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Stoltz, Vanlandingham Win Southeast Championship
PELHAM, AL – Conrad “The Caveman” Stoltz overcame a flat tire and the hard charging Dan Hugo to win the men’s race while mountain bike phenom Shonny Vanlandingham pulled off the first big win of her XTERRA career to take the women’s XTERRA Southeast Championship at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County today.
A great blue heron was soaring over the warm 80-degree waters of scenic Double Oak Lake as the cannon blast signaling the start of the race stirred up the tranquil setting and sent hundreds of racers on a sweltering hot journey along one of the best trails in the country. The temperatures were in the mid-90’s but with the heat index if felt like 100.
For the third straight year Craig Evans from Tennessee dominated the 1-mile swim and was first out of the water in 20 minutes flat, more than a minute ahead of Stoltz, Hugo, Kelly Guest and Branden Rakita.
“Put the gap pretty early on the swim, ride out of control as fast as I can until Conrad catches me, then calm down and ride my own race from there. That was my plan and it worked out well, Conrad didn’t catch me until about mile seven on the bike which was two miles further than last year so that was a good feeling,” said Evans.
When Stoltz did catch-up just before the race’s long but gradual 700-foot climb Evans tried to stay on his wheel “which was a big mistake because I ended up blowing up and had to recoup and come back to reality and tell myself that I can’t ride that fast,” smiled Evans.
At the top of that climb (about halfway through the course) Stoltz punctured his tire and spent the next two-to-three minutes replacing the tube while Evans regained the lead and Hugo moved into second, and that’s when the real race began. Evans was about 1:20 out in front and Hugo 30 seconds or so ahead in second place when Stoltz got back on his bike.
“I didn’t get as much air in the tire as I needed so I had to pedal really, really hard to catch back up and then had to be careful on the downhills as well so I wouldn’t get another flat,” said Stoltz.
“When he came past me he was just flying,” said Hugo. The Caveman never did catch Evans on the bike but was right on his heels into the bike-to-run transition, then caught and passed him less than a mile into the grueling six-mile suffer-fest for a trail run that featured eight climbs amounting to roughly 1,800 feet of vertical gain.
Hugo was not far behind and reeled in Evans at about mile two then started closing the gap on Stoltz.
“I felt OK on the run but I hated the climbs,” said Stoltz. “I’m 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds so I’m not the best going up and down hills. I took the first run climb at what I thought was a good pace and Dan was right there, right on my heels, and I knew I was in big trouble. I was on the ropes so I literally had to go as fast as I could and took the downhills a lot faster than I normally would.”
All the while Hugo was right behind, literally just seconds back, but he never did close the gap completely and Stoltz finished 16 seconds faster with a winning time of 2:05:58.
“It wasn’t a close race at all today,” said Hugo to the crowd at the finish line moments after his race was finished. “Conrad punctured his tire, fixed the flat, and was still the strongest racer out there today.”
Stats testify to that, as Stoltz posted the fastest bike time in 1:05:10 (followed by Hugo 1:05:40 and Evans at 1:06:06).
“Dan was very strong, very tenacious, and I’ve never gone that hard in a championship race to have to win. I can’t remember finishing, can’t remember going to the med tent, had three IVs. Alabama really kicked my butt today and I’m very thankful to win this race,” said Stoltz. “That said, I love being here, love the Southern hospitality, and think this is probably the best XTERRA course on the whole circuit.”
Evans came across in third, the best XTERRA finish of his career, and was the top American. For the first time in a long-time Evans is racing at 100% after having degenerate pieces of bone in both of his ankles removed during the off-season.
Outside the top three were a series of impressive results – with current off-road Duathlon National Champion Dominic Gillen in fourth, and an XTERRA-best 5th for Canadian Kelly Guest. Brian Smith had the fastest run of the day (38:17) by more than a minute and passed a slew of guys to finish in 6th.
VANLANDINGHAM BREAKS THROUGH
Today for the first time in six years and 20 races – ever since Anke Erlank from South Africa won the 2002 XTERRA East Championship – a female not named McQuaid or Whitmore won an XTERRA Regional Championship.
This time it was Shonny Vanlandingham, a part-time coffee farmer on the Big Island of Hawaii and a 7-time member of the U.S. National Mountain Biking team.
Although Whitmore is out of racing this year recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and McQuaid simply didn’t have it today, you can’t take anything away from Shonny V who had the fastest bike and second-best run to leap frog past seven pros after the swim into the winners circle.
“I’m humbled and excited at the same time,” said Vanlandingham after crossing the finish line. “It’s an honor to be with these ladies, I’m just kind of getting started in this triathlon thing and I’m learning a lot.”
The road to victory lane hasn’t been an easy one for Vanlandingham, who broke a couple ribs in a bike crash that kept her out of the XTERRA West Championship in California last month.
