The XTERRA UK - Fit For A King
THIS WEEK: We preview the XTERRA United Kingdom Championship, get a racer's perspective on the XTERRA Japan Championship, see how the XTERRA Scramble Series gets studious, uncover a star with the XTERRA Foundation, and look at the XTERRA TV schedule for this weekend.
BACK TO SCHOOL SCRAMBLE: Students at Towson University and Goucher College near downtown Baltimore are kicking of the new school year with the XTERRA Towson Block Party Scramble 5k tomorrow night (Sept. 1). The race is part of a month-long "Welcome Back to Towson" celebration for area college students and part of the Chesapeake Bay XTERRA Scramble Series. The race starts at 7pm and afterwards a few city streets are being shut down for a block party that includes three local bands jammin' til midnight.
XTERRA UK: A stellar pro field is converging on the southern Border of the Brecon Beacons National Park in the beautiful Glacial formed Neath Valley of Wales for the XTERRA United Kingdom Championship this weekend.
On the men's side recent Nissan Xterra Mountain Champion Mike Vine from Canada (who won XTERRA UK back in 2001) takes on two-time XTERRA World Champ Eneko Llanos (Spain), Mountain Champs runner-up and U.S. Series No. 2 Seth Wealing (USA), U.S. Series No. 3 Andrew Noble (AUS), local favorite and XTERRA Europe Series No. 4 Sam Gardner (GBR), No. 6 Ronny Dietz (GER), and No. 8 Sascha Wingenfeld (GER). Plus Lieuwe Boonstra from South Africa (third @ XTERRA Denmark), former winter-tri world champ Marc Ruhe from Liechtenstein, and a cast of others will compete for the overall (some 30 male pros are slated to race).
The women's side is equally as intriguing as XTERRA European Tour dominator Renata Bucher will take on her best competition to date with Americans Candy Angle (No. 3 in U.S. Series) and Melissa Thomas (No. 6 in U.S. Series, No. 9 in Euro Series), recent XTERRA Denmark winner Julie Dibens (GBR), 2006 UK Marathon MTB Champ Jenny Copnall, the Netherlands Ingrid Van Lubek (No. 5 in Euro Series), South Africa's Michelle Lombardi (No. 11 in Euro Series), and Finland's Riikka Kelja (No. 12 in Euro Series).
Their playing field sits in a 75,000-acre urban forest, the largest in Europe. The rugged terrain hosts many international sporting events and is the home and training grounds to many UK professional multisport athletes. The event venue is set on the flat valley bottom where there is a man-made lake some 15+ metres deep who's water source is filtered through gravel and bed rock, providing crystal clear water. The course consists of a 1.4k swim, 34k mountain bike and 10k trail run.
Other events on the weekend include a Multisports Trade Expo, Half Xterra UK (750m swim, 17k bike, 5k run), 75k Xterra UK Enduro (2500m of ascent and descent), Half Xterra UK Enduro 35k with 700m ascent and descent, 16k Xterra UK Trail run, 5k Xterra UK Fun Run, and Xterra UK Children's Multisport events.
The local area of Neath Port Talbot and surrounding area has produced a number of famous people. Hollywood actor Richard Burton was born in raised within the boundaries of the Afan Forest Park, Anthony Hopkins was born and raised 5 miles away in Port Talbot, and Catherine Zeta Jones was born and raised in Swansea some 15 miles away where she still has a family home.
Wales is one of the 4 countries that make up the UK and is located to the Southwest between England and Ireland (London is 2/12 hours by car).
XTERRA FOUNDATION STAR: The XTERRA Foundation's mission is to "infuse hope and opportunity into underprivileged and at-risk youth" and one way the Foundation does this is by providing opportunities for quality education through high school scholarships.
Steve Pankiewicz, a senior at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., is one of several high school scholarship recipients in the program but recently because it's most famous by gaining national attention for his athletic accomplishments.
St. Peter's is the No. 15 ranked high school football program in the nation and Pankiewicz - a linebacker - is credited for anchoring their defense in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.
Going to St. Peter's would not have been an option for Pankiewicz without the financial support from the XTERRA Foundation.
"We have chosen to use our resources to provide youth with better tools for long-term success in all areas of their lives," said Founder Tom Kiely, a St. Peter's alum. "We do this by planting seedlings of hope, one at a time, and it is a great feeling to see what kids can do if given the chance. We are very proud of what Steve, and all of our award recipients, have accomplished."
The XTERRA Foundation is self-directed, and raises funds in conjunction with the XTERRA Global Tour, XTERRA Scramble Trail Run Series, and XTERRA Gear business operations. As the XTERRA brand grows, so too will its commitment to help make the world a better place.
