Smith, Akerhielm take Texas Finale

Magnolia Hill Trail Run draws more than 200 runners

Season finales are supposed to be about drama, and the XTERRA Magnolia Hill Trail Run did not disappoint.

More than 200 runners participated in the event, which was completed on July 13 at Magnolia Hill Ranch at Navasota, Texas. It was the season finale for the 2013 XTERRA Texas Trail Run Series.

Robert Smith and Tracie Akerhielm took top overall honors for the 21-kilometer race, and both had interesting tales from the trails to tell.

Smith finished first overall with a time of 1 hour, 38 minutes, 39 seconds. Although it was his first XTERRA Trail Run experience, he was willing to call it a victory “by mistake” because two other runners took a wrong turn on the course.

“I got to the last aid station before the finish and asked what place I was in. They said first. I told them I should be in third,” Smith said. “I continued and when I finished I told them that there should have been two high school kids in front of me. I assume they went the wrong way.”

Indeed, Collin Carter and Blake Devoll were inadvertently directed in the wrong direction, and they wound up running an extra three miles. They were ahead of Smith by at least a minute when they took the wrong turn. Carter and Devoll are members of the Giddings High School cross country team, and their coach was understanding of the situation.

“They were both frustrated, but sometimes these things happen on trail races,” said Shaun Carter, head coach of the Giddings team. “Nature of the beast.”

Interestingly enough, Smith is the cross country coach for Kingwood Park High School, and is also one of the founders of the Pineywoods Athletic Club in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Ken Rieger from Spring, Texas, was second overall in 1:39:39, and Matt Nedella from Montgomery, Texas, was third in 1:43:24.

Akerhielm was an impressive fourth overall and first among the females in 1:46:45. She finished more than eight minutes ahead of the other top female runners.

“The race course was beautiful with single track that zigzagged through tall pine trees and circled around a small lake near the end,” said Akerhielm, who resides in Denton, Texas. “The trees provided so much shade that the trail was almost dark.  The pine needles and sand made the run nice and soft, but a bit taxing on the legs.”

Akerhielm’s adventure actually started before the race, when she got lost looking for the race site. She eventually drove up to a locked gate at Magnolia Hill Ranch.

“At this point, I was sure I was going to miss the start of the race and so hopped the gate and took off running down the dirt road,” she explained. “I hitched a ride on a four-wheeler from a sheriff who drove me down to registration. I grabbed my race bib and pins and jogged down toward the start.  If I had arrived 30 seconds later, I would have missed the opportunity to race!”

Akerhielm has been the dominant female in the XTERRA Texas Trail Run Series in 2013. This was her third overall victory in the series, and she placed second overall at four other races.

Aimee Newsom placed second in 1:55:05, and Sharon Ruben was third in 2:16:28.


In addition to the 21K long course, there was also a 6K short course, and a pair of youngsters took top honors. Seventeen-year-old Diego Gomez placed first overall in 27:56, and 11-year-old Heather Welsch was the top female in 30:27.

The XTERRA Magnolia Hill Trail Run was the seventh, and final, race in the 2012-13 season for the XTERRA Texas Trail Run Series.

The 2013-14 season is tentatively set to begin next March. For more information, please or

North Carolina Series Gets Off to a Fast Start

Longworth and Mercer win at Whitewater in record times

The XTERRA Whitewater Trail Run proved to be a fast opening act for the XTERRA North Carolina Trail Run Series.

Close to 350 runners from 12 different states participated in the XTERRA Whitewater Trail Run, which was completed on July 13 at the U.S. Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte runners Matthew Longworth and Stacy Mercer took top overall honors, and they did it in record fashion.

Longworth, 33, completed the 13-kilometer course in 51 minutes, 28 seconds, which was 47 seconds faster than the previous course record. Longworth placed third at this event last year, but took nearly two minutes off his time to earn the victory this year.

Cole Whitaker from Carrboro, N.C., was the only runner to stay within striking distance of the lead. He finished second with a time of 51:44. Tyler Turnbull from Charlotte was third in 54:17.


Mercer placed 14th overall and set a women’s course record at 1:00:48. She is an experienced road runner, but this was her first XTERRA Trail Run experience.

