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The XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Showdown err, THROWDOWN!
It all comes down to this. The 8-stop XTERRA Cup Series for professionals that started in early May wraps up with the ultimate showdown of XTERRA’s best on Saturday, Sept. 26 in Utah. And when we say the best, we mean it as the top 13 ranked men and women are on the start list – the lone exception being fourth-ranked Dan Hugo who just suffered through two weeks of a severe flu and painstakingly decided to stay home in South Africa to build an 8-month-base of training so he could tackle 2010 with a vengeance.
There are two things to talk about … 1) the race and 2) the Series. Who’s the fastest on Saturday in the 1.5km swim, 30km mountain bike, and 10km trail run will determine the race winner, while who has the most points after this race determines the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Champion. Pros count their best five finishes in the eight regular season races plus whatever their point score is at the XTERRA USA Championship to determine final standings.
THE MEN’S RACE
The man to beat is Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz (pictured), the most feared XTERRA athlete on the planet. He won here last year, won four of the five Cup Series races he entered this year, and showed true grit by winning with an injury in Richmond. That said; anyone who thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that the Caveman will come out on top should consider…
1) Three different guys have won this race – Stoltz last year, Seth Wealing in ’07 and Mike Vine in ’06.
2) Last year the top four guys finished within a minute of each other. Stoltz was at 2:21:32, Vine was 14 seconds back, then Brian Smith (40 seconds) and Wealing (50 seconds).
3) In XTERRA mechanicals happen, like at this race in ’06 when Stoltz had more than two minutes on the entire field halfway through the bike before puncturing his tire going uphill at 5mph. He flatted in ’07 as well, as did Mike Vine.
4) It’s been two months since the last Cup race and it’s anybody’s guess as to which guy put together the best training plan so they’d be at their peak on race morning (and then execute!)
Using the last three years of results on this course when the XTERRA Mountain Championship was contested here from 2006-2008, it’s clear that this race plays to power and strength and racers that can climb and handle the altitude. It’s 4,600-feet elevation at the swim start and 7,600-feet at the top of the bike course.
It’s also clear that there are a bunch of XTERRA pros that fit the description like Stoltz, Nico Lebrun, Mike Vine, Josiah Middaugh, Seth Wealing, Brian Smith, Branden Rakita, and Cody Waite (the last five guys on this list are from Colorado where they live and train year-round in mountain riding conditions and altitudes similar to this race).
Look for Wealing, Rakita and Stoltz to come out of the water first, a full-blown rumble up the mountain on the bike with Stoltz leading the charge, Wealing and Rakita hanging on, and Middaugh, Vine, and Smith gaining ground, then a pure survival of the fittest and test of courage on the run. This race will rock, and thank goodness the XTERRA TV crew is in full force on site to capture all the action and turn it into a one-hour show for the whole world to enjoy (see scenes from last year at xterra.tv).
Pro Start List:
'09 Rank - Name - Age, Hometown
THE WOMEN’S RACE
The women’s pro field is as deep as the men (18 pre-registered pros in each race) but there is a clear No. 1 and that’s Melanie McQuaid. The three-time XTERRA World Champ from Canada won the first five Cup Series races of the season then started thinking about Utah. She’s been at altitude for more than a month, has done stints in Park City and right here in Ogden, has pre-rode the course dozens of times, won this race last year and in ’06, skipped a big tradeshow in Vegas so she could fine tune, and is clearly, without a doubt, focused on the prize.
The unenviable task of knocking her off the top step falls squarely on Shonny Vanlandingham, the decorated NORBA champion who switched her focus to XTERRA last year and has gotten faster by the race. She’ll likely have the best bike split (almost always does) but she’ll have to make up some ground coming out of the water a minute or two or three behind McQuaid, then have a great run if she is to succeed.
Renata Bucher from Switzerland, who has won 18 XTERRA Championships in 10 different countries and four Euro Tour titles, is perhaps the most intriguing racer to watch. The XTERRA faithful have watched her climb mountains like a kid peddles through the park, nice and easy. If she can do that here and come into the bike-to-run transition with a lead she could very well run away with the win.
