Saipan, Northern Marianas – Ben Allen and Jacqui Slack - the most proficient XTERRA World Tour travelers in the sport, captured the XTERRA Saipan Championship in the Northern Marianas on Saturday.
It's the second time the boyfriend/girlfriend duo have won XTERRA titles on the same day (they also both won at XTERRA New Zealand last year). The victory marks Allen’s 7th XTERRA World Tour win since capturing the 2010 Brazil Championship in the Amazon, is his second straight Saipan crown, and fifth consecutive win at XTERRA Triple Crown races in the Western Pacific. It's Slack's third World tour title, having captured New Zealand and Italy crowns last year.
In the men's race Dan Hugo placed second, his 10th runner-up finish time in his last 12 XTERRA races since winning the South Africa Championship in 2011.
XTERRA President Janet Clark was in Saipan to take in the action, and brings us this story of how the day unfolded...
The island of Saipan has a new first couple – young Aussie Ben Allen and his British partner Jacqui Slack. The dynamic duo took first place today in the men’s and women’s pro race at the 12th running of XTERRA’s Crown Jewel, XTERRA Saipan. Both were first out of the swim, both had decisive leads on the bike, and both finished with substantial margins to take the wins. Allen finished in 2:35:23, almost eight minutes ahead of South Africa’s Dan Hugo. Slack won the women’s race in 3:06:00 with a seven and a half minute lead over the diminutive Austrian, Carina Wasle.
Mother Nature dished out some real challenges to participants today. The currents in the warm water at Micro Beach were deceptively strong, and as soon as the pros hit the bike, she unleashed her biggest surprise. Torrential rains created slick and slippery trails for both the bike and the run and limited visibility at the top of the bike course.
This was Allen’s second victory of the year, having won XTERRA Philippines last weekend, and his second XTERRA Saipan Championship win. “I’m over the moon,” he said. “This is a dream come true. The sport has offered me so much. I love it and I’m passionate about it. I had a good swim and was able to ride conservatively and safely and focus on my technique. I had a couple of crashes. It is easy to make a mistake with speed and pushing yourself to the limit. But I didn’t let the mistakes overcome me, and was able to refocus and bounce back.
Allen was so fast, he reached the Saipan run course’s iconic World War II caves before the marshals with their lanterns to light the way through the caves, and managed to pass through the low hanging cave roof and stairs carved into the rock in pitch dark without incident.
“To win in Saipan is awesome – especially with Ben,” said Slack. “We came here last year and wanted to gain experience at these races. I’ve learned so much and improved through the year. But the last couple of races haven’t really gone to plan, so I was worried that my fitness wasn’t there. I had something to prove as I was disappointed in the Philippines (she finished 4th there last week), but you have to put those races behind you and move on. My mentality was to enjoy it and I enjoyed it all the way through. I’m absolutely stoked to win.”
The two plan a grueling schedule of fifteen XTERRA championship races in 2013.
The Men’s Race
Runner up in the men’s race, Dan Hugo, has had Saipan on his bucket list for some time.
“This is beyond bucket list,” he said. “This is about as good as it gets. Some races have a section that you talk about around the campfire but there were probably twenty of those today. There was a lot to handle with navigating the current in the swim and the surprise rain.” “Hugo was third out of the water a minute behind Allen and XTERRA newcomer Rory Downie (UK), but quickly moved into second place on the bike. “It was a pretty eventful ride. I didn’t expect rain and I would have run my tires a bit softer in hindsight. I had to get off a few times.”
Fellow South African, Bradley Weiss, finished third. Fourth out of the swim, he picked off three-time XTERRA Saipan Champion Sam Gardner at the end of the jungle-filled ravine section on the run.
“Coming back I had a bit extra in the tank and managed to put a gap on Sam and hold it along the beach.” When asked when he thought of the race, he said “it is insane. Probably the hardest course I’ve raced. Add the humidity and the rain – it was a mud bath and some sections were unrideable.”
Gardner took fourth. “I didn’t feel very good on the bike – I was struggling, but I got up to third and was hoping to make an inroad on Ben and Dan and put them under a bit more pressure – but they have moved the race level up.”
2012 XTERRA Japan Champion Takahiro Ogasawara finished 5th, with Switzerland’s Oliver Marceau in 6th, Downey in 7th, and local boy Butch Sublemente in 8th.
California’s Charlie Epperson was the first placed age group male in 3:18:07. Also of note in the age group race was the second place 45-49 finish by Tyce Mister. Mister holds the distinction of being the only athlete to have competed in every XTERRA held in Saipan since its inception in 2002.
Pl Name Time
1 Ben Allen, AUS 2:36:36
2 Dan Hugo, RSA 2:44:18
3 Bradley Weiss, RSA 2:50:54
4 Sam Gardner, GBR 2:52:04
5 Takahiro Ogasawara, JPN 2:56:03
Also: Olivier Marceau, Rory Downie
The Women’s Race
Carina Wasle was all smiles when she took second place in the women’s race today. “I felt great on the run and today was just amazing,” she said. “I knew if I didn’t lose too much energy on the bike and was not too far behind Renata (Bucher), I could catch her. “ Wasle passed Bucher, who was in second place, about one-third of the way in to the run on the first jungle climb and scored the fastest run split of the day at 57:22, a minute faster than Slack.
For the Swiss Miss, Renata Bucher, it was a tough day. Saipan is her favorite race, and she has won this event seven times. “I was struggling on the bike,” she said. “It was so slippery and I was really scared. A few sections I was sliding and had to slow down. I couldn’t ride the back side of Mount Tapachao and I lost a lot of time. I tried, but Jacqui and Carina had the best legs today.”
The much loved former Saipan resident, Mieko Carey finished fourth, with the UK’s Daz Parker in 5th and former Japanese Olympian, Yasuko Miyazaki in 6th.
Australian adventure racer and multi-sport athlete, Peri Gray, had a notable performance today in her first XTERRA, taking first place among age group women and finishing 5th amongst women overall. You can expect to hear more of her as her technical skills improve on the mountain bike. She is a starter in the new XTERRA Great Ocean Road race in Victoria, Australia next month.
Pl Name Time
1 Jacqui Slack, GBR 3:06:00
2 Carina Wasle, AUT 3:13:30
3 Renata Bucher, SUI 3:16:49
4 Mieko Carey, JPN 3:22:01
5 Daz Parker, GBR 3:49:07
Also: Yasuko Miyazaki
Next on the XTERRA World Tour: The XTERRA Saipan Championship race was the third world tour event to qualify amateur athletes into the XTERRA World Championship to be held in Kapalua, Maui (Hawaii) on October 27, 2013. Next up, the third leg of the XTERRA Triple Crown in the Western Pacific continues with XTERRA Guam on March 23.
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 29 - XTERRA Switzerland Championship, Vallee de Joux
July 7 - XTERRA France Championship, Xonrupt, Gerardmer
July 20 - XTERRA Brazil Championship, Ilhabela, SP
July 20 - XTERRA Abruzzo, Lago di Scanno, Italy
Aug 3 - XTERRA Mexico Championship, Tapalpa, Jalisco
Aug 10 - XTERRA Czech Championship, Prachatice
Aug 17 - XTERRA Germany Championship, Zittau
Aug 24 - XTERRA Japan Championship, Marunuma
Sept 8 - XTERRA England, Cranleigh, Surrey
Sept 21 - XTERRA USA Championship, Ogden/Snowbasin, UT
Oct 27 - XTERRA World Championship, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii