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XTERRA West Championship Pro Preview
Despite a strong cast of up-and-comers in the XTERRA Pro ranks, the resident champions remain the pre-race favorites for the 2010 season opener at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, NV on April 25.
Last year’s race in the desert was about as close as it gets for both of them with Stoltz overtaking Josiah Middaugh (picture courtesy Nils Nilsen) on the run to win by 32 seconds and McQuaid holding off Shonny Vanlandingham by just 23 seconds.
The men’s pro field is stacked and familiar with 10 of the top 11 from last year’s series on the start list (missing only No. 4 Mike Vine who is starting a new job and moving to Edmonton next week).
Stoltz is clearly the man to beat and will by vying for his 32nd career XTERRA win.
Nico Lebrun comes in with the most mojo having won three straight races - the Northeast Cup, Mountain Cup, and USA Championship - to finish the ’09 America Tour and in October he fell just 55-seconds short of winning his second XTERRA World Title in Maui. The Frenchman started his season with a third place finish at XTERRA Portugal on April 3, and would no doubt like to exact some revenge on this Vegas course which knocked him out with a mechanical on the bike in '09.
Middaugh, who came off the bike in front last year but lost his lead on the run in part because he couldn’t go fast on the downhills due to a lingering iliotibial band injury, will be one to watch. He had surgery in the off-season to fix the IT band issue and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of speed he brings to Vegas.
The West Champs will mark the return of the young gun Dan Hugo (3rd last year), who missed the USA and World Championship because of a nasty flu bug. Hugo said he’d be coming back “with a vengeance” in 2010 and has so far won the XTERRA South Africa Championship and the XTERRA Estrade Real off-road tri in Brazil.
Spectators can also expect plenty of chase from the chase pack as the “Colorado Boys” will be out in full force with Seth Wealing, Branden Rakita, Brian Smith, Cody Waite, and Will Kelsay all shedding a cold mountain winter to race in the warm desert air.
MEN'S PRO START LIST BY COUNTRY As of 4/15
McQuaid has been a force in the sport for a decade, and was dominating at the start of the ’09 America Tour with five straight wins. After last year’s West Champs she said, “I thought this was one of the hardest XTERRA races ever. There was just no place to hide and no place to rest and not a second to catch my breath. The girls are just top notch and in great shape and have a couple races under their belts.”
Those “girls” McQuaid was referring to are all back – Shonny Vanlandingham (2nd), Lesley Paterson (3rd), and Renata Bucher (4th) and once again they all have “a couple races under their belt.”
Bucher and Vanlandingham (pictured) started early with nearly a month in the Marianas with Bucher coming out on top at XTERRA Saipan and XTERRA Guam. The “Swiss Miss” also got her fifth-straight XTERRA European Tour title defense underway with a win at XTERRA Portugal.
Paterson, who made a big statement when she finished 2nd at XTERRA Worlds in October, recently introduced herself to the 70.3 crowd by placing second at Ironman 70.3 California in March. She’ll come into this one with a new, lighter bike and a whole lot of confidence.
With the U.S. Pro Series counting the best four scores out of five regional races before nationals there is little room for bad races. You can be sure that everyone mentioned here is aiming to get the first one, and the heat is on in the desert.
WOMEN'S PRO START LIST BY COUNTRY As of 4/15
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