“The course was challenging, but fast,” she said. “Plenty to pay attention to in the woods, but only a few obstacles caused me to drastically slow down in order to avoid falling. There were two to three brutally steep inclines, but they weren’t terribly long, so I survived!”

She also won in impressive fashion, finishing nearly five minutes ahead of the other top females. Kimberley Hefner from Rock Hill, S.C., placed second in 1:05:29, and Kaitlyn Poff from Huntersville, N.C., was third in 1:06:33.


The XTERRA Whitewater Trail Run was the opening race of the 2013 season for the XTERRA North Carolina Trail Run Series. Two more races are scheduled this summer: XTERRA Beech Mountain Trail Run on July 27, and the XTERRA Fisher Farm Trail Run on August 31.

All races in the North Carolina Series are open to runners of all ages and abilities. To register for a race or to learn more about it, please visit

Tuck, Minneci Take Top Honors at Wolf Mountain

Utah Series comes to a close for 2013 season

At 57 years young, Kevin Tuck is still going strong in trail running. His latest victory for the ages came at the XTERRA Wolf Mountain Trail Run, which was completed on July 13 at the Wolf Mountain Ski Resort in Eden, Utah.

Tuck, who resides in Salt Lake City, finished first overall for the 10-kilometer course. His time of 49:30 was more than three minutes ahead of the other top runners in the field.

Wolf Mountain Runners“I guess I was the leader of the 10K, so I didn’t have anyone to follow, and made all the right turns,” he said. “I thought the course overall was a little overgrown in places, long grass in areas prevented you from seeing the trail, but this is a trail race and I think it should be rough.”

(Kevin Tuck leading the way, photo courtesy Jared Lashinsky Photography /

Tuck is no stranger to success in trail running, as he is a four-time age-group champ at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship.

Robert Kunz from Eden, Utah, placed second in 53:01, and his wife, Sylvia was fourth overall in 57:57.

Susan Minneci from Park City, Utah, was third overall and took top female honors. She finished with a time of 54:37.

Richard Burgunder of Boulder, Colorado, was in second place for the first half of the race, but he and several other runners took a wrong turn late in the course. He finished fifth overall in 58:38.

“The Wolf Mountain race was a blast and also very challenging!” Burgunder said. “The initial climb featured a gain of over 1,000 feet in the first mile! It was insanely difficult. Overall, a great course and some awesome athletes.”

In addition to the 10K course, there was also a 5K race. Braedin Butler from North Ogden finished first overall for the 5K, and Melissa Lovato from Ogden was the top female.


The XTERRA Wolf Mountain Trail Run was the third, and final, race of the 2013 XTERRA Utah Trail Run Series. The series is expected to return in 2014 with even more races on the schedule. To learn more about it, please visit

It also served as a preview of sorts for many of the runners. The XTERRA Trail Run National Championship will take place at Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, on September 22. Many of the top runners from the Wolf Mountain race said they will enter the XTERRA Trail Run Nationals.

Burgunder Adds Utah to His List of Regional Championships

He is one of five to earn titles in new Utah Series

A new region on the XTERRA Trail Run national circuit meant a new challenge for Richard Burgunder. As a result, he has another regional title to add to his record list.

Burgunder FiveThe XTERRA Utah Trail Run Series joined the circuit in 2013, and the final race of the series took place last weekend: the XTERRA Wolf Mountain Trail Run at Wolf Mountain Ski Resort in Eden, Utah. Burgunder placed fifth overall and first in the men’s 30-34 age division.

That performance earned Burgunder enough points to win the men’s  30-34 division for the season.  The Utah Trail Run Series featured three races at three different locations, and Burgunder scored 265 out of a possible 300 points for the season.

Burgunder, 33, recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In addition to his new Utah championship, he previously won age-group titles in New England (2009), Northern Ohio (2011), and Pocono (2011 and 2012). He is now the only runner in XTERRA Trail Run Series history to earn titles in four different regions.

He planned to challenge for yet another title in the XTERRA Colorado Trail Run Series this year, but a foot injury earlier in the year took him out of several of those races.

(Richard Burgunder pictured, courtesy Jared Lashinsky Photography)

“I’m happy with accomplishing half of my initial goal this year, despite being told that my competitive season would be over, following my late January injury,” Burgunder said. “I wanted to win Colorado, and claim six titles, but it just didn’t work out that way.”

Burgunder’s year is far from over, as he still plans to enter the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run in Colorado this weekend, the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah in September, and the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii in November.

He is one of five runners who scored enough points to earn an age-group championship in the 2013 XTERRA Utah Trail Run Series. All five of those runners received a free entry to represent Utah at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship on September 22. Here is a list of the others:


Age Group Name Age Hometown State
Female 30-34 Veronica Dawson 33 Salt Lake City UT
Female 40-44 Bianca Gray 44 Layton UT
Female 50-54 Allison Seppi 50 Murray UT
Male 30-34 Richard Burgunder 34 Boulder CO
Male 55-59 Kevin Tuck 57 Salt Lake City UT

The 2013 XTERRA Utah Trail Run Series featured three races at three different locations. The series is expected to return in 2014 with even more races on the schedule. To learn more about the series please visit

Stoltz Takes Aim at Third ITU World Title

XTERRA icon Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz look to win his third straight ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship to go with his unprecedented four XTERRA World Titles this Saturday in Den Haag, Netherlands.

Conrad StoltzStoltz will be up against a strong international field that also includes former XTERRA World Champ and 2013 XTERRA Spain champ Ruben Ruzafa, XTERRA Triple Crown Champ Ben Allen, and 2013 XTERRA Switzerland Champ Victor del Corral.  Click here for the complete start lists.

In the women’s race reigning and two-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley, the “Scottish Rocket” Paterson looks to defend her ITU World Championship against Europe’s best which includes the defending European Tour Champ and winner of the last three in Europe this season Helena Erbenova, the 2013 XTERRA Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Spain champ Renata Bucher (who has 33 career XTERRA major titles), and Triple Crown champ Jacqui Slack.

Paterson is also vying to extend her majors win streak to seven, having won everything she’s entered since last September including the XTERRA USA and World titles last year, and the Philippines, West, Southeast, and East Regionals this year.

The elite and age-group course features a one-lap 1-kilometer swim, a four-lap 26K mountain bike, and three-lap 9K run – almost entirely on the beach and sand dunes surrounding Kijkduin.  Visit for event details and elite race previews.

Nearly 30 U.S. athletes will compete for off-road world titles on Saturday with Branden Rakita serving as the lone American elite on the start list. He finished ninth at 2012 Cross Worlds, which were held in conjunction with the XTERRA Southeast Championship in Pelham, Alabama.

The amateur field is full of veteran XTERRA athletes from around the world highlighted by a strong contingent from the U.S.  According to USAT this year’s Team USA squad is comprised of 28 age-group athletes from 18 states ranging in age from 25-66. In the two-year history of the event, U.S. age-group athletes have combined for 21 world titles and 53 total medals in the off-road multisport event. Richard Wall (65-69, Colorado Springs, Colo.) seeks to defend his age-group title from last year, while Kathy Hudson (45-49, Highland Village, Texas), Scott Ewing (55-59, Destin, Fla.) and Annette MacNiven (55-59, Wainscott, N.Y.) also return to the event after having won silver in their respective age groups last year.

Ben Hoffman to Race Mtn Champs

One of America’s fastest all-around triathletes, Ben Hoffman, winner of his last three IM races (most recently Coeur d’Alene on June 23) will compete at the XTERRA Mountain Championship next Saturday, July 20, at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado.

Ben HoffmanHoffman is no stranger to XTERRA having won three XPS races since 2008 and finishing third at the Mountain Champs behind Conrad Stoltz and Josiah Middaugh last year.

“The Hoff” has been in the news quite a bit lately, from winning IMCDA and chasing down an apparent road rage driver to strength training insights and warming the hearts of triathletes everywhere in the classic Nils Nilsen photo “The Kiss.”

We caught up with the 29-year-old Colorado native today to get his thoughts leading into XTERRA’s high altitude challenge – and the beast of a bike course that climbs to 9,400-feet up in the Rockies.

