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A New Dynamic in Women's Pro Field and We Celebrate 10 Years in Richmond
A NEW DYNAMIC IN WOMEN'S PRO FIELD
An infusion of young international talent, ITU World Cup athleticism, and NORBA greatness has mixed with the sport’s traditional powers to create one of the strongest and most exciting women’s pro line-ups in XTERRA history.
Through the first two races in the U.S. Pro Series nine different women have landed in the top 5. It was Melanie McQuaid, Marion Summerer, Jenny Tobin, Danelle Kabush, and Amber Monforte at the West Championships in California and Shonny Vanlandingham (pictured), Lesley Paterson, Christine Jeffrey, Jenny Smith, and Amber Monforte last weekend at the XTERRA Southeast Champs in Alabama. All of the above are on the start list for Sunday’s XTERRA East Championship showdown in downtown Richmond.
NORBA Great: Shonny Vanlandingham (38, Durango, CO) needs no introduction - with 15 NORBA National race wins and three NORBA Series Championship titles, she’s the most successful rider in NORBA history-man or woman. Now she’s taking this XTERRA thing serious, training especially for the swim and run portions, and it showed in a big way on Sunday when she won her first XTERRA title.
World Cup Skills: Christine Jeffrey (36, Ontario, Canada) has been a staple on the ITU circuit for several years but made her XTERRA debut in California last month – and made quite an impression by coming out of the water with the lead men. Last week in Alabama she led the race for the first 15 miles on the bike, dropped to 6th by T2, and then ran her way into third by the finish. Considering she’s only been riding a mountain bike for 8 months, Jeffrey has scary potential.
Young Internationals: Summerer is a 27-year-old first-year pro out of Germany (living in Hawaii) who posted the fastest run and surprised everyone with a 2nd place finish in Temecula. Two weeks ago the two-time XTERRA amateur world champ placed 5th at the European Championship in Italy against a stacked field that included Sibylle Matter, Renata Bucher, and Carina Wasle.
Lesley Paterson is another 27-year-old first-year pro, but from Scotland (now living in San Diego, CA) who had the fastest run in Alabama and moved from 7th to 2nd with the quickest run split.
Traditional Powers: Melanie McQuaid (35, B.C., Canada) had a bad day in Alabama, simple as that, but the three-time XTERRA World Champ is still the most proven and accomplished female in the field. She’s had the fastest bike split in Richmond in each of the last four years (won in 2004) and the swim here at just 1km allows her to stay very close to the front of the pack coming out of the water. She’ll be the favorite to win on Sunday.
Jenny Smith (35, New Zealand) is close to breaking through herself, with 2nd place finishes at the USA Championships in each of the last two years. Her bike is always among the top 3 and her run is one of the best in the sport. With the short swim here in Richmond, her weakest link, this could be her race (and she was third here last year).
Amber Monforte (30, Reno, NV) is the only women’s pro to make into the top 5 of the first two races and has consistently improved even as the field gets stronger.
In 2007 half of the best pro women in XTERRA – a remarkable five of the top 11 from the 2006 U.S. Pro Series – missed the season due to pregnancy. This year two of those ladies are back and strong as ever – Danelle Kabush and Jenny Tobin. Danelle (33, B.C., Canada) has historically gotten stronger as the season has progressed and was the runner-up to McQuaid at the 2006 XTERRA World Championship. She was 4th in California and 7th in Alabama. Jenny Tobin (39, Boise, ID) knows how to race XTERRA and was 3rd at the West Champs.
2002 XTERRA World Champ Candy Angle (38, Weymouth, MA) has been in the top 4 in Richmond in each of the last five years, but she’s had a tough first two races (In California she did not finish and in Alabama she finished last among pro women). Kristy Lanier (37, Marlinton, West Virginia) is as close to a local racer as there is in the pro field and was 6th here a year ago and 6th at last weekend’s race in Alabama.
Not forgotten: Jamie Whitmore won the XTERRA East Championship here in Richmond five times, including each of the last four years. The sports all-time winningest athlete had some of her gutsiest performances on this course – which included chasing down McQuaid on the run more than once. Right now Whitmore is in a different kind of fight after having a huge cancerous tumor removed from her pelvic area. To see what you can do to help or send words of encouragement visit her website at jamiewhitmore.com.
THE MEN’S RACE
Can Dan be the Man? Dan Hugo was oh so close in Alabama, just a fleeting 16-seconds behind Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz in second place. Hugo was also second in California, and he beat Conrad in their home country at the XTERRA South Africa Championship in April. It clearly does not seem to be a question of whether the torch will get passed from Stoltz to Hugo, but rather how soon it will get passed.
Not to get carried away, Stoltz has won the last three here in Richmond, had the fastest bike here the last four years, is the reigning XTERRA World Champ, and won the first two regional titles in California and Alabama. Safe to say the Caveman is still the top South African in XTERRA.
America’s best chance at victory is probably Craig Evans from Spring Hill, TN who was just 3rd in Alabama. Look for Craig to lead this race coming out of the water. Dominic Gillen won the Off-Road Duathlon National Championship on these same trails back in April. Gillen has finished in the top five here in three of his last four attempts including a 3rd in 2003. Other legitimate contenders include Canadian Mike Vine – who won this race back in 2001, was third last year, and is at his best on technical mountain bike and run courses like Richmond. Seth Wealing – the 2006 XTERRA USA Champion - was second here a year ago and should also be in the hunt.
CELEBRATING 10 YEARS IN RICHMOND
This Sunday will be the 10th running of the XTERRA East Championship in Richmond. Since that inaugural event the trails in Richmond have continually improved thanks to the dedicated staff of the James River Park System, the Richmond chapter of the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, the James River Outdoor Coalition, and a number of other community groups dedicated to providing the best off-road recreation paths in the country. Conrad Stoltz calls the course the “the best in XTERRA” and the Park System has a handful of awards for being the best urban trails system in the Southeast. Here’s a look at what racers will face on Sunday…
The Richmond course is classic, and renowned for having some of the most technical trails in XTERRA despite being in the heart of a big city. It starts with a 1k swim (0.6-miles), follows with a 29k (18.3-mile) mountain bike, and finishes with a 11k (6.8-mile) trail run. The swim has become a poster child for the XTERRA creed that "Mother Nature is your toughest competitor". It's slated to start at the boat ramp at Brown's Island, where competitors swim across the James River to Belle Isle, get out of the water - shuffle a few hundred feet across Belle - and then swim back. The James isn't very cooperative, however, so expect the unexpected. The bike is just as crazy. Riders go under and over bridges, through tunnels, and up stairs. Thanks to countless hours of volunteer work on the Northtrail over the last several years a full loop has been created that connects the north and south James River trails via the Boulevard Bridge to the west and the Belle Island footbridge to the east. The course staples include the Buttermilk trail, Belle Isle sections, tough short climbs and fast downhills through Forest Hills Park, and the man-made miracle "Hodson Ramp". The run starts easy enough, a pleasant jog along the canal, across the river, and on top of the floodwall with a great view of the city. Then athletes turn onto a dirt trail and suddenly an 80-foot vertical climb up railroad ties stares them in the face. They call it the Mayan ruins because it looks just as gnarly as a 2000-year-old temple. After that quad burner, things get easy again for a little while but all kinds of climbs and twists and turns lie ahead. A cool section of forested singletrack meanders through the woods along the river, leading to a water crossing over a small island where athletes encounter rocky terrain and the legendary riverbed crossing. From there racers climb up an old iron ladder to Belle Isle, cross over the James on the footbridge, and head back to Brown's for the finish.
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