XTERRA Abruzzo on Saturday

Nico Lebrun, the current and four-time XTERRA European Tour Champion and winner of the last European Tour race at XTERRA France, designed a new XTERRA course in the beautiful mountain regions of Abruzzo.

Conrad's Abruzzo Run Course ScenicThe inaugural XTERRA Abruzzo triathlon – the fifth of eight majors on the XTERRA European Tour – is set for Saturday with the swim start, finish and transitions areas based at Lago di Scanno – aka “XTERRA’s Heart”

“You can see that the Lake has the shape of a heart, the heart of XTERRA immersed within a spectacular fauna of Abruzzo; an eldorado for lovers of outdoor sports, especially mountain biking, trail running and hiking,” wrote the organizers.

Conrad Stoltz (posted this view of the lake on @conradstoltz), fresh off his 7th World Championship, will go head-to-head with Lebrun for the first time this season in the men’s race.  In the women’s race Erbenova looks to extend her dominance, but the formidable contingent of women’s elite are in full force to try and stop her.

Here Lebrun gives us his thoughts on the area and course for XTERRA Abruzzo…

“Last December, when I came for the first time in Abruzzo, I was so impressed to see all the mountains, the wild life with bears and wolves .. and not far from Rome! Unbelievable .. if you used to live in the alps, like me, you wouldn’t expect to find such scenery, with high peaks up to 3000 meter in the south of Italy.  All this just two hours drive away from Rome International Airport, a perfect place for a European XTERRA race. And, of course, the place to be is Scanno, a typical Italian mountain village, beautiful and lovely, absorbed in the old beauty of its architecture; the historical center offers a variety of restaurants and taverns to taste the incredible Italian cuisine … reason more to love this country … ok guys, maybe you will not lose weight, even if the race consumes your energy!  Okay, sorry the race! This is the reason why I’m here! The swim part of the race starts in the natural mountain lake at 1000 meters over sea level; the bike course will take you through some narrow streets of the old village …you will be climbing a lot within some single trails and you’ll always have a view to the peaks…but keep your energy for the run because for sure you will walk, fast and forward, this is “Bic Nic race course”, and I love running uphill!  This is the best training for qualifying to the XTERRA World Championship in October and Maui. I’m sure you will also remember the Italian “festa” in Scanno / Lago di Scanno in the middle of the Abruzzo mountains!”

Learn more at www.xterra-abruzzo.com.

Stoltz Wins Third ITU Cross Tri World Title

Conrad Stoltz and Helena Erbenova won the third edition of the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in Den Haag, Netherlands on Saturday.

Conrad StoltzIt’s Stoltz’ third straight ITU World Title, and seventh overall to go with his unprecedented four XTERRA World Championships.

“My 7th World title.  It didn’t sink in till the last kilometer. So proud. Happy. More like ecstatic. I’m blessed with an amazing career. Wonderfully supportive sponsors. Genes- I’m turning 40 in October and still winning. (thanks Mom and Dad) Rocket scientist coach Ian Rodger. My wife Liezel. So much goes into this job/life/career, it’s hard to phantom and acknowledge all in a paragraph or even a blog. It really reaches deep,” posted Stoltz to his blog at conradstoltz.com.

Former XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa finished second, 14-seconds back and Brice Daubord was third. Other XTERRA notable finishers included Victor del Corral (7th), Ben Allen (8th), Jim Thijs (11th), Tim Van Daele (14th), Branden Rakita (16th) and Asa Shaw (17th).   View Complete Results

In the women’s race Erbenova outlasted defending champ and two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson on the same course where she won the European Cross Triathlon title last year.  It’s her fourth straight major off-road tri win having captured the last three championships on the XTERRA European Tour and it also compliments her 2013 ITU Winter Triathlon World Championship.

The top eight elite women finishers are all established XTERRA stars with Paterson (2nd), Chantell Widney (3rd), Renata Bucher (4th), Jacqui Slack (5th), Riikka Kelja (6th), Carina Wasle (7th), and Brigitta Poor (8th).

Team USA was well represented in the Netherlands.  Here’s a recap of their performances courtesy USA Triathlon;

Kathy Hudson (Highland Village, Texas) led the way as the top American finisher, winning her age group for the second time in the three-year history of the event. Hudson won the 50-54 age group in convincing fashion, logging a time of 2 hours, 59 minutes, 16 seconds on the 1-kilometer swim, 26-kilometer mountain bike and 9-kilometer cross country run course. Her time was more than 14 minutes faster than the next closest competitor.