XTERRA: Congrats on CDA, 4th IM title and third in a row, and a course record no less.  Think you’re as fast as you’ve ever been right now?

Ben Hoffman:  I think I am certainly as fast as I have ever been at the Ironman distance, and as fit as I have ever been. To take down a record held by one of the best Ironman triathletes of all-time (Craig Alexander) showed me I have made good gains this season.

XT: How will your endurance and IM speed translate to XTERRA distances 1.5K/26K/10K?

BH: In the past I have been able to utilize my IM fitness to be competitive in XTERRA, but I know all the guys are getting faster every year, so I won’t know until I race in Beaver Creek. They are certainly different styles of racing, but I feel confident that I can get in there and do battle with some of the top guys. It also helps that I won’t be at a complete disadvantage with regard to altitude, since Boulder sits at 5400 ft.

XT: Was cool to see you write on your blog (benhoffmanracing) that to relax after your win you went MTB’ing with friends in Montana. I imagine you must’ve done your fair share of that growing up in Grand Junction and while at school in Missoula.  Safe to say MTB’ing is something you do for fun?

BH: I have always looked at mountain biking as a good escape. No roads or cars, just open trails. It’s something I grew up doing in western Colorado, and something my girlfriend and I love to do together. Of course, I do like to push hard every now and again in an XTERRA, so it’s not all fun and games!

XT: Read about the tough road rage incident that got Richie banged up a bit, must be of some comfort to do some training on trails in the next few weeks then?

BH: Absolutely. As much as we train, we don’t have that many incidents on the roads, but it only takes one bad apple. I’m just gutted for Richie, as it’s his job, and he’s out for a while now. It will be a good mental break to hit the trails a little more and not have to worry as much about the cars for a while.

XT: No bad drivers on trails, but there are bears sometimes!  You saw one last year during the race, didn’t you?

BH: Yeah! That’s the beauty of these races. You really feel like you are getting intimate with the landscape, seeing a side that you otherwise wouldn’t. Can’t beat the Colorado high country in summer!

XT: You had a great race last year, taking 3rd.  What’s the biggest factor in you coming back to give the Mtn Champs another shot?

BH: The biggest factor is to give myself a mental break from road racing before I begin my Ironman Hawaii build. Well, that and the desire to take a couple steps up on the podium! It’s a great race that is essentially in my back yard, and I love to mix things up a bit, so it’s a perfect fit of a highly competitive event backed by a more fun and relaxed vibe.

XT: You’re not that new to XTERRA, I know you’ve done a couple before – Four Corners and XTERRA REAL…can you run your XTERRA history by us real quick?

BH: I think I have done 4 races now. The first few I won, as they weren’t the championship caliber, starting with XTERRA Arizona Xtreme back in 2008, then XTERRA Four Corners in 2010, and XTERRA REAL in 2011, and then Beaver Creek last year.

XT: In BC you’ll be up against a bunch of really fast XTERRA guys, highlighted by Josiah Middaugh racing in his back yard on a course he designed and Dan Hugo, fresh off a win at the East Championship in Richmond last month.  What’ll it take to give them a run for the win?

BH: Well, with Dan all I have to do is distract him with some good coffee or wine! Josiah will always be tough on his home course, but I think it helps that I know the course now from racing last year. To beat these guys will take a special race, but I really believe that this particular race is won on the bike, so I will have to push very hard to get a gap.

XT: I know you’ve got Kona in your sights, any thoughts on doing the double – Kona then Maui?

BH: I never like to do too much planning beyond an Ironman, but it would be great to spend some extra time in Hawaii and tackle the course in Maui too. If the race in Beaver Creek goes well, I’ll certainly be thinking more about it! With guys like Javier Gomez coming over to race it, the event just keeps getting more world-class all the time, and that definitely gets me excited.  ###

South Carolina Series Heats up at Harbison

300 runners from 12 states battle humid and challenging conditions

The XTERRA Harbison Trail Run has become one of the most popular trail races in South Carolina, and the latest edition did not disappoint. Humid conditions on race day and torrential rain in the days leading to the race were not enough for more than 300 runners from 12 different states to complete the Harbison Trail Run on July 7 at Columbia, S.C.

