XTERRA Eyes Focus on Utah
THIS WEEK: The XTERRA world turns its attention to Snowbasin and the Wasatch Mountain Range near Ogden, Utah for Saturday's Nissan Xterra Mountain Championship. A look at the course and the pro races is below, along with a race report from the inaugural XTERRA Denmark Championship where Nico rolls and Brit Julie Dibbens shines, and the weekends XTERRA TV listings.
MOUNTAIN CHAMPS COURSE: The aptly named XTERRA Mountain Championship race venue at Snowbasin has seen world-class competition before as home to the downhill and super G races of the 2002 Winter Olympic events, but this time the competitors will be in the water, on mountain bikes, and in trail running shoes.
It starts with a 1.5K swim in the calm and clean Pineview Reservoir (at the same time there will be a hot-air balloon launch!) which is a 20-minute drive from downtown Ogden and situated at about 5,000 feet above sea level. At the first transition area, racers will hop on their mountain bikes to start a 30K ride to the Snowbasin ski area. The ride traverses dirt and rocky trails as it meanders into Wheeler Canyon, a spectacular slot canyon shrouded in oak, aspen and pine trees.
From there the trail opens into a field splattered with a colorful array of wildflowers. Competitors climb about 1,800 feet on the way to the ski area, and once there they'll loop through the spectator-friendly base area before switching gear at T2 and heading out on an idyllic, hilly 10K trail run. The run course zigzags its way through aspen groves and fields of wildflowers and tops out at about 8,000 feet before finishing near the bottom of the Olympic downhill ski run.
Once the race is over athletes are in for a special treat as the awards dinner takes place at the Ogden Amphitheater where there will be a highlight video from the race and a concert by Mat Kearney, the guy opening for Sheryl Crow.
On Friday there's the XTERRA Golden Spike 5k and 10k trail runs and the Biker's Edge Twilight Crit with $5,000 on the line for Cat 1,2,3 and pro riders.
PRO FAVORITES: There are half-dozen men capable of winning this race and another dozen that could dramatically change the way it all plays out. Who's at the top of the list of favorites will likely surprise you. Australian Andrew Noble, who will turn 41 on raceday (Saturday), is the top ranked competitor in the race (2nd in the Pro Series behind Brent McMahon who will miss this one) and comes in healthy and on fire! Noble made a splash in the season opener with a 5th place finish, and got better from there with a 3rd in Alabama, a fourth in Richmond, and a 2nd in Milwaukee two weeks ago. With a win on Saturday he'd move to 25 points behind McMahon heading into the national championship in Nevada on Oct. 1. What that means is if he won in Tahoe, and McMahon placed 4th or below, Noble would be your U.S. Pro Series Champion.
For this race, however, one might still argue that Conrad "the Caveman" Stoltz is the man to beat. Despite missing the first race of the season with injuries and suffering a second-degree ankle sprain and muscle tears in his inside thigh at Milwaukee last week, he's tough and determined. Stoltz finished 4th in Alabama, won the East Championship in Richmond a week later, and placed 8th in Milwaukee. That puts him in 6th place for the series and so he needs to win here to better his chances at having a shot at winning his 5th U.S. Pro Series crown in Tahoe.
Seth Wealing has become America's best chance at victory. Wealing recently retired from World Cup racing to turn his focus off-road. Wealing is always at the front of the pack during the swim and has the legs to go fast on the bike and run as well. He missed Milwaukee due to injury but promises to be in top shape for this one. Canadian Mike Vine - who won the XTERRA Mountain Championship last year in Keystone, was slowed by injuries in Temecula and Alabama and got knocked out of Milwaukee with a mechanical. It's time for things to start going right for him.
Brian Smith is a mountain biking giant and just won his first championship race in Milwaukee last week. The swim was cancelled in Milwaukee due to lightening, so Smith went out on the bike course with the leaders rather than five minutes behind them because of a slow swim. Take out the swim and Smith is as good as it gets in this sport. Don't count out Greg Krause, racing XTERRA for the first time this year, or long-time stand-out Justin Thomas, or up-and-comers Ryan Ignatz, Brian Astell and Will Kelsay.
Men's Start List: USA - Jimmy Archer, Brian Astell, Greg Krause, Ryan Ignatz, Jason Jablonski, Will Kelsay, John Koenig, Dennis Manor, Amon Pease, Brian Smith, Justin Thomas, Jim Vance, Seth Wealing. AUSTRALIA - Andrew Noble. CANADA - Mike Vine and Michael Simpson. SOUTH AFRICA - Conrad Stoltz.
WOMEN FAVORITES: Jamie Whitmore has won the last two, and three of four championship races this year. Melanie McQuaid won when Jamie didn't, and hasn't been far behind in second place at the others. McQuaid needs a win Saturday to keep her fate in her own hands. If she wins then she'll trail Whitmore by just 10 points heading into the USA Championship race and thus could win the U.S. Pro Series by winning at Tahoe. If she doesn't win here, she could win in Tahoe and still not take the Series. So needless to say this is a big one for McQuaid and last year when her back was against the wall in a similar situation she won at altitude in Keystone.
