While most of the hype leading up to Saturday’s XTERRA USA Championship race has revolved around the pro races (which you can find here with pics, press guide, preview, interviews, roundtable) the age group race is just as intriguing.
With defending champ Neilson Powless not in the mix this year the men’s race is wide-open. Neilson, along with his sister Shayna, did America proud this summer by representing the USA at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in South Africa.
In addition, two other favorites in the men's race ran into misfortune this week and won’t make it. Daniel Molnar from North Dakota – winner of XTERRA Pipestem and Iron Creek – was hit by a car on the road while biking and suffered five broken ribs, punctured lungs, a broken sternum, scapula and finger.
“The driver didn't seem to notice me and hit me almost frontally. I survived probably only because he hit the brakes in the last second, skid to the left so I crashed into the right side of the truck,” explained Molnar, who said he’s feeling better know.
Alex Modestou from Washington DC, who won an unprecedented seven races this year and finished in the top 10 among pros at the East and Mountain Championships, will have to sit out due to illness.
“I've been working hard towards XTERRA Nationals all year,” explained Modestou. “After missing it last season due to an injury, I am pretty devastated by my situation now. I would like to throw caution to the wind, but I hardly have the physical strength to get through a shortened workday. I'd love to simply partake in the XTERRA camaraderie more than anything, but my body just isn't cooperating.”
A student of the game and a terrific writer (read his blog at www.alexmodestou.com) Modestou was kind enough to give us his thoughts on whom to watch for in the amateur races:
Bryce Phinney (above) – a 37-year-old propulsion scientist from Tucson, Arizona – has been at the sharp end of the amateur field for years. He was second amateur behind only Neilson Powless last year, and placed 15th overall.
Cole Bunn – a 17-year-old from Bettendorf, Iowa (pictured top right) - won the overall at XTERRA Last Stand and Illinois Wild this year and was 5th amateur (20th overall) at last year’s USA Championship. His local paper wrote a great article on the rising star, read it here.
Daryl Weaver – a 40-year-old from Lititz, Pennsylvania – went mano-a-mano with Modestou all season, taking the first two meetings of the year before Modestou got hot. Weaver has been one of the sports most consistent performers over the last two years, winning his division at 12-of-13 races.
Brandon Mills – the 32-year-old from San Diego, California trains with the ‘Scottish Rocket’ Lesley Paterson and has the results this year to prove it. He finished 8th overall ahead of several pros at the West Championship in April.
Matthew Balzer – The 32-year-old from Reno, Nevada is a former pro and owner of the Reno Running Company. Work and family life keep him busy but he still has the tools to race up front.
Others that should be considered among the favorites include XTERRA veterans Anthony Snoble from New York and Phillip Glenn of Nevada, Mathieu Signoretty from Washington who dominated in the Northwest this year, Rob Ricard from Maine, and Grayson Keppler from Texas.
FINCHAMP TOPS WOMEN’S LIST OF CONTENDERS
Hannah Rae Finchamp, 17, from Altadena, California won her division at all five XTERRA races she entered this season and was the top amateur finisher at three of them. The reigning XTERRA USA and World Champion finished a remarkable sixth overall behind only the top five pro women at the XTERRA West Championship in April, and was 9th overall at the Mountain Championship in July.
The senior at Maranatha High School is the captain of the swim and cross country teams, won the California mountain bike state championship this year, and all the while maintains a 4.4 GPA.
On the other end of the spectrum is Anne Gonzales, a 52-year-old from Aspen, Colorado. A gardener during the summertime, Gonzales grew up on a swim team, picked up running as a way to stay fit while raising her two boys, and got serious about mountain biking about six years ago. Last year in Utah she placed 10th overall, third amateur, and just a little more than a minute behind Finchamp.
Meghan Sheridan, a 34-year-old living in Salt Lake City, was 11th overall last year and fourth amateur, just seconds behind Gonzales. Funny story, Sheridan wore a rafting wetsuit in her first-ever XTERRA here in 2010 and thinks she was pretty much the last one out of the water. While her swim is still a work in progress, her bike and run are golden (she had faster splits than Hannah Rae last year). She was 10th overall (third amateur) at the West Champs and 2nd amateur only behind Hannah Rae at the Mountain Champs.
Others contenders include Elizabeth Gruber from California (the 20-24 XTERRA World Champion finished 9th overall, 2nd amateur at the West Champs) and Maia Ignatz from Colorado (who won four races this year and placed 7th overall, top amateur, at the XTERRA East Championship in Richmond).
There is no doubt we’ve left out some notables, with a field of more than 300 qualified racers from almost every state in the U.S. there’s just no telling who’s showing up hot on raceday. We wish the entire field the best of luck on Saturday.