Leslie Thompson and Jose Zavala“Considering how much rain the area has had recently, we were fortunate enough to stay dry but this did mean a pretty muddy course,” said Leslie Thompson, who took top female honors for the half-marathon course. “We were also fortunate that it was overcast the entire race, so while it was humid, the heat wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been in Columbia in July.”

Jose Zavala from Hickory, North Carolina, placed first overall in the half-marathon course, finishing the 21 kilometers in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 7 seconds. Hunter McGahee, a cross country and track runner at Wofford College, placed second in 1:36:41, and 14-year-old Avery Dominick from Irmo, S.C., was third in 1:42:14.

“The first three or so guys pulled away within the first couple miles and really did not look back,” said fifth-place finisher Carl Epley from Marion, N.C. “It had been raining a lot, but the course had drained fairly well and was in good shape. It was an overcast morning, so there was no direct sun and it did not rain during the race, but the humidity was incredible.”

The top 20 finishers were from North Carolina and South Carolina, but the rest of the field featured runners from Georgia, Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Arizona and Nebraska.

“I really enjoy the rolling hills and single track trails through the Harbison pine forest,” Epley said. “There is always a huge turnout for this event and you know you are going to compete against some quality runners in Columbia.”

Thompson, who is from Myrtle, S.C., placed 16th overall and was the first female to cross the finish line, but she was quick to give credit to two other “faster” women.

Birgit Spann and Robin O’Connell officially placed second and third, respectively, in the women’s field. However, they both took a wrong turn late in the course, allowing Thompson to take the lead.

“I never saw them, but at the last aid station everyone cheering me on told me I was the third overall female so I just kept my pace up since I didn’t see the other two ahead of me or anyone behind me,” Thompson explained. “When I went through the finish and was told I was the first female finisher, I knew something was up since I hadn’t passed any other women since the aid station, and as soon as they finished I heard them explain how they took a wrong turn.”

Still, Thompson’s win was impressive considering that it was her first time running at Harbison State Forest, and her first trail run in nearly a decade.

“I went in expecting to break two hours without much effort, but portions of the course, particularly through the ‘Spider Woman’ trail made the course much more difficult than I had anticipated,” said Thompson, who finished in 2:02:06. “It was a fun but challenging course.”

In addition to the half-marathon course, there was also a 5-kilometer “short course.” James Bowen and Hope Whisman, both from Columbia, took top honors for the 5K race.


Also in the field of runners were members of Team Red, White and Blue, and several of them ran the 21K course while carrying American flags. Team RWB is a non-profit organization with a mission to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

Mike Reyna, Team Captain of the Columbia Chapter of Team RWB, completed the course in 2:37:40. He is a combat veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said the activities of Team RWB have helped him “move on” since his return from combat.

The XTERRA Harbison Trail Run was the second of three races in the 2013 XTERRA South Carolina Trail Run Series. The top runners in each age group earned points toward the overall standings of the series.

The season finale for the South Carolina Series will be the XTERRA Table Rock Trail Run at Pickens, S.C., on August 17. To register for the race or to learn more about the series, please visit

Farrell, Morrison Join List of “Double Champions”

17 runners earn titles from Pocono Series

Grant Farrell was always a fast and strong runner, but he took it to a whole new level in 2013.

Grant FarrellFarrell, who resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, won two races in the 2013 XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series, and finished as the top overall runner for the series. He also won the men’s 30-34 age group for the Pocono Series, giving him two XTERRA Regional Championships in the same year. Earlier in the year, he won the men’s 30-34 age group for the XTERRA Atlantic Trail Run Series.

“I’ve been more aware of the point standings this year and have been developing more as a competitor,” said Farrell, who is 32 and works in the sales/marketing department for Wire By Design. “I really try to leave it all out there and not hold back at all no matter the type of race or distance.”

Farrell is now one of just five runners to win two XTERRA Regional Championships in the same year.

“The Atlantic and Pocono series are each a great experience in their own right,” he said. “I think it helped having two series to keep track of.  Having a regular schedule of important races makes it easier to make good decisions about diet, training, sleep, etc., in between.  The only difficulty was the fuel expense!  Sure would be nice to have that subsidized somehow.”