Also winning medals in their respective age groups in the off-road event were: Matthew Campbell (35-39, Park City, Utah), Brad Moore (35-39, Parsons, Tenn.), Roxy Cate (50-54, Washougal, Wash.), Annette Macniven (55-59, Wainscott, N.Y.) and J. Alan Moore (Ada, Mich.).

For the third year of the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships, Team USA was comprised of 28 age-group athletes from 18 states ranging in age from 25-66. Team USA is comprised of the nation’s top amateur multisport athletes who represent the U.S. at each ITU World Championship event. Visit www.usatriathlon.org for more on Team USA.

United States Age-Group Medalists

Male 35-39
2. Matthew Campbell (Park City, Utah), 2:35:29
3. Brad Moore (Parsons, Tenn.), 2:42:56

Female 50-54
1. Kathy Hudson (Highland Village, Texas), 2:59:16
3. Roxy Cate (Washougal, Wash.), 5:44:04

Female 55-59
2. Annette MacNiven (Wainscott, N.Y.), 3:36:55

Male 60-64
3. J. Alan Moore (Ada, Mich.), 3:13:59

Julie Dibens (3.0) Racing Mountain Champs

Three-time XTERRA World Champion Julie Dibens will make her return to triathlon at the XTERRA Mountain Championship at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado on Saturday.

Julie DibensIt’ll be Dibens first tri since 2011 when she was leading off the bike at Ironman Worlds in Kona before having to pull due to injury.  Since that day the resilient Brit (who lives in nearby Boulder, CO) has undergone foot and knee surgeries and spent a remarkable amount of time rehabilitating.

“I’m not 100% by any means, and this is definitely a ‘test the waters’ kind of thing, and mentally something that I want to do for me,” said Dibens.  “I’m not run “training” but I’m running, and this is huge for me!  I have no expectations, just pumped to feel able to race again and woke up this morning feeling like a kid the week leading up to Christmas.”

Dibens first raced XTERRA in 2006, finishing 2nd at XTERRA France and won XTERRA Denmark that season.  In 2007 she won XTERRA Guam, was second in Saipan, won XTERRA UK and then captured her first of three consecutive XTERRA World Championships in Maui.

When asked why she chose this race to get back in the mix, Dibens replied, “Pretty simple really. I used XTERRA to kick start the 2nd phase of my triathlon career back in 2007 as I switched from ITU to other triathlon events. Even though I have never considered myself a true XTERRA athlete, XTERRA gave me the confidence to go out there and try new things, and was a big part in shaping the athlete I am today. After a rough few years on the sidelines I think it’s a great way to hopefully kick start the 3rd phase of my career as an athlete. I have no idea what this athlete will look like, but I’m excited to get back on the startline and see what lies ahead.”

If Dibens 3.0 looks anything like 2.0, the triathlon world is in for a treat.  In the stretch from 2007 to 2011 Dibens was a force in every distance with big wins at XTERRA, Ironman 70.3 (2009 World Champ), Lifetime Fitness, 5430 Long Course, Abu Dhabi, Wildflower, Rev3, and then in her first try at Kona in 2010 she knocked out the fastest bike split of the day (4:55:28) and finished third.

As for her expectations on Saturday, Dibens said “just to finish with two knees intact and a smile on my face.”

Diben’s joins an all-star cast of elite XTERRA specialists on Saturday at the XTERRA Mountain Championship that includes last year’s winner, Canadian Danelle Kabush, three-time Mtn Champ Shonny Vanlandingham, reigning XTERRA National Champ Suzie Snyder, and some really fast mountain bike specialists like Brandi Heisterman, and Kelley Cullen.

Here’s a look at the complete women’s start list for Saturday.