To that end, McQuaid went straight to Ogden after Milwaukee so has spent the last couple weeks training on course at altitude. On the other hand, Whitmore has historically been better at altitude and on run courses with a lot of climbing like Ogden. Any way you look at it, this women's race should be a thriller. There will also be several women in chase mode trying to break up the Melanie-Jamie dominance, including Danelle Kabush, Jenny Tobin, Janae Pritchett, Ingrid Rolles and Melissa Thomas.
Women's Start List: USA - Jackie Burt, Aracelly Clouse, Teresa Eggertsen, Jari Kirkland, Amber Monforte, Christy Murphy, Jennifer Perez, Janae Pritchett, Shae Rainer, Melissa Thomas, Jen Tobin, Katrin Tobin, Jamie Whitmore. CANADA - Danelle Kabush, Melanie McQuaid. SOUTH AFRICA - Ingrid Rolles.
XTERRA DENMARK: Dave Nicholas, the managing director of the XTERRA Global Tour, brings us this report from the XTERRA Denmark Championship:
RAIN RAIN GO AWAY repeats in Denmark
The summer of 2006 may be best remembered for rain. In Bakio, Euskadi, Spain there were big storms just a few days ahead of the event and everyone scrambled to get the course safe because of flooding. In Milwaukee, lightning and heavy rains made for a mudbath and epic event. Just this past Saturday, rains also hit the very first XTERRA Denmark Championship.
Denmark is a surprising place. One would think the sea would be cold - but it was 19.5C (70F) and that someone from outside Denmark might have communication problems. Not true. Everyone in Denmark speaks English and many speak German as well. The host city of Aarhus is a very wonderful University town with lots of shops, restaurants and things to do and see. The countryside is rolling hills and great forests. The Danes are outside all the time. It is very usual to see Mom, Dad and kids running together or riding their bikes as a family. Most assuredly a very healthy culture.
As for the race, despite the rain all 3 disciplines took place. The Bay of Aarhus was choppy, but not dangerous at all. A "first" for XTERRA took place when Brit Julie Dibbens beat the entire field and was the first person, much less first woman out of the water. She was nearly 3 minutes ahead of the second fastest swimmer Ingrid van Lubek from the Netherlands. Best (or worst) part of the swim is only 10 meters from where you leave the water are 88 steps that must be climbed to get to the trail leading to transition. True, classic XTERRA stuff.
Nico Lebrun was the favorite but Nico does not like waves and came out of the water over 2 minutes behind the leaders Sascha Wingenfeld and Ronnie Dietz, both of Germany. The bike course here is fast and fun. Many places wide enough to pass, lots of single track, short climbs, fast downhills, roots, berms and anything you could want. The trails are well established and held up perfectly under the rainy conditions. Years of mulching, leaves, branches, etc have made them very loamy and absorbent so while riders got dirty, they were not covered totally with mud. Current points leader Nico Pfitzenmaier flatted early and rode like an animal to catch up. This took him off his bike and in his own words "I rode so hard I had nothing left for the run". Nico Pfitz ended up a disappointing 7th.
Lebrun was also flying and passed into the lead early into the second lap. Despite the rain the hardy locals came out to spectate and several hundred lined the course, especially where the bikes were marked and headed out onto their second lap. Ronnie Dietz was having a quick cycle and kept his lead from the swim into T2 in second behind Lebrun. The worries for Ronnie were XTERRA neo pro Fabien Combu Combaluzi from Versailles, France (don't even try to pronounce it). Fabien was brought into XTERRA by the successes of Lebrun and Sylvain Dodet and now must be considered a contender for a win. He cut into Dietz's lead and trailed the German closely going out onto the run, but he, like Pfitzenmaier had put it all out on the bike and slowly dropped behind Ronnie still held a solid third place in only his second XTERRA. The race for 4th through 6th was terrific. South Africa's Liuwe Boonstra held it most of the afternoon, but Czech Jan Kubicek and German Sascha Wingenfeld never let him rest for a minute. A total of 19 seconds separated 4th from 6th. Watching these three men slosh through the run, slipping downhills and jumping over creeks, etc was magnificent spectating.
Julie Dibbens was simply too much for the women's field. She posted the fastest swim, fastest bike and 2d fastest run to win by over 8 minutes. Ingrid van Lubek kept her place from the swim for a great 2nd place. Carina Wasle from Austria had bike problems but ran her way into 3rd and another podium bringing her to a record of two seconds and a third in her first three races this season.
The first Danish XTERRA is now in the books. Everything the organizers did was first class; everything started right on time and communications with athletes was superb. Nobody, but nobody got lost on either the bike or run as they were perfectly marked with red and blue arrows and miles of yellow tape hanging from branch's.
If you are looking for Nordic efficiency and precision, combined with stunning forests, a great city, the ocean and friendly folks, this is the place to be. My guess is that with some decent weather, we will have thousands of spectators at this event next year as the park is just minutes from the center of town and heavily used by residents. Good hotels are very nearby ranging from hostels to 4 star. There is a wonderful campground just a few hundred meters from the finish line that rent neat cabins. The airport at Billund is just an easy hour away with lots of flights from everywhere in Europe. Not much more to say other than we just added another reason to Live More.