“Didn’t expect this after that bad crash before Temecula, it’s been a lot of pain the last few weeks. I have a couple fractures that are still not quite healed but it’s getting better daily and I’m hoping my top end is coming back so I’m really excited,” said Vanlandingham.
The women’s race started with Canadian Christine Jeffrey coming out of the water well ahead of the women’s field (and second overall behind Craig Evans), followed by 2002 XTERRA World Champ Candy Angle (22:45), Lesley Paterson (24:04), and Melanie McQuaid (24:34).
Jeffrey, in only her second XTERRA (she was 6th at West Champs last month), had a brilliant bike and held the lead for roughly 15 miles before McQuaid finally caught up.
“I was probably in the lead for four seconds,” said McQuaid, the 3-time XTERRA World Champ. “Right after I passed Christine, Shonny blew by me like I was pre-riding just checking out the course and I thought ‘well, that’s not good’ but there was nothing I could do. Shonny was awesome and so was everyone else that flew past me while I was staggering in the forest. That’s the thing, if I’m not going to have a good race there are plenty of people who are willing to beat me so that’s how it goes.”
Among those willing and able was Lesley Paterson from Scotland, who had the third-best swim, ninth-fastest bike, and the fastest run of the day to move from 7th to 2nd place after passing Jeffrey with a mile-half to go. Paterson has road credentials – she was the Scotland National Triathlon Champ last year – but this was just her second XTERRA Championship race.
“After tanking in Temecula (where she was with the leaders on the bike but ultimately finished 9th), I just really held back on the bike and ate until I was sick, drank until I was sick hoping for a strong run and came through on that,” said Paterson. “I love XTERRA, it’s awesome. Really enjoying it and it takes a while to get to know how to race these things. You’ve got to know how to hydrate, how to eat, when to push, when not to push, so I’m pretty stoked about today.”
Jeffrey held off Jenny Smith (who had the fastest bike) for third, Smith came in fourth, and Amber Monforte had her second straight fifth place showing.
Note: Vanlandingham, who has twice had the fastest bike split at the XTERRA World Championship, had never finished higher than fourth at XTERRA before (last year in Maui). Last weekend she also won the BUMP and Grind mountain bike race (named for the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers who maintain the famous Oak Mountain “Red Trail”) – a race she called “one of the best in the country”.
Quote of the day: “I woke up not feeling great, couldn’t regulate in the heat, went nuclear early and I was going to be dead on the side of the trail if I didn’t stop and walk.” – Melanie McQuaid.
Up Next: XTERRA East Championship in Richmond, Virginia next Sunday on June 15.
2008 XTERRA Southeast Championship Pro Results ($20,000 Pro Purse)
TOP 15 PRO MEN
Fastest 1-mile lake swim: Craig Evans (20:01), Christine Jeffrey (20:59)
XTERRA U.S. PRO SERIES: The 2008 XTERRA National Championship Series for pros consists of five events:
May 18 - XTERRA West Championship (Temecula, CA)
The top 15 pros at each event are awarded points based on overall pro finish. Pros can drop one of their scores from the first four events, but must count the points they get (or don’t get) in Nevada. Thus, the final point total combines athletes best three scores in the first four races, plus the USA Championship race points. He/she with most points in the end is declared Series Champ. The U.S. Series will dish out $190,000 in prize money. $20,000 in Temecula, Pelham, Richmond, and Ogden, $40,000 in Nevada, plus $70,000 will be distributed to the top overall points scorers in the Series.
Note: The XTERRA World Championship Oct. 26 in Makena, Maui is a stand-alone event worth a $125,000.
AMATEUR RACE: James Walsh from Carlsbad, California was the top amateur finishing 13th overall and ahead of eight pros. Local XTERRA standout Omar Fraser from Birmingham, AL finished 16th overall (2nd amateur) and won the 25-29 division. In the women’s race Boulder, Colorado’s Erin Kummer was the 11th overall female and top amateur.
XTERRA SOUTHEAST CHAMPS (FEMALE BY DIV.)
XTERRA COLLEGIATE DIVISION: Kevin Conerly from Mississippi State University won the XTERRA Collegiate division in 2:58:52, followed by South Alabama’s Scott Dillard (3:01:48) and Florida State’s Christopher Snyder (3:04:57).
The XTERRA Southeast Championship is presented by Paul Mitchell, XTERRAGear.com, and Shelby County. Sponsors include Breeder’s Choice, GU, Gatorade, Rodale, Zorrel, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, and the Birmingham Weekly.
A special thanks to Shelby County, the City of Pelham, our friends at the Birmingham Weekly and the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers, BUMP, the non-profit organization that takes care of the mountain biking trails at Oak Mountain State Park.
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