Farrell participated in seven XTERRA Trail Run races between the months of March and July, and finished in the top four overall at each of those races.

Farrell was not the only runner to complete an Atlantic/Pocono double championship in 2013. Don Morrison from West Brandywine, Pennsylvania, won the men’s 60-64 age division in both the Atlantic and Pocono Series.

Morrison, 63, is no stranger to XTERRA success. He is five-time age-group champion in the XTERRA off-road triathlon Atlantic Series.

Farrell and Morrison are two of 17 runners who earned an age-group championship in the 2013 XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series. Five of those runners received a maximum score of 400: Morrison, Marissa Vavrek, Jaclyn Shokey, Jill Hildebrand and Keith Austin.

The XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series featured five races at five different locations in 2013. More than 300 runners from seven different states participated in the series.

Every age-group champion received a free entry to represent the Pocono Region at the 2013 XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Ogden, Utah, on September 22.

The XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series is expected to return in 2014, with the races scheduled to begin in May. To learn more about it, please visit

Here is the list of 2013 XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series champions:



Age Group Name Age Hometown State
Female 15-19 Betsy Hochman* 19 Lansdale PA
Female 25-29 Tabby Dunn 29 Monroeton PA
Female 30-34 Marissa Vavrek 32 Schwenksville PA
Female 35-39 Jaclyn Shokey* 36 Jim Thorpe PA
Female 40-44 Michelle Brown 42 Tunkhannock PA
Female 45-49 Wendy Kaminski 49 Wapwallopen PA
Female 50-54 Jill Hildebrand* 51 Wapwallopen PA
Male 10-14 Josh Edwards* 14 Mountain Top PA
Male 20-24 Anthony Wilkie 24 Wilkes-Barre PA
Male 25-29 Zebulon Dunn 26 Monroeton PA
Male 30-34 Grant Farrell 32 Lancaster PA
Male 35-39 Jason Maskaly 39 Factoryville PA
Male 40-44 Chuck Thompson 42 Chalfont PA
Male 45-49 Keith Austin* 48 Sweet Valley PA
Male 50-54 Bill Lawrence 54 Scranton PA
Male 55-59 Jim Simmons 55 Wyoming PA
Male 60-64 Don Morrison 63 West Brandywine PA
* Repeat champion from 2012

Lebrun, Erbenova win XTERRA France

Complete Results / Photos

Xonrupt, Gerardmer – Defending XTERRA European Tour champions Nico Lebrun from France and Helena Erbenova of the Czech Republic won the XTERRA France Championship on Sunday.

Nico LebrunIt’s Lebrun’s first win of the year, and he becomes the fourth different man to win a Euro Tour race this season as Ruben Ruzafa took the opener in Spain, Ben Allen claimed Greece, and Victor del Corral won in Switzerland.  Lebrun, the 39-year-old former XTERRA World Champion (2005) is racing his final year as a professional, as he announced he’ll retire following this season.

In the women’s race Erbenova collected her third straight win and her 7th in last eight European majors.

Dave Nicholas, the managing director of the XTERRA World Tour, was on-site and brings us this report…

Somebody needs to make this win a chapter in the textbook on how to win races, any kind of race.  Nico Lebrun was nicknamed “The Professor” by me because he raced so smart.  Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was named the Professor for the same reasons.

Nico knows what he is capable of and takes what his body and the competition give him on any day.  Today, against much younger and very strong competitors he proved conclusively, as does Conrad “The Caveman” Stoltz and Shonny Vanlandingham, that these older racers are not ready for the pasture quite yet.

For once at the XTERRA France Championship the weather was superb.  Truly could not have been any better.  The past two years have had driving rains and muddy conditions and the way this course is designed it was a monster.  France is the longest and arguably the hardest XTERRA on earth.  The bike takes the pros well over two hours and the win takes more than three hours.

Sunday dawned cool, yet sunny.  XTERRA Decouvert (Discovery) started at 8:15am with more than 700 participants.  750m swim and one lap of everything.  This race was followed by three great kids races that grouped youth from 7 to 15 years of age.  No wonder the French and Euros have such great competitors despite not having our population.  They start young!