Others to keep an eye include Danelle Kabush who historically comes on strong at the end of the year as evident in her runner-up performance at the World Champs last year (she was 4th at this race last season). Also watch for Carina Wasle (the XTERRA Czech Champ), Jenny Smith (3rd here the last two years), and Lesley Paterson (2nd at the Southeast Cup and 3rd at the West Cup this year).
The women’s race could play out like this…Christine Jeffrey leads all women out of the swim, followed a couple minutes later by McQuaid, Paterson, Bucher and the others. Jeffrey holds on for as long as possible until McQuaid catches and passes her, and the chase is on. McQuaid has a lead heading out on the run but how much of a lead, and can Vanlandingham or Bucher or Wasle or Kabush or Paterson reel her in? Only one way to find out, and that’s to be at finish line at the world-class Snowbasin Resort (home to the 2002 Winter Olympics) at around 11:40 a.m. on Saturday. Pro Start List:
'09 Rank (61 = #1) - Name - Age, Hometown
THE XTERRA U.S. PRO SERIES FINALE
Stoltz has won the U.S. Pro Series an unprecedented six times since 2001, including last year. His only lapses came in an injury-riddled 2006 campaign (Seth Wealing won the series that year) and in 2004 when Frenchman Sylvain Dodet took the series by storm. This year he’s on track to reel in No. 7 but three-time XTERRA European Tour Champion Nico Lebrun from France spent his season in the U.S. with the goal of winning the U.S. Series. It looked like Lebrun was well on his way to a mediocre season when he started the year with a DNF at the West Cup and a pair of 5th place finishes at the Midwest and Southeast Cups. But then he was 2nd in Idaho, 3rd in Richmond, 2nd in Arkansas, and won the last two races in a span of seven days to pull within 20 points of the first-place Stoltz. Now, Lebrun is in legitimate striking distance of the Cup Series crown. Scenario: If he wins on Saturday, and Stoltz is 4th or worse … he wins. If he's second in Utah, and Stoltz is 5th or worse he wins (and it goes on like this, basically he needs to finish three spots ahead of Stoltz). But wait, Josiah Middaugh is not out of it. Middaugh, 30 points behind Stoltz and 20 behind Lebrun, would need a victory at USA Champs plus a 5th or worse by Stoltz. Here's the top 10 in the standings (only best five finishes are counted):
Pl Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
The women's Cup is all but locked up with current and two-time Series Champ Melanie McQuaid sweeping the first five races of the series to collect the maximum 500 points going into the finale. Shonny Vanlandingham, currently in 2nd after the win at the XTERRA Mountain Cup sits 38 points behind McQuaid - meaning she'd need a win on Saturday coupled with a 7th place or worse showing by McQuaid to steal the Pro Series crown from the Canadian. Here's the top 10 in the standings:
Pl Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
XTERRA USA CHAMPIONSHIP - COMPETITOR STATS
The XTERRA USA Championship is truly a national, even international, affair with just 3% of the field hailing from the home state of Utah. Here’s a look at the numbers:
Countries Represented: 8
States Represented: 41
Most populated competitor base: Colorado (72), California (42), Washington (18), Idaho (12), Texas (11), Nevada (10), and Michigan, Indiana, and Utah (9 each).
By Age Group:
Physically Challenged Women: 1
Oldest Man: Ron Hill – Hayden, ID, 72 (Hans Dieben is 70)
XTERRA UTAH AND WHEELER CANYON HALF-MARATHON
There is also an open competition for locals, dubbed "XTERRA Utah" as well as the grueling XTERRA Wheeler Canyon half-marathon trail run on the same day – Saturday, Sept. 26 and it's not too late to register. Sign-ups for all races are Friday, Sept. 25, from noon-6pm at Amphitheater Park in Ogden.
Not just for racers, the two-day XTERRA Sports festival also features the made-for-fun XTERRA K9 Challenge owner-and-dog races, the Paul Mitchell Hair Cut-a-thon for charity, free kids races, Pro Clinics, an expo, and two big parties in downtown Ogden that’ll have great food and live music. It’s all part of Ogden’s Mountain 2 Metro Festival which is running simultaneously with a host of activities and events for the whole family. Visit www.xterrautah.com and www.mountain2metro.com for a complete schedule of events.
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