Thomas, who described her day like this "I crashed on the uphill. I crashed on the downhill. I hit some trees. I fell on the run, I twisted my ankle. And then I had to sprint to get fourth," edged Jenny Tobin by a one-second in front of an appreciative finish line crowd.
Tobin had the fastest run of the day, as usual, and went from 9th to 5th. Adventure racing star Danelle Ballangee had the second best run split. Four-time NORBA Champ and two-time Olympian Jimena Florit picked up her first top 10 XTERRA finish. She was the 35th woman out of the water, rode past everybody but Melanie to head out onto the run second, had the 18th best run split, and finished 7th.
Hard luck fell upon Renata Bucher who suffered three flats, and Candy Angle who DNF'd.
For the first time-ever the female pros were paid 12 deep, same as the men, because the 20+ strong field warranted it.
TOP 15 PRO MEN
TOP 15 PRO WOMEN
Fastest 1k Swim (0.62 Miles): Seth Wealing (12:53), Janae Pritchett (13:59)
XTERRA PRO RACING: Keystone was the fourth of five stops on the Nissan Xterra National Championship Series for pros. The top 15 at each event are awarded points. Pros can drop one of their scores from the first four events (the regionals), but must count the points they get (or don't get) at the USA Championship in Nevada. Thus, the final point total combines an athletes best three scores in the first four races (shown below), plus the USA Championship race points. The U.S. Series dishes out $190,000 in prize money. $20,000 in Temecula, Richmond, Milwaukee, and Keystone, $40,000 in Nevada, plus $70,000 is distributed to the top points scorers in the Series. The Nissan Xterra World Championship Oct. 23 in Makena, Maui is a stand-alone event worth a $130,000.
XTERRA U.S. PRO SERIES STANDINGS (After four races - count best three regionals plus Tahoe for final)
NOTES: The race consisted of a 0.6-mile swim in the Keystone Resort skating pond (62 degrees), a 20-mile mountain bike course that climbs and descends 2,400 feet up and down Keystone Mountain (from 9,300 feet to 11,700 feet), then a 6.2-mile off-road scramble through a pine tree lined forest and eventually the Snake River. More than 500 athletes representing 25 states and nine countries competed in the XTERRA events. In the half-distance XTERRA Sport race John Turtle (19, Littleton, CO) won the men's race and Maura McGovern (28, Denver, CO) won the women's.
AMATEUR NOTES: Thirteen of the 19 age group titles went to Colorado athletes. Boulder's Andrew Biglow, 34, won the men's amateur division and placed 14th overall. Jackie Burt from Gunnison, CO was the best among female amateurs. Sage Grossi won her division on her birthday. Last year 23-year-old Jordan Jones won the XTERRA Sport race, this year he won his division and had the second-fastest run split (39:30) behind only Josiah Middaugh.
* TOP AMATEURS
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