Conrad Stoltz won his first XTERRA USA Championship race in 2001, just a few days after September 11, wearing purple shorts and a blue tank top.
"I couldn't dream of winning the series. It is my first year, I am still on a borrowed bike and I didn't think the Tahoe course suited me,” said the rookie from Stellenbosch, South Africa that day. The victory gave him just enough points to leapfrog past Mike Vine and Nico Lebrun and win the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series title.
A month later Stoltz was wearing those same purple shorts, but sported a Specialized top for the first time on his way to winning his first of four XTERRA World Championships in Maui. More than a decade later Stoltz is still Specialized, and still the man … the “Caveman”.
Since ’01 Stoltz is the winningest XTERRA pro of all-time with 47 championship victories, and has won the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series nine of the past 11 years (Sylvain Dodet won the Series in ’04, Seth Wealing in ’06).
If Stoltz has a soft-spot, however, it could be this course.
“It’s the anti-Conrad course because there’s 3,000-feet of climbing, not a whole lot of descending, and I’m 180 pounds so it is especially challenging for me,” Stoltz has said since the XTERRA Mountain Championship race moved to Snowbasin back in 2006.
Still, he’s won here twice – in 2008 and 2010 – and at a similarly profiled XTERRA championship course at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado in July he dominated. A win on Saturday would keep his goal of a perfect season intact and deliver his unprecedented 10th Pro Series crown.
Standing in his way is a quartet of XTERRA veterans including the defending champion Nico Lebrun from France, America’s best Josiah Middaugh, Aussie Chris Legh, and David Henestrosa from Spain.
Lebrun has won two of the last three here in Utah, and captured last year’s crown in perhaps the most-hyped XTERRA race of all-time as the world turned its attention to Utah to see how Lance Armstrong would perform in his return to triathlon. Armstrong was 5th behind Lebrun, Dan Hugo, Middaugh, and Stoltz.
This year the Frenchman, nicknamed the “Professor” for his calculated racing IQ, spent the summer in his hometown, got married, and won the XTERRA Italy, Czech, and Switzerland championships en route to his fourth XTERRA European Tour title. His prowess in the mountains – rooted in a childhood spent climbing around the French Alps – is legendary.
For Middaugh, a 7-time XTERRA National Champ, its unfinished business. He’s been in the top five here for five straight years – placing 3rd in each of the last three years since Snowbasin became home to the U.S. Championships. Despite these results, each year has come with adversity – from sickness to mechanicals – although to his credit Middaugh has never made any of it an excuse. One can only think that on a day when it all came together, he would be the man to beat on this course.
Legh – the star of the famous Gatorade commercial – has made a career of triathlon with nearly 100 professional wins and most recently the IM 70.3 Lake Stevens title in July. He did his first XTERRA more than 10 years ago, has had the fastest run split on Maui four times, and this year was 4th at the XTERRA West Championship (behind Stoltz, Middaugh, and Dan Hugo) and third at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship (behind Stoltz and Craig Evans). This course, which rewards endurance, seems particularly suited to Legh, although he’s never raced here.
Henestrosa, who was featured on the front page of today’s Ogden Standard-Examiner, won the XTERRA Italy Championship back in 2004, moved to nearby Clearfield, Utah a few years ago where he now teaches at a Spanish-immersion school, and had the fastest run of anyone on this course last year. He jumped back into racing the XTERRA U.S. Series this year and has done well, most recently placing 4th at the highly competitive mountain championship in Colorado. With home-course advantage and a run that could chase down even the speediest of contenders – he’s one to watch.
There are another dozen elites who shouldn’t be overlooked, like Ben Allen – an uber-fast swimmer who’s won XTERRA championships in Guam, Saipan, the Philippines and New Zealand this year – and the U.S. XTERRA contingent featuring Craig Evans, Branden Rakita, Will Kelsay, Cody Waite, Adam Wirth, Will Ross, Damian Gonzalez, and Ryan Ignatz.