In years past I marveled at how many spectators would come out even in cold and rainy conditions.  With great weather and a new monster of a Vosges Mountains wood ramp that was at least 150′ long with 4 jumps; the spectator count was huge.

The swim is a mass start.  Everybody is treading water and cheating out as far as they can go and BOOM off goes the canon (not quite as good as the USA version) and the fight is on.  Ben Allen did the usual and pulled a slight lead over USA Tour pro Branden Rakita.  There were several athletes from the States in France and all were thrilled with the organization and courses.

Ben led the bike out but suffered both a front and rear flat on the first lap and for the second race in a row scored no points.  Leader Asa Shaw had the hammer down on the bike and led the first lap.

“I knew the Spaniards were faster on the bike and would get me eventually – so I went as hard as I could” he said after the race.  Asa was right.  First Victor del Corral, fresh off winning Switzerland, led Ruben Ruzafa, XTERRA Spain winner and Hector Guerra, 2d in Swiss and 4th in Spain.

The Spanish train was coming for the Englishman and got well past on the second lap.  Ruzafa and Guerra both know that del Corral can outrun most anyone and hooked up to drop their countryman.  I was waiting on a fast downhill at a sharp right turn to take photos.  Racers coming down, locking brakes, sliding the back around; fast downhillers passing slower climbers, it was great.  About the time I expected to see Asa still in the lead – remember he won here last year – a guy twisted his bars and did a superman faceplant.  He was stone knocked out and not moving.  Another spectator and I recognized what was about to happen and raced out, moved his bike off the trail but he was unresponsive.  About 20 seconds later he came around, stunned but not hurt.  Other marshals came running down from above and the situation was OK but I knew what was coming.  Sure enough here comes Ruben and Hector flying down what is no more than a rocky 30″ wide trail.  The marshals jumped up to stop them but the duo rolled right, darted through the grass and around a tree – locked the brakes up, made the hairpin and were gone.  WOW.  The next people down were lappers and they naturally came to a stop to see what had happened.  It was a total road block.  The other spectator and I started moving bikes and riders yelling “allez allez” and finally a dozen or so guys got the message and headed down the hill.  Seconds later here came Nico Lebrun all in red standing up out of the saddle yelling “deuxième deuxième” (second lap second lap).  I say to myself “Nico? – where’s Asa, where is Victor?”  They came by shortly but at that point I figured the race belonged to Ruben.

Helena ErbenovaHelena Erbenova is again dominating the women.  She paced herself on the swim, headed out on the bike turning the best women’s time by nearly eight minutes.  Marion “Bubu” Lorblanchet is the cutest, funniest French woman on tour.  She won the Euro title in 2011 beating a very strong Renata Bucher.  She hurt her foot badly in 2012 and is just now returning to form.  Always a fast swimmer she was first out of the water and was holding second after the first lap behind the Czech Erbenova.  Shadowing her though, was Jacqui Slack.  Jacqui has not had the results she expected so far with a 2nd in Greece her best in Europe.  Today she was on her game and passed Bubu on the second lap gaining a three-minute lead but no matter how hard Jacqui went there was no stopping Helena.  Bubu ran hard but Jacqui kept her cool and came home a minute ahead for a very nice second.  It is good to have Maud Golsteyn back and she had a good day with a 4th a bit behind Lorblanchet but comfortably ahead of Coralie Redelsperger who finished out the top 5.  Poor Renata Bucher was not feeling well and dropped out on the bike.  Those of you who know our Swiss Miss understand how strong willed she is.  Perhaps she needs to take heed of what The Professor did.

