While the incredibly talented pro field is garnering the lion’s share of the pre-race hype in Maui, there are great races brewing among the amateur men and women.
Finchamp (pictured right) is just 17-years-old and in her senior year of high school where she is the captain of her swim and cross country teams, won the California mountain bike state championship, and all the while maintains a 4.4 GPA.
Finchamp won her division at every race she entered this year and finished a remarkable sixth overall behind only the top five pro women at the XTERRA West Championship, and she was 9th overall ahead of several pros at the Mountain Championship in July. She also won the 15-19 division at the USA Championship for the third straight year last month. Watch her pre-race interview
Perhaps the front-runner in the chase is Liz Gruber, a 23-year-old nursing student at Loma Linda University. Gruber pulled off an upset of sorts when she took the overall amateur USA Championship title from Finchamp in Utah last month, and was the 20-24 World Champ last year. Watch her pre-race interivew
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 Maui, Gonzales was second to Finchamp in the amateur race, finishing seven minutes back.
Others of note include Tereza Rudolfova from the Czech Republic, who won the 20-24 XTERRA Germany title, and Verena Eisenbarth from Germany who won the 30-34 division races at Czech and Germany.
In addition to Finchamp, Gruber, and Gonzales there are three other age group champions back to defend their titles; Mimi Stockton (40-44), Lucia Colbert (55-59), and Kathy Frank (65-59).
In the men’s amateur chase the overall is up for grabs this year as 2012 champion Neilson Powless will not be in the race this year.
Instead, there are numerous contenders, including the top seven finishers from the overall amateur standings of the XTERRA USA Championship last month in Utah.
Matthew Balzer (pictured left) from Reno, Nevada, took the amateur title at the XTERRA USA Championship, and is looking to keep the momentum going. He is a former XTERRA pro, but returned to amateur status in recent years to focus time on his business – the Reno Running Company.
A couple of teen sensations from the 15-19 age division could also contend for the overall amateur title. Cole Bunn from Bettendorf, Iowa, placed second to Balzer by 81 seconds at the USA Championship.
Mauricio Mendez from Mexico placed second in the 15-19 division at XTERRA Worlds last year, and turned heads at the XTERRA West Championship in Las Vegas earlier this year when he took the overall amateur title and placed seventh overall (behind only six established professionals). Watch his pre-race interview.
Other American contenders for the overall amateur crown include Jeff Smith (Portland, OR), John Mezger (Wanaka, CO), Bryce Phinney (Tucson, AZ), Garren Watkis (Boulder, CO), and Charlie Karstrom (Solana Beach, CA).
Jan Pyott from Switzerland looks to be a top contender from Europe, as he was the first overall amateur at three races on the XTERRA European Tour.
Adding even more intrigue to the field is the fact that only one of the top 10 amateurs from last year’s XTERRA Worlds has returned this year: Thomas Vonach from Austria. He placed 10th last year, and won the men’s 40-44 age division. Also of note, Roger Kern is back to defend his 70-74 world title and Mike Cabigon – last year’s CEO division champ who would have been the 35-39 champ had he raced in that division – aged up to and will challenge for the 40-44 crown.