Note: Click on the link to their name to view profile & image
Rank – Women – Age, Hometown
2 – Shonny Vanlandingham – 44, Durango, Colorado
4 – Suzie Snyder – 31, Fredericksburg, Virginia
5 – Brandi Heisterman – 37, Squamish, B.C., Canada
6 – Danelle Kabush – 37, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
8 – Caroline Colonna – 48, Taos, New Mexico
9 – Emma Garrard – 30, Park City, Utah
11 – Kelley Cullen – 32, New Castle, Colorado
12 – Jaime Brede – 36, Breckenridge, Colorado
14 – Tamara Donelson – 37, Edwards, Colorado
NR – Julie Dibens – 38, Boulder, Colorado
NR – Flora Duffy – 25, Boulder, Colorado
NR – Tammy Jacques – 46, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
NR – Jari Kirkland – 37, Crested Butte, Colorado
NR – Heidi Rentz – 29, Moab, Utah

In the men’s race hometown hero Josiah Middaugh, who lives just down the road from the course (which he helped design) is the favorite, but every man in the top 10 of the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series is on the start list.

Dan Hugo from South Africa, winner of the East Championship last month, and Colorado-based Ironman specialist Ben Hoffman are expected to give Middaugh all he can handle.

XTERRA Mountain Championship Elite Men
Rank – Men – Age, Hometown
1 – Craig Evans – 35, Hendersonville, Tennessee
2 – Josiah Middaugh – 33, Vail, Colorado
3 – Branden Rakita – 32, Colorado Springs, Colorado
4 – Dan Hugo – 27, Stellenbosch, South Africa
5 – Nick Fisher – 27, Ogden, Utah
6 – Will Kelsay – 31, Boulder, Colorado
7 – Ryan Ignatz – 34, Boulder, Colorado
8 – Bradley Weiss – 24, Cape Town, South Africa
9 – Matt Mangen – 30, Ivins, Utah
10 – Andy Lee – 41, Lakeway, Texas
11 – Jason Michalak – 35, Lakewood, Colorado
13 – Cody Waite – 34, Lakewood, Colorado
17 – Chris Ganter – 34, Boise, Idaho
21 – Will Ross – 23, Anchorage, Alaska
23 – Brad Zoller – 35, Palatine, Illinois
NR – Tom Goth – 28, Salt Lake City, Utah
NR – Ben Hoffman – 29, Boulder, Colorado
NR – Kyle Leto – 25, Walnut Creek, California
NR – Joshua Merrick – 31, Alamosa, Colorado
NR – Patrick Valentine – 27, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Note: Rank indicates their position in XTERRA U.S. Pro Series standings (after 3), NR = not ranked.

Follow the race with live updates starting at 9am MST on twitter @xterraoffroad (hashtag #xterrabeavercreek) and on www.facebook/xterraplanet.

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 triathlon.org 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.  ###   www.benhoffmanracing.com

Lesley Paterson Signs with Paul Mitchell

Lesley PatersonThree time off-road triathlon world champion Lesley Paterson has signed a new sponsorship deal with John Paul Mitchell Systems. The two plan to work together in an effort to expand the Paterson and John Paul Mitchell Systems brands globally, both within the XTERRA and ITU off-road triathlon and on-road triathlon environments, and into the general health and fitness markets.
John Paul Mitchell Systems’ long-term sponsorship of XTERRA and the company’s commitment to the healthy living lifestyle is something that attracted the current XTERRA and ITU World Champion.

“For me, it is important not to just find sponsorship for current and upcoming seasons, but to align with companies and products that promote a healthy lifestyle, and John Paul Mitchell Systems does just that,” said Paterson

For Julie Solwold, Vice President, Global Sports & Events, partnering with athletes allows John Paul Mitchell Systems to expand the word “beauty” to include attributes like “healthy, fit and strong” in its definition.

“Lesley is a natural fit with us as a company with her commitment to a healthy lifestyle, her passion for using her talent and skill to help people, and her desire to leave the world a better place. John Paul’s motto is ‘success unshared is failure’ and Lesley exemplifies that,” said Solwold.

In addition to a healthy fitness lifestyle, both Paterson and John Paul Mitchell Systems share a commitment to charitable causes. Paterson’s upcoming free three-day triathlon camp in San Diego from July 23-26 for underprivileged young adults and challenged athletes is indicative of her desire to give back to the sport she has been involved in as an international competitor since the age of 15. Her Braveheart Bootcamp is also intended to demonstrate to participants how triathlon can help overcome problems in other areas of their lives, whether they are personal, social or professional. Read more

Meet Alex Modestou

Alex ModestouAlex Modestou is an aspiring pro who first raced XTERRA eight years ago shortly after graduating from high school in Iowa.  The 27-year-old, who now lives in Washington, D.C. working as a business analyst for GEICO Insurance, won the overall amateur title at the XTERRA East Championship earlier this month.  We caught up with him after the race to see if his breakthrough performance was the start of something big…

XTERRA: How satisfying was winning the overall in Richmond?