XTERRA JAPAN: The XTERRA Japan Championship returned to Marunuma for the third straight year on Saturday and for the third straight year, Jamie Whitmore won the women's race. Here's a report on all the action from an Aussie age grouper that lives in Japan, Daniel Speight:
The XTERRA Japan Championship was hosted at Marunuma Hot Spring, high in the ancient, fog-blanketed forests of Gunma Prefecture. At 1400m altitude, this muddy, highly technical course truly personifies the essence of getting down and dirty, XTERRA style!
An international field of age groupers and pros lined up on the rocky shores of Lake Marunuma for the beating of the starter's taiko drum amidst a chorus of bamboo flutes. The boom of the drum was a nice cultural touch to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and remind you that you were in real Samurai country, and about to battle it out with the savvy natives on their home turf!
Peter Gardner from Australia led the elite field out of the two-lap, 1200m wetsuit swim, followed by Japanese females Mami Saito and Yukako Inoue. A short hobble up the rocky path into transition, and they were on their way around Japan's infamously tricky bike course. A ten-minute loop up through the forest behind the race site and then they were back again to give the gallery a second look before streaming out around the heavily forested lakefront and into pristine deer country.
The swim rankings got turned on their heads pretty quickly as tires whirred through the slush and the mud began to fly. The trail was littered with lurking roots, rocks and huge, fallen trees. Streams and crumbling creek-face obstacles challenged the daring to feats of wonder. Many a brave rider went down time and again in unflattering blurs of tangled bike and limb, as the perils of the ancient forest revealed themselves like phantom ninja shadows. The more conservative chose to dismount and push, but even for them the narrow trail's gradient proved to be a minefield of traction-traps with all too few footholds. As is traditional at XTERRA Japan, more than one hapless athlete slid off the bike trail and inexorably down the slope for a quick dip in the lake, bike and all. Well, that's one way to cool off, and that's XTERRA for you!
In the men's race American Courtney Cardenas' bike skills quickly came to the fore, as he exited the ghost forest with a commanding lead over the top swimmers, and tore up the long, gravel jeep road towards the top of the mountain. After a comparatively strong swim, Cardenas had a good lead over the main male contenders, Japan's Takahashi and Takei. But he knew only too well that these local legends would be out to reel him in now. It was duathlon champion Takahashi who almost caught Cardenas at the top of the hill, and followed him into the forest for a teeth-chattering, barely rideable descent into the bowels of the mud monster. Cardenas' technique helped him stretch his lead until a crash left him hanging with an arm tangled in a gangly tree root and unable to get free. Takahashi's sportsmanship shone through, as he stopped and helped his rival loose. From there on it was Takahashi's race to lose, but lose was one thing he wasn't about to do. He posted the second quickest bike split of the day, and led the race as he hit the run course with the silent swiftness of a whizzing katana. The day's top bike split was posted by elite mountain biker Kyosuke Takei, who caught Cardenas in the final stages of the hell-ride. Takahashi posted the top run split by a good four minutes for a strong win in his inaugural XTERRA outing, with Takei taking second ahead of Cardenas. Australians Daniel Speight and Peter Gardner rounded out the top five male elite spots.
In the women's field, Jamie Whitmore wasted no time in locking the Japanese ladies into her sights and blasting them clean off the track as she flew by in a blur of typical Whitmore finesse. Melissa Thomas rode strongly after a 4th place swim, and rolled into T2 eight minutes behind Whitmore, with Mami Saito rounding out the top three as they peeled out onto the run course. From there was a rough scrimmage with lots of hard climbing over loose rock, through sludge, up rope and down cascading mountain water dale, to line honors. But Whitmore only extended her lead in the race's final stage, making it three crowns in a row for her at XTERRA Japan, with Thomas and Saito taking second and third spots, and Inoue in fourth. Will anyone ever manage to knock the indomitable Queen Jamie off her Asian throne? Stay tuned for XTERRA Japan 2007, unofficially set to take place next August 25th!
TOP 5 MEN OVERALL
1 Yasuo Takahashi (2:29:10)
2 Kyosuke Takei (2:33:42)
3 Courtney Cardenas (2:38:18)
4 Keiji Matsuba (2:43:36)
5 Toshiyuki Furuya (2:48:52)
TOP 5 WOMEN OVERALL
1 Jamie Whitmore (2:42:09)
2 Melissa Thomas (2:58:23)
3 Mami Saito (3:14:43)
4 Yukako Inoue (3:24:52)
5 Yuko Sasaki (3:34:46)