This year’s XTERRA USA Championship race will feature 50 pros, making it the deepest and arguably strongest elite field in race history.
It includes everyone ranked in the top 10 of the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series minus only Will Kelsay, who was hit by a car while riding his bike a few weeks ago (heal fast Will). It features three of the top four men and four of the top five women from XTERRA Worlds last year and collectively, this bunch has won 34 of the 48 XTERRA World Tour championship titles this season.
Where typically there are a handful of racers with a legitimate shot of winning, this year there are at least seven men and seven women who could be considered favorites.
Let’s start with the men. Defending champ Josiah Middaugh has been on fire since winning his first USA Championship in September last year. He followed that career highlight with a 2nd-place finish behind Javier Gomez at XTERRA Worlds in October then pulled off three straight wins this year at the West, Southeast, and Mountain Championship races. He’s a proven climber, and the Utah course suits his strengths with plenty of uphill on both the bike and run he can use to reel in the faster swimmers.
Interestingly, when Middaugh won the 20-24 national championship as an amateur back in 2002 he was quoted as saying, “excited to go pro, not sure if I can keep up with those guys now but realistically I won’t hit my peak for another 10 years.”
South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz seemingly hit his peak more than a decade ago when he won the first of his seven off-road triathlon world championships, but remarkably he keeps on getting faster. After a bumpy start to the season – a crash causing a deep cut in his hand at the West Champs led to more problems and missed races – the “Caveman” crawled out of his cave and started clubbing the competition again. Over the summer he won XTERRA Brazil, ITU Cross Tri Worlds for the third straight year, then XTERRA Italy all in a month’s time.
Two years ago his fellow countryman Dan Hugo took a minute-lead into the run at the USA Championship only to get chased down by eventual winner Nico Lebrun. This year, Hugo has traveled extensively, logging a dozen races in nine countries - and has stellar results to show for it. He posted six straight runner-up finishes at XTERRA World Tour races – starting at XTERRA South Africa, followed by the Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Malaysia, and the Southeast Championship in Alabama – before winning the East Championship in Richmond. He was then third at XTERRA Brazil, 7th at the Mountain Champs, 2nd at XTERRA Mexico, and won XTERRA Japan last month.
The man with the most XTERRA World Tour wins this year is Aussie Ben Allen. In addition to his dominance in the Asia-Pacific Series (wins in Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Malaysia, and New Zealand) he also posted two credibility-boosters on the Euro Tour with victories in Greece and just last week at XTERRA England. He was second to only Middaugh at last year’s USA Championship.
Nico Lebrun, the “professor” of XTERRA who is retiring to focus on his “Organicoach” business next season, might have just one more lesson in store for his friends in Utah. The 2005 XTERRA World Champ has won two of the last four USA titles, and took down a stacked field at XTERRA France this year.
To add intrigue, 2008 XTERRA World Champ Ruben Ruzafa from Spain is coming over to see how he stacks up against America’s best. Ruzafa switched his focus from world cup mountain biking to triathlon this year, and realized immediate results with wins at XTERRA Spain and Germany, along with a runner-up in France.
It’ll also be exciting to see Leonardo Chacon – an Olympian from Costa Rica who placed fourth in his first-ever XTERRA at Worlds last year, then followed up by winning XTERRA Mexico in August.
Not to be dismissed are the regulars including Branden Rakita – fresh-off a career-best 2nd place finish at the Mountain Champs – and Ryan Ignatz, who had a career-best runner-up performance at the East Champs. Locals can revel in having their own pro to cheer for in Nick Fisher from Ogden. He cracked the top five twice in his first-year as a pro. Fisher founded the local Weber State tri team and has spent more time on these trails than anyone.
There’s also a huge amount of unknown with first-year racers and roadie crossovers like Grant Bovee, Guy Crawford, Heath Thurston, Tom Goth, Joshua Merrick, and Matt Mangen.
One thing is for sure, it’s going to be exciting to see it play out.
PATERSON TOPS WOMEN’S LIST
Two-time World Champ and defending USA and U.S. Pro Series Champ Lesley Paterson leads the list of women’s contenders. Since finishing third in Richmond last year the “Scottish Rocket” has won every XTERRA she’s entered, including the U.S. and World Championships last year, and the Philippines, West, Southeast, and East Championship titles this year.