ALEX MODESTOU: I was very excited and somewhat surprised to win the amateur race in Richmond.  Last year, I ran in the lead (although I didn’t know it at the time) with Andy Lee for five miles before he pulled away to take the win, so I had extra motivation not to fade this year. Winning, however, made me much more hungry than satisfied. The race lit a fire under my butt to quit dreaming and make the sacrifices necessary to realize my dream of being a professional XTERRA triathlete.

XT: What is your ultimate dream?

AM: XTERRA has been my deferred dream for far too long.  I’ve decided to do what’s necessary to become a professional XTERRA triathlete. I plan to keep improving enough to justify taking my pro card, and form partnerships within the industry to make a full USA championship series race schedule a reality. Additionally, I’d like to channel my love for teaching, race experience, and training knowledge into a coaching business down the road.

XT: We see that you’ve signed up for the XTERRA Mountain Championship July 20 at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado. There is some heavy competition there in the thin air, have you ever done that race before?

AM: No, but I just signed up for it. I figure, if I’m going to work to compete with the pros, I need to see if I can hack it at altitude. I’ve always wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, and love that XTERRA provides an extra impetus to explore the wonders of the US.

XT: How long have you been racing XTERRA?

AM: I raced my first XTERRA a few weeks after graduating high school in 2005. That year, I also did the Midwest and National championship races. Double majoring in math and physics, work, living on a bare bones budget, and a few poorly timed injuries kept me away from XTERRA during college. Working 70+ hour weeks as a math and physics teacher in a low-performing high school kept me away for a bit longer. In 2011, I quit making excuses and rejoined the XTERRA tribe. I plan to be around for a long time.

XT: Let’s go back to Richmond for a moment, last year you almost won the overall amateur title but came up just short, what happened?

AM: Last year I was running a lot more, and arrived on race day very lean. I remember shivering uncontrollably while waiting in the water for the cannon to go off. I was having a great swim until I realized that dozens of competitors had run by me on a sandbar instead of swimming a shallow section. I spent the remainder of the swim clawing my way back. I passed a fair number of racers on the bike and rode the majority of the course alone, unaware that I was in second place. Riding the James River trails is always an exhilarating experience that I look forward to. The fleet-footed Andy Lee caught me on the first mile of the run, and we ran together for about five miles and passed one other racer. He pushed me to my absolute limit in the scorching heat. I didn’t eat anything during the race, and ran out of gas with about a mile to go.  It wasn’t until after crossing the finish line that I realized I had come in second overall. I was totally shocked with my performance, as I had cut 17 minutes off of my time from the previous year.

XT: This year due to Tropical Storm Andrea and all the rain that closed the trails for pre-riding your blog post with all the pictures of the Richmond course turned out to be very helpful. What inspired you to do that?

AM: In 2011, I competed in the national championship race in Ogden, UT. I didn’t have the opportunity to pre-ride the whole course, and I crushed my back after flying and flipping over some BMX jumps that were obscured by the tall grass lining the trail. I hobbled through the 10k run in tremendous pain, and took nearly a month to fully recover. Afterwards, I swore to pre-ride each course and help as many competitors as possible have a fun and race safe. The Richmond course contains numerous technical sections that can be very dicey riding blind at race speed; my aim was to provide a virtual pre-ride. Additionally, I want to help grow the sport and offer a window into the XTERRA experience – the courses sell themselves, we just have to get more people in the know. Road triathletes just don’t know what they’re missing on the trails.

XT: How did you first learn about XTERRA?

AM: I grew up in Coralville, IA, just a 15-mile bike ride away from Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, long before there was an XTERRA Sugar Bottom. Accordingly, I was hooked on mountain biking and trail running from an early age. After graduating high school, I got wind of a notoriously difficult off-road tri in Kansas, right where my sister lived at the time, so I figured I had to go.

XT: Can you recall your very first XTERRA race?

