Nobody has been to more XTERRA Championship events than the managing director of the XTERRA World Tour - "Kahuna Dave" Nicholas. Having been to every World Championship race in Maui since creating the sport back in 1996, and having been onsite to see this years races unfold all over the world - the Kahuna is more than qualified to speculate on who might win it all this year. That doesn't mean he'll get it right, in fact, he hardly ever does (just 3-for-20 in picking winners over the last nine years).
Regardless, the man is an entertainer. So, with a grain of salt, but some tasty insight nonetheless, here are the Kahuna's 2012 Maui prognostications; or as he would say "My annual 'How can he be so wrong' prognostication"...
Thankfully it only happens once a year that I must go out on a limb and predict the uncertain. For the 2012 World Championship it is even more impossible with perhaps the strongest all-around triathlon athlete entry of all time. We have world champs in Olympic distance, Long distance, Ironman branded, ITU branded, Adventure racing, Duathlon, Winter tri and naturally XTERRA.
We have to start with Lesley Paterson. She won the equivalent of the golf or tennis grand slam. XTERRA World Championship, ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship, the XTERRA USA Championship, and the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series. Nonstop, bring it on and I will win it racing. While our little Scot has to be the favorite, she will go up against last year’s second and third place women from the European tour that she has not seen all year. Helena Erbenova was new to XTERRA in 2011 and finished the last half of the season with podiums all the way. She proved it was no fluke with a solid 3rd in her first time at Maui. This year she won 4 of 5 races in Europe and most were convincing, dominating performances. Marion “Bubu” Lorblanchet was hurt early in the year and just returned to competition at the Swiss race. She was not 100% there but still finished second and has had another month to get better. Don’t forget she was 2nd to Les at Maui last year. Never count out Melanie McQuaid. She is a three-time World Champion, 70.3 and mountain bike champion to boot. She was leading by minutes last year when her body failed and I don’t expect that to happen twice to a veteran like Mel. Danelle Kabush has had a love affair with Maui and has been 2nd twice. Danelle broke through with a big win in Colorado at the Mountain Championship and finished 3rd at this year’s USA champ race just 13 seconds behind the runner-up Suzie Snyder. With 2010 World Champ Shonny Vanlandingham not back to 100%, Suzie has to be America’s best hope. She is the 2012 XTERRA USA Pro Champion and has had a solid season. Suzie is ready for the top step and this determined young woman could make that happen at Kapalua. Is Shonny ready? Only she knows for sure and we all hope she is right there with her Luna teammates Danelle and Suzie. There is no doubting Shonnys courage and skill – it is only a question of how far her rehab has taken her.
The unusual suspects that we don’t have a lot of history could play a huge part in this year’s race. Australian Erin Densham (pictured) won the bronze at the Olympics and sits #1 in the ITU rankings. She was 6th last year at Maui and has some XTERRA wheels under her. No doubt of her strength – but has she been on the MTB? The Canadian Invasion will include Magali Tisseyre who has not done XTERRA, but is a strong roadie along with Heather Jackson and Mary Beth Ellis. In that trio you have unbelievably strong women and never forget what Julie Dibens has done at Maui. Our stealth woman has to be Barbara Riveros from Chile. A winner and consistent podium finisher in the ITU world cup series; she lists mountain biking as her favorite “other” sport. And being Chilean, you know this 5’2” 104lb dynamo can climb. Brit Jacqui Slack has had a great year with wins in New Zealand and Italy and was 2nd to only Erbenova in the Euro tour. We know she will challenge the “Big Fish” Christine Jeffrey, Densham, and the other ITU girls out of the water, so look for her on the sharp end of the field early on.
The men’s field may be more stacked than the women! Josiah Middaugh won the USA Championship race in Utah and is really fit and motivated. Will we “Fear the Beard” at Maui? Craig Evans, the “Tennessee Terror” has had a great season and will want to repeat his 2nd place finish at the ITU cross World Champs. Branden Rakita has had a good year and is training hard to end on a high note.
The European Invasion is incredible. At the top is Nico Lebrun, a former World Champ and the 2012 European Tour champ. Nico is smart, fast and wants another world crown. His big challenger in Europe this year was Brit (living in France) Asa Shaw. Asa won in France and in Czech and gave Nico fits at the winner-take-all race in Switzerland. Sebastian Kienle is the 70.3 world champ and has experience in Maui. Together with his best friend “Herr Doktor” Felix Schumann, this German Duo could panzer the field. Olivier Marceau did not have his best season in Europe, but he is back healthy and has a fabulous history on Maui. Three-time World Champion Eneko Llanos has shown he has the endurance to do well at Kona and then come to Maui and win. He’d love to tie Conrad as a 4-time World Champ. Also from Spain, Victor del Coral is fast, has won Euro XTERRAs, Ironman races, an ETU cross championship and is a threat. Maybe the biggest unknown is also from Spain in Javier Gomez. The Olympic silver medalist and current ITU No. 2, one cannot deny his skill in the swim and run. If he can hang on the MTB he may well surprise everyone. The UK’s Ex-World Champ Tim Don is here. He is finished with ITU and has asked about XTERRA for a few years. There can be no doubting his run and swim – again it is a question of the mountain bike. Add Czech Jan Kubicek (9th last year) Francois Carloni, Yeray Luxem, Jim Thijs and Pierre-Yves Facomprez from the European Tour and the contingent is strong and deep.
The Canadian boys are definitely on the radar. Mike Vine has been runner up on Maui and won Canada this year. He has taken a lot of time off and is fresh and focused. With perhaps more speed than Vine is Brent McMahon. Brent also has a 2nd at Maui and has been racing all year with ITU and at the Olympics. Is he fit and ready or has the season worn him out? I am betting he is ready.
Aussie Ben Allen has four wins this year after completing his XTERRA World Tour of four continents, Chris Legh was 3rd at the ITU championship and it is rumored he has a new bike. A very fast runner, if Legh is within a few minutes of the lead off the bike – look out. Kiwi Adventure Champ Richard Ussher was 8th at Maui last year and returns to step it up in 2012. Mexico’s Francisco “Paco” Serrano has also retired from ITU, has won XTERRA Mexico a number of times and is ready to make his mark at Maui.
Oh Dear – Did I forget Someone? A big kid, sits high on his 29er bike in his white and red kit? Is always the one everyone has to fear? The most respected XTERRA athlete of all time? Iconic Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz will again be the crowd favorite, the one that everyone knows and cheers for and as the only 4-time World Champion, is the perennial favorite.
Is that enough star power to ruin Captain Kirk’s day? So you can all laugh and make fun of the old man on Sunday night, I give the nod to Lesley for the women with Erbenova as the spoiler and Suzie Snyder, Riveros, McQuaid and Densham making up the top 5. (I know there are six names). My sentimental has to be Shonny making her return sooner than later.
For the men I think Nico is ready for his second Championship. The ITU guys will need to be caught on the bike as they will have a few minutes lead out of the water. Conrad and Josiah will also need to be caught and we know their bike skills are at the top of the heap. We are a bit more technical this year and this will give a bit more advantage to Caveman and “The Beard” but it seems there is always a Maui specific racer that keeps it interesting. For Llanos and Kienle how things go at Kona will affect them. Marceau will be close off the bike but can he keep it up on the run?
I like Nico, Stoltz, Middaugh, McMahon, Kienle, Shaw and Llanos to make up the top 5. Again, I know there are seven names – give me a break – there are 17 guys who can win.
We’ll talk Sunday night. First beer is on you.