Before Les came along the USA Championship belonged to three-time XTERRA World Champ Melanie McQuaid – who won four straight in Utah from 2008-to-2011. McQuaid, who took the title at her hometown race at XTERRA Victoria this summer, has made a career out of showing up with her best stuff at the biggest races.
Yet another former XTERRA World Champ – Shonny Vanlandingham – finds herself back at the sharp end of the field having fully recovered from knee injuries that plagued her last year. At 44-years-old Vanlandingham is still winning – most recently the XTERRA Brazil and Mountain Championships. Her fellow Luna Pro teammates – Suzie Snyder, top American and second in Utah last year, and Danelle Kabush, third last year – have been creating a blur of blue across the trails this year.
The well-traveled Jacqui Slack and Renata Bucher – with four XTERRA World Tour wins apiece this year – add to the depth of the women’s field. Slack just won XTERRA England last weekend, while Bucher moved her base-camp to Utah for some race specific prep with Emma Garrard.
The aforementioned collection of XTERRA stars will be up against a pair of ringers from the road world - Barbara Riveros and Heather Jackson - who are looking to upset the natural order of things.
Last October, Riveros was second at XTERRA Worlds and Jackson was fourth in what was the first XTERRA for both. Riveros, an Olympian and ITU standout, should be out front in the swim with Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey, and proved she can mountain bike in Maui by posting the third-best bike split.
Jackson has had a remarkable season with wins at Oceanside, Alcatraz, and Wildflower and just finished 2nd at the IM 70.3 World Championships. She has been mountain biking in Bend, Oregon, as part of her training regimen.
Others to look out for include Chantell Widney, winner of XTERRA Canmore and 3rd-place finisher at ITU Cross Tri Worlds, and Brandi Heisterman – who had a pair of 3rd place showings on the America Tour.
The mix of old and new, experience vs. youth, is creating a lot of excitement for this year’s pro races. It’ll all come down to who can suffer best against the gnarly challenge that Mother Nature dishes out at the XTERRA USA Championship.
XTERRA NATIONALS QUICK FACTS
WHO: More than 1,500 athletes from 45 states and 10 countries ages 9-to-76.
WHAT: The XTERRA USA Championship triathlon and XTERRA Utah short and long course tri's are on Saturday, plus kids races, clinics, and Ogden's annual Harvest Moon Celebration, and the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship half-marathon and 5k, 10k fun runs are on Sunday.
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, September 20-22, 2013
The XTERRA Expo is from 12 noon to 6pm on Friday in Ogden
The XTERRA USA Championship race starts at 9am Saturday
The XTERRA Trail Run Nationals race starts at 9am Sunday
WHERE: Ogden on Friday and Snowbasin Resort on Sat/Sun
WHY: Both the XTERRA Tri and Trail Run National Championship races are the culmination of 70-race nationwide series, that end with a best-of-the-best showdown in Utah.
TV: XTERRA TV is producing an hour-long, nationally broadcast television show on the USA Championship, highlighting Northern Utah as a mecca for outdoor adventure recreation.
LAST YEAR'S XTERRA UTAH TV SHOW:www.XTERRA.tv
TRAIL RUN NATIONALS HIGHLIGHTS:www.XTERRA.tv
TWITTER / HASHTAG: @xterraoffroad / #xterraUTAH
XTERRA ON FACEBOOK: Facebook.com/XTERRAPlanet
XTERRA USA CHAMPIONSHIP TRIATHLON COURSE STATS:
Swim course: 1,500-meters (0.93 miles) Combines two 750-meter laps (no run in-between)
Elevation at Port Ramp Marina for swim start: 4,900-feet / Water temperature: Traditionally around 67 degrees
Mountain bike course distance: 28-kilometers (17.7 miles) / Total climbing on bike: 3,400-feet
Elevation at highest point: 7,300-feet (where Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline)
Elevation at T2/Snowbasin Resort Lodge: 6,400-feet
Trail Run course distance: 10.4kilometers (6.47 miles) / Total climbing on run: 616-feet / Total climbing on course: 4,016-feet