AM: My first XTERRA was the Midwest Mudder (RIP). I was as green as it gets: the only swimmer without a wetsuit in frigid water and probably the only biker on a fully rigid paper route bike with flat pedals. In the days leading up to the race, the area experienced heavy rain, including 9’’ the night before the race. In keeping with the XTERRA spirit, the race went on as planned. Mother nature was truly our most fierce competitor.  The cold water served as a catalyst for speed, and I came out of the water in the lead with one other competitor. I put on some baggy basketball shorts and a mesh jersey over my Speedo, slapped on some running shoes and my helmet, and continued the adventure. The rest of the race was a wild slog against the elements. Navigating the bike course required carrying my bike above my head in chest deep floodwater, motocross-style drifting on any rideable sections, and constantly cleaning mud out of the fork, drivetrain, and chain stays to keep the wheels spinning.  More than two thirds of the field dropped out by the end of the first lap on the bike. It was much less a race than a test of mental fortitude (or insanity perhaps). The run was more of the same, similar I imagine to Spartan races/Tough Mudders/etc. but with natural obstacles. After nearly five hours, I crossed the finish line totally cooked, and was hooked.

XT: What do you like about XTERRA?

AM: I love that you race the course in addition to the competition. Mountain biking and trail running offer a transcendent experience that can only be found in nature. Each course offers a completely unique challenge and memories for a lifetime. The icing on the cake is that XTERRA competitors are kind, generous, laid back, and fun-loving individuals who I look forward to seeing at each race.

XT: Who do you think are the best age groupers in your region? The country?

AM: Daryl Weaver and Anthony Snoble are standout athletes in the Northeast region. The three of us placed in the top four in each of the three upper East coast races so far this year (Richmond plus Jersey Devil and King of the Hill).  Looking at the XTERRA championship race reports, Mauricio Mendez, Neilson Powless, and Bryce Phinney are also crushing it in the men’s races. Maia Ignatz and Hannah Rae Finchamp, who I was able to chat with at Richmond, are really doing well on the women’s side.

The “Nebraska Kid” is Moving On

Let’s go check it out.

It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a new trail, an old town, an underground jazz club or the most unusual restaurant in the world … Kirk is in.

Kirk ErmelsKirk Ermels, an XTERRA crew mainstay since the Angels won the World Series, is an adventurous soul in relentless pursuit of new experiences.

“Everywhere we go he’ll find some off-the-wall place or thing we just gotta go see or try or whatever,” said Ryan Croke, a fellow crew member and regular passenger on Kirk’s wild rides.

It’s exactly that enterprising personality trait that led Ermels to XTERRA, a job akin to working for a traveling circus but better because he wasn’t stuck in a tent – he was out on his bike exploring trails from Santa Cruz to Saipan.

For XTERRA, Kirk is a “course guy,” the faithful sidekick of course director Chris Appleton handling race management for the past decade.  In that role he’s the one making sure riders are going the right way, responding to emergencies, and helping Appleton refine his Big Lebowski lines “Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.”

One time in Saipan, Kirk was leading the bike on a scooter – making sure the arrows were all pointed in the right direction and the race leader was going the right way – when he came upon a waist-high locked chain running across the trail that was supposed to have been unlocked and set aside so riders could get by.  Well, he didn’t have a key and the guy who did would have never got there in time as riders were closing in fast.

“So, I had a hammer, and started blasting away at that padlock,” remembers Ermels. “I swear I must’ve hit that thing 150 times before it finally broke open.”

Chain down, riders flowed through, and nobody was the wiser.

XTERRA’s managing director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas, who has feasted on teasing Ermels about everything from his beard to his backpack, had a more elaborate story about that day.

“Kirk Ermels, the Nebraska Kid.  We took him to Saipan and he got the name Nebraska Kid from a newspaper story that had the crew photo.  Nobody will forget Kirk on an 80cc scooter riding the course in about 2005 or 6 ahead of the competitors.  As was the case in those days – chains were locked across the trails, arrows knocked down by cows – and Kirk was fixing everything.  Leader Olivier Marceau caught Kirk and passed him.  Kirk hopped on the scooter and got ahead of Olivier in time to make sure the course was marked and open for what is called the wireless downhill…Kirk tried to ride the downhill and rolled the scooter sending candy apple red fiberglass all over.  Marceau came by and could not believe it.  Kirk got the scooter up and repassed Marceau.  At the awards we asked Olivier if the race was difficult and he replied “No, eet waz a good race except for the man on the scooter kept crashing in front of me.”