Pro Men : Bib# - Name - Age, Hometown
1 - Conrad Stoltz - 38, Stellenbosch, South Africa
2 - Josiah Middaugh - 33, Vail, Colorado
3 - Craig Evans - 34, Hendersonville, Tennessee
4 - David Henestrosa - 35, Clearfield, Utah (Spain)
5 - Branden Rakita - 31, Manitou Springs, Colorado
6 - Will Kelsay - 30, Boulder, Colorado
7 - Cody Waite - 33, Lakewood, Colorado
8 - Chris Legh - 39, Lyons, CO (Australia)
9 - Adam Wirth – 33, Boise, Idaho
10 - Will Ross - 22, Anchorage, Alaska
11 - Damian Gonzalez - 35, Stockton, California
12 - Ryan Ignatz - 33, Boulder, Colorado
15 - Ben Allen - 27, North Wollongong, Australia
16 - Simone Calamai - 43, Florence, Italy
17 - Scott Gall - 38, Cedar Falls, Iowa
18 - Sam Gardner - 37, Surrey, Great Britain
19 - Denis Giovannetti - 38, Pistoia, Italy
20 - Nicolas Lebrun - 39, Digne, France
The women’s field at the XTERRA USA Championship is pure quality. Four different women won the four regional championships leading up to this event.
Renata Bucher won by three-tenths of a second at the West Champs, Lesley Paterson won the Southeast Champs, Melanie McQuaid won the East Champs, and Danelle Kabush took home the Mountain Champs title.
Any one of the four is capable of winning Saturday, and that’s not even including 2010 XTERRA World Champ Shonny Vanlandingham.
The favorite, however, has to be McQuaid. Since XTERRA started racing at Snowbasin Resort in 2006 McQuaid has won here five times (2nd to Jamie Whitmore in ’07) and reeled off four straight.
Despite a ridiculous racing schedule that included six 70.3’s, all the U.S. XTERRA’s, a handful of mountain bike races, and a stretch where she raced every weekend for 10 weeks in a row, McQuaid said, “I feel awesome right now.”
She won XTERRA Canada against a stacked field that included Kabush and Bucher earlier this month and the course suits her strengths.
“You have to lay the power down for a long time on this bike, and the grade of the climb really suits me. It’s not the most technical course but you have to hold momentum with corners and it takes some handling skills. That said, it’s basically all up, with two eight-minute descents,” said McQuaid, who has posted the fastest bike split here each of the last three years.
To defend and win her fifth XTERRA U.S. Pro Series crown, however, McQuaid would need to win the race and have current points leader Lesley Paterson finish third or worse (among other scenarios).
“No doubt I’d have to win the race to have any chance of pulling the Series title out of the fire, but I’m not focusing on that. I’ll focus on things I can control. I think the strength of this field is fantastic for the sport. I think people were shocked I could win a 70.3 earlier this year, but I’ve had races I was stronger at XTERRA and not won. People don’t understand how fast these girls are,” said McQuaid.
Speaking of fast, no one has been faster over the last year than Paterson, the reigning XTERRA World Champ and ITU Cross Tri World Champ. The hilarious Scottish triathlon sensation is the Series points leader and looking for a clean sweep of off-road triathlon’s most prestigious titles on Saturday. She has finished runner-up to McQuaid in each of the last two seasons here in Utah and has the leg speed to reel-in anybody that might be in front of her coming off the bike.
Bucher, with 29 championship wins in 12 countries on her resume, also controls her own fate. If she wins on Saturday, she’ll lock-up the Series crown at the same time. In contrast to previous years which involved a ton of international travel late in the season, Bucher has been grounded in the U.S. since the summer and has trained and raced at altitude in preparation for this one.
Kabush could also be considered a favorite on this course - with the altitude - the climbing - and a tough run that are her strengths.
Add Vanlandigham, Suzie Snyder, and Carina Wasle to the mix and you have all the right ingredients for a world-class battle for the women on the Wasatch Front.
Pro Women : Bib# - Name - Age, Hometown
61 - Lesley Paterson - 31, San Diego, California (via Scotland)
62 - Renata Bucher – 34, Lucerne, Switzerland
63 - Melanie McQuaid - 38, Victoria, B.C., Canada
64 - Danelle Kabush – 36, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
65 - Suzie Snyder - 29, Fredericksburg, Virginia
67 - Heather Holmes - 31, Pocatello, Idaho
68 - Tamara Donelson – 36, Edwards, Colorado
69 - Shonny Vanlandingham - 43, Durango, Colorado
70 - Caroline Colonna - 46, Taos, New Mexico
71 - Kim Baugh - 32, Colorado Springs, Colorado
74 - Christine Jeffrey - 39, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
75 - Jacqui Slack - 29, Stoke-on-Trent, Great Britain
76 - Carina Wasle - 28, Kundl, Austria