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Gardner, Bucher win XTERRA Saipan
SAIPAN, CNMI - Saipan's warm, tropical climate is the lure for all athletes at the ninth annual XTERRA Saipan Championship. The opportunity for early season training leads competitors from all over the XTERRA Planet - Europe, Australia, Japan and the U.S - to Saipan where temperatures in the mid 80's, cool tropical breeze and the crystal clear Pacific ocean beckon. And, it is key the success of Switzerland's Renata Bucher and England's Sam Gardner as the pair defended their XTERRA Saipan Championship titles on a hot and steamy day in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Saturday.
It's the sixth straight Saipan victory for Bucher (pictured), and her 20th career XTERRA championship since winning her first one here back in 2005. Bucher had the fastest bike and run splits and crossed the line in 2:58:19, nearly nine minutes ahead of runner-up Shonny Vanlandingham.
"For me Saipan is special," said Bucher. "It means a lot - and it is the only one that I wear #1. I like to come early to pre-ride the course, and get tips from the locals." She credits the win to her local tipsters, and when asked if she'll be back to compete for a 7th XTERRA Saipan title, she responded, "as long as they have this race, I'll be back."
U.S. mountain bike phenom, Shonny Vanlandingham took second today, an improvement over her inaugural Saipan race in 2009, where she finished third. She was not in top form coming into the event, but credited Bucher with owning the race. "I saw her in the swim - and that was it", she said. Early morning rain made the course very slippery. "It was hard to run, almost like being in a pin ball machine," she said. "This is XTERRA's most technical course - but if anyone is going to do an XTERRA, it should be this one."
Local pro and reigning XTERRA Japan Champ Mieko Carey finished third, followed by a pair of first-year pros from Great Britain - Emma Smith, the 2008 XTERRA World Champ in the 25-29 division, and Darrelle "Daz" Parker, the reigning XTERRA amateur World Champion. Smith quit her job as a lawyer in December to race professionally. Both her and Parker are trained by three-time XTERRA World Champion, Julie Dibens.
In the men's race Gardner (pictured) caught and passed Mike Vine (who won the inaugural race here in Saipan in 2002) about halfway through the bike then held off the hard-charging Canadian on the run. His time of 2:34:03 was just 43 seconds better than Vine.
Gardner was clearly the man with the target on his back today. He beat Vine by almost three minutes last year, and Vine was not going to go down without a fight today. Gardner, who has been nick named "the rock" for his swimming ability, was the fourth pro man out of the water, and rode well picking off XTERRA newcomer and team mate Michael Hiscott, Aussie Jason Chalker, and finally Vine.
Vine stayed close, but on the back of Mount Tapochau, his bike jammed in the big ring and then his derailleur snapped. The lead opened up for Gardner, who had the fastest bike split of the day, and came into transition about 2 minutes ahead of Vine. "I was running scared," said Gardner. "Mike is a good runner, and the run is the hardest part." Vine finally saw Gardner on the run about 2 miles from the finish. "Mike just got closer and closer," said Gardner.
"This is my favorite race in the world, and victory is a relief," said Gardner. "There was a lot more pressure coming into this race. Now I'm looking forward to Tagaman, as I want to win them both - I finished second at Tagaman last year."
Jason Chalker (the 2003 Saipan Champ) came in third despite a hard crash on the bike that left a sizeable gash in his arm requiring five stitches. Chalker's crashes in Saipan through the years have been stuff of legend, highlighted by the time a boonie dog jumped in front of his front tire at top speed during the Tagaman road tri years back. "It never has stopped him from having a great time though," smiled "Kahuna Dave" Nicholas.
Takahiro Ogasawara was fourth and finished in the top five here for the third straight year while Michael Hiscott placed fifth in just his first-ever XTERRA. Summing up the mood of the day was age grouper Juergen Feherenback of Titisee, Germany, who was honored as the "XTERRA Warrior" award winner in 2009, who said 'You have not done an XTERRA until you have done this one."
The race consisted of a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, a 30k mountain bike that climbed 1,500 feet to the highest point on the island, and an epic 12k trail run that took participants through heavy jungle and into caves used during World War II and along beautiful white sand beaches (like the one Kevin Carey is running on just before the finish line here).
The race served as an important XTERRA World Championship qualifier, as the top age group athletes in each division (23 athletes in all) earned their place at the start line in Maui by virtue of their performance today. The top overall amateur male was David Spelger of Guam with a time of 3:20:07 and the top amateur female was Caroline Colonna of New Mexico in 3:35:03.
There was also an XTERRA Sport race comprised of a 750-meter swim, 20km-mountain bike, and 5km trail run. For the second straight year the overall male winner was Kieran Daly, the General Manager at the host hotel - the Pacific Islands Club, while Australian Emma Viotto won the women's race.
From left to right, Shonny Vanlandingham, Mike Vine, Renata Bucher, Sam Gardner, Jason Chalker, Mieko Carey and dozens of others will stay in Saipan for another week to race in the Tagaman and chase the epic PIC Double award, which goes to the man and woman with the fastest combined XTERRA and Tagaman time. Tagaman is a road triathlon held next Saturday, March 20. Winners receive $500 cash, seven nights' accommodation and a complimentary Gold Card (three meals a day in a choice of three restaurants) at the Pacific Islands Club. In between the two races are a whole slate of self-improvement clinics and fun activities for the family. After Tagaman, most will take an inter-island flight and race in XTERRA Guam on March 27.
Note: Saipan is located in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean - 1,300 miles south of Tokyo, 1,400 miles east of Manila, 3,200 miles west of Honolulu, and 2,900 miles north of Sydney.
Azure colored water, a powder blue sky, light island breezes, and a sunny 85-degree day greeted an international field of competitors representing eight countries to the ninth annual XTERRA Saipan Championship. The countries representing were Japan, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, England, Germany, Philippines, and the U.S. (including the territory of Guam, and Commonwealth of Saipan).
The XTERRA Saipan Championship was produced by TAGA, Inc., and sponsored by the Marianas Visitors Authority, Pacific Islands Club, DFS Galleria, Delta Airlines, IT&E Life in Motion, Coca-Cola, Subway, Glimpses Advertising, Foremost, Marpac, and Docomo Pacific.
2010 XTERRA SAIPAN CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
Fastest swim: Kai Staal (15:10), Andrew Buitrago (15:10)
XTERRA SAIPAN AMATEUR CHAMPIONS (FEMALE BY DIVISION)
XTERRA SAIPAN AMATEUR CHAMPIONS (MALE BY DIVISION)
Division Name Time Country
*Also qualifying for the XTERRA World Championship (Oct. 24 in Makena, Maui):
25 - 29M Mark Sawyer
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