In his other life, Ermels is a swim coach.  While he wasn’t the best swimmer on his team in his senior year at Norfolk High School, he was the hardest worker with the best attitude.  It prompted his coach to ask him to come back and help, which led to a job, then another, and another.

He developed into a great swim coach, one who guided the Helena High boys’ team from last place to a state championship in four years, capturing the school’s first state swimming title in 2011. The Helena girls’ team followed suit with its first state championship in 2012.

For his efforts he was named the Montana swimming coach of the year – for the third time.  Perhaps a cooler honor was the Helena Education Foundation Distinguished Educator award he got.  It’s voted on by students, who write letters about educators who have had significant, positive impacts on their lives.

The mother of one of his swimmers, the best in the state, said Kirk was “fabulous in developing the kids not only as a swimmer, but as a whole person.  She said that Kirk helped her daughter “transition from a non-committed swimmer to a swimmer who was dedicated to attending practice regularly and working hard.”

While we’re not sure if Kirk ever inspired any of the XTERRA crew to work any harder, the staff can testify that the dude is “unflappable.”

“He’s calm in a crisis,” said Ted Kozlo, XTERRA’s event manager who had him working in the compound before Chris stole him away to work on the course.  “It could be half-hour before the race and everybody is freaking out and Kirk is waiting in a line somewhere to get a bagel, calm as could be.  Beyond that, he’s just a genuine guy and he cares for the athletes.”

Kirk ErmelsLast season Ermels helped the UNC Asheville swimming program as an assistant coach during its inaugural 2012-13 campaign, and again – crushed it. He did so well Boise State offered him a job he couldn’t refuse.  One that starts now and one that will keep him from darting out for a week every month or so to tour the nation with XTERRA.

So, the XTERRA East Championship in Richmond this Sunday will be his last event.  Today he spent it scouring the city like never before, in a driving rain, looking for alternate trails and roads we could use should the swim have to be cancelled on Sunday due to a raging James River.

Last night was much better, a traditional crew gathering at Sticky Rice where he was toasted with “just one more unnecessary sake bomb.”

“What has been so cool about working with XTERRA, aside from just the lifelong friendships I’ve made, is I can tell you where to get great tater tots in Richmond, tell you about the significance of Coogan’s Bluff, or where the best mountain biking trails in Alabama are,” said Ermels.

He also worked a bunch of major league baseball games around his XTERRA travels through the years, and on one trip was in New York to see Johan Santana pitch the first and only no-hitter in Mets history.

“When I look back I’ll think about all the things this gig allowed me to do, and all the cool things that the rest of the crew thought of and did.  XTERRA was an enabler, allowed me to live the dream and not get ‘a real job’ for a while. It was a good run,” said Ermels.

“But I’m excited about what’s next.”

XTERRA Switzerland on Saturday

The third stop on the XTERRA European Tour takes the Tribe to Vallee de Joux for the XTERRA Switzerland Championship on Saturday.

XTERRA managing director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas is on-site for the race and brings us this preview of things to come…

Swiss PreviewThe Vallee de Joux is famous for watchmaking.  Some posters are even labeled Valee des watch.  If you have an extra $20,000 hanging around there are several small buildings here that will gladly swap you a watch for your money.  Many also construct precision medical instruments.  Business must be good as there are two Ferrari’s sitting in our hotel parking lot.

But on Thursday here the Vallee is getting ready for XTERRA Switzerland.  For the past two years the race has been held on Lac LeMan (or Lake Geneva to some) in Prangins.  That course was no longer feasible because of land restrictions and Thomas Vasser and the people from Vallee de Joux have taken over.  What a job they have done.  Over 640 individuals and teams are entered in the XTERRA light and Championship events.

The area is a postcard.  Green hills and valleys; twisty roads moving up and down; two lakes and beautiful small villages; cows in the pasture with their Swiss bells clanging softly.  We’re at 1004m in elevation or about 3,300’ for those of you decimally challenged.  The water temp at the lake will be about 16 C (60 F) so wetsuits will be in order.  The trails are administered by the Canton of Vaud and for this year, the trails will not be marked for pre riding except on race day.  Reminds me of the original Maui course.

Nico Lebrun has withdrawn due to a nagging injury and Jacqui Slack will be at her Grandfather’s side in England.  Our prayers are with her family.

We will have France 2011 champ Victor del Corral from Spain and 4th overall woman in 2012 Maud Golsteyn from Holland on the line.

The womens field is very strong.  Lizzie Orchard from New Zealand is making her first European Tour start and Czech Lenka Cibulkova has returned.  The usual head of the pack women; Helena Erbenova, Renata Bucher, Kathrin Mueller and Brigitta Poor are entered and Bubu Lorblanchet is back after resting her injured foot and missing Greece.

The mens field is equally strong with points leader Ben Allen and Asa Shaw looking to dominate, but Yeray Luxem is here after a great race in Greece; Hector Guerra makes his second start after a 4th in Spain and veteran Jan Kubicek from Czech is entered.  Naturally the wild card must be del Corral.

The weather does not look good.  Late today, as we started building transition, the temperature was 10.5 C or about 60 degrees with light showers.  Rain is expected in the area on Saturday as well but in this area of the world, one never knows.

As you would expect from Switzerland there is plenty of climbing on the bike, some long and not too steep, some short and very steep.  While the top athletes may be able to ride all of it, there are at least two sections that most will hike.  Overall I expect it to be fast and not too technical except for the climbs.  The run is also two laps around Lake Brenet with some typical Swiss obstacles in place to keep it interesting.

The start is at the very civilized hour of 2pm on Saturday.  Racers in the Championship race will be allowed to preview the course during the light event that morning.  I am not sure what the 7pm Maui party is going to be like on Saturday eve, but the after parties in Prangins were great.

JUST IN…FRIDAY UPDATE!

Morning:  Cold and sprinkling.  Thank goodness there is no wind as the temperature is barely 50 degrees.  Lots of athletes arriving in the several villages that surround the race venue.  The village of Le Sentier is the home of the Vallee deJoux Sports Center and many folks are staying there.  Great shared rooms for 35€ a night including breakfast.

Registration opened at the main venue at 4:00pm and the weather was up to 54 degrees.  We face an unusual problem for tomorrows swim.  This problem only happens when the air temperature is less than the water temperature.  The determination from the ITU rulebook, and we agree with it, is when the air is less than the water you take the difference and half it.  If the resultant temperature is 14 degrees C (57.2F) or above then the 1500m swim happens normally.  If the resultant temperature is less than 14 then the swim is cut to 750m.

Let me do the math for you.  The water temp is 16 and the air temp is 12.  Half the difference makes the result 14 and we swim the full distance.  If the air temp drops to 11 or below, as it was much of today, the result is less than 14 and the swim is cut to 750m.  We’ll take the water temp at noon tomorrow for the scheduled 2:00pm start and make the final decision then.  It will be close but I suspect we’ll swim the whole 1500m.

The major players were all in attendance today with the exception of Victor del Corral.  We did not see him but expect he’ll be on the line tomorrow.  Bubu Lorblanchet says her foot is finally good and she has been training well.  Still not back to her superb levels of 2011 but close.  Renata looks cheery as does Helena Erbenova.  Erbanova’s father brought a 6 pack of great Czech beer to repay me for giving him a ride from the swim start in Spain back to town.  I got the better of that deal for sure.

Ben Allen looked spiffy in a down vest and knit cap, Asa Shaw was laughing as his mate Francois Carloni got a bad shock when he leaned against an electrified wire fence while the two were out training earlier.  Carloni said he was totally stunned for a few minutes and was still a bit shook up an hour later.  Hector Guerra was tanned and fit and shivering after coming in from the warm summer weather in Spain.  Yeray Luxem was dressed like Ben but was smiling.  “Same weather in Belgium” he said.

Rain predicted in the morning with some clearing in the afternoon.  Trails were slick this morning but OK in the afternoon.  Frankly, the weatherman will play a huge role in what happens tomorrow.  I’ve got sweaters and my XTERRA yellow slicker and am hoping to be able to get around and bring you a full report and photos.  It’s anybody’s guess what will happen but hey, it’s XTERRA.  Deal with it.