“I felt sick after Greece so I stayed home and let my body rest,” Lebrun said about missing last weekend’s race at XTERRA Switzerland.  “Today I knew I could not beat the Spanish guys on the bike so I went hard, but still kept a lot left for the run.” He catches del Corral just before T2 and has gone past Shaw so “The Professor” knows the two fastest guys that could beat him are behind.  And now there had to be a hidden smile knowing his plan was bearing fruit.  The Fox was in the Chicken Coop.  First Guerra passed Ruben but slipped and fell giving the younger Spaniard the lead again.  Skinned a bit but a tough guy, Hector kept going but “The Professor” could hear the huge crowd yelling for him as he went up the first, steep hill past the feed station.  This is France after all.  On the more treacherous singletrack uphill leading high up into the Vosges, Nico first caught Hector and could see Ruben not far ahead.  It was over.  Nico has always been one of the fastest runners and despite the long, slippery downhills followed by roots and rocks along the lake he knew the race was his.

Ruzafa kept second, Guerra braved it out for third and Victor had the 2nd fastest run but could not bridge up to the podium.  Asa had a great day finishing 5th and keeping the points lead, but Guerra has finished in front of him in the last two races and with the win, Lebrun is only 20 points behind.

Textbook Professor Lebrun.  Not feeling well so misses a race to recover.  Knows the field and what they can do; knows the track and trails and where he can take advantage.  He paces himself over a two-hour long bike ride and his tactics and predictions worked.  A lesson each and every racer should learn.

One cannot say enough about the Charbonnier family and the fantastic event they put on.  Building that fabulous ramp along with a 25′ high tower full of huge speakers pumping euro-beat disco music and re-mixes had the crowd dancing all day.  At least a thousand filled the paved steep climb that both bike and run took.  It really was like a tour de France scene where the road is nearly blocked and people step back just as the riders get to them.

Herve’ the announcer is a great talent.  Love to have him work with Whit and Welchy.  This entire race is a class act and the standard that all others must be measured by.  And finally, after searing heat the first year and downpours the last two even the weather Gods saw fit to make this weekend simply the best.

Top 5 Pro Men
Nico Lebrun, FRA 3:06:42
Ruben Ruzafa, ESP 3:07:01
Hector Guerra, ESP 3:07:47
Victor del Corral ESP 3:08:13
Asa Shaw, GBR 3:11:21

Top 5 Pro Women
Helena Erbenova, CZE 3:35:53
Jacqui Slack, GBR 3:48:05
Marion Lorblanchet, FRA 3:49:17
Maud Golsteyn, NED 3:53:30
Coralie Redelsperger FRA 4:00:40

Next on the XTERRA World Tour: XTERRA France was the fourth European Tour Championship race and the 13th World Tour event to qualify amateur athletes into the XTERRA World Championship to be held in Kapalua, Maui on October 27, 2013.

Date – Race, Location
Feb 24 –  XTERRA South Africa Championship, Western Cape
Mar 2 – XTERRA Philippines Championship, Cebu
Mar 9 – XTERRA Motatapu, South Island, New Zealand
Mar 9 – XTERRA Saipan Championship, Northern Marianas
Mar 23 – XTERRA Guam Championship, Piti
Apr 7 – XTERRA Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, Victoria, Australia
Apr 13 – XTERRA New Zealand Championship, Rotorua
Apr 28 – XTERRA Malaysia Championhip, Putrajaya
June 2 – XTERRA Spain Championship, Cieza, Murcia
June 15 – XTERRA Greece, Lake Plastira
June 22 – XTERRA Brazil Championship, Ilhabela, SP
June 29 – XTERRA Switzerland Championship, Vallee de Joux
July 7 – XTERRA Freedom Fest, Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii
July 7 – XTERRA France Championship, Xonrupt, Gerardmer
July 14 – XTERRA Victoria, Canada
July 20 – XTERRA Abruzzo, Lago di Scanno, Italy
Aug 3 – XTERRA Mexico Championship, Tapalpa, Jalisco
Aug 4 – XTERRA Canmore, Canada
Aug 10 – XTERRA Czech Championship, Prachatice
Aug 17 – XTERRA Germany Championship, Zittau
Aug 24 – XTERRA Japan Championship, Marunuma
Aug 31 – XTERRA Ecuador,
Aug 31 – XTERRA MountainMan – Kualoa Ranch, HI
Sept 8 – XTERRA England, Cranleigh, Surrey
Sept 21 – XTERRA USA Championship, Ogden/Snowbasin, UT
Oct 27 – XTERRA World Championship, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii