The 15th edition of the XTERRA USA Championship was one for the ages. An absolutely stunning day on the mountain with great racing all around...here's proof:
While the elite race in Utah garnered most of the attention last weekend there was some really great racing taking place in the amateur divisions as well.
Cole Bunn, a 19-year-old sophomore at CU-Boulder, had a breakthrough day to finish as the top amateur, 13th overall, in 2:39:01. In a field that featured 20 elite men Bunn posted the 9th best swim, 17th fastest bike and 12th quickest run. He finished 1:33 ahead of the 2013 overall amateur champ Matthew Balzer.
“This was my best XTERRA finish ever,” said Bunn, who has been racing XTERRA since 2012 and also won the 15-19 division national title in 2013. “It’s by far my favorite course that I’ve ever raced on. It seems to be almost magical for me, everything always comes together perfectly when I race here.”
Bunn also credits the CU triathlon team he trains with for his steady improvement the past two years.
“I think we’ve won 16 of the past 18 national championships and six consecutively, so we have a great team and a great environment to train in,” said Bunn. “I have to give credit to my teammates because they are continually pushing me.”
The women’s amateur race was even more remarkable with Julie Baker finishing 4th overall and Liz Gruber finishing right behind her in 5th overall. It’s the first-time in the history of XTERRA Nationals that two amateurs have finished in the top five.
“It was a good day, for sure, it has to be my best XTERRA,” said Baker, a soil scientist by trade who is forced to spend weeks off from training at a time while she’s out in the field. “I’ve been working on my biking with a good group back home lately and that has helped. I caught a couple pros early on the bike, did the switchbacks with Jaime Brede, and no other amateurs ever caught up.”
Interestingly enough Baker and Gruber were the top two amateurs in 2013, but the roles were reversed with Gruber taking the overall crown.
Also of note Cindi Toepel won her eighth straight and unprecedented 11th XTERRA National Championship (60-64 division). Willie Stewart picked up his fourth in the PC division, Matt Balzer and Liz Gruber each won their third, and Sian Turner-Crespo, Julie Baker, Libby Harrow, Cole Bunn, and Bryce Phinney all won their second title.
ALL HAIL LIBBY AND CLARK!
Sometimes the most impressive athletes take the most time to arrive at the finish line. Such is the case for our 65-69 division women’s champion Libby Harrow from Fruita, Colorado and our 70-74 men’s champion Clark Griffith from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“I could go faster, but I wanted to get my money's worth!” smiled Harrow, who has been racing XTERRA for 14 years now.
On Saturday she picked up her second national championship to go with two XTERRA World titles and seven regional championships.
“This race was special because it was my first year in the 65-69 age group, and I am separated from the great talented athletes like Cindi Toepel, Lorenn Walker, and Jo Garuccio, for one year only!” exclaimed Harrow. “My day went smoothly, from start to finish, but I had forgotten just how challenging the Utah course is. The last time that I raced there was in 2012. Due to foot surgery, I missed it in 2012 and 2013. Fortunately mountain biking is my strength so I was able to make to make the cut off. I had in my mind that the climb was comparable to the mountain championship in Beaver Creek but it is significantly harder.”
In addition to being a terrific advocate for the sport of XTERRA Harrow has also made huge contributions to the communities where she lived. As the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory chairperson in Vero Beach, Florida, Libby helped construct over 76 miles of bike lanes, 57 miles of sidewalk, and several miles of unpaved trails.
“I actually struggled in Vero Beach to get land for a mountain bike trail from the county, for a decade, with no success. They gave me land twice, only to take it away again,” said Harrow, who now lives in Fruita, Colorado.
“Now I can ride to the Colorado National Monument a few miles from my house, and do a 9-mile road climb. Many times I go out for an hour trail run with my dog in the Devil's Canyon area, of the McInnus National Conservation Area, and it turns into a 2 hour run just because I am overcome with the beauty of the rock formations.”
As for Griffith, who edged two-time champ Peter Lilley by seven minutes after five and a half hours of racing, he said "the race went good - except for that dreadful swim. Once that was over, it was uphill from there!"
Of course, the time it takes Griffith to get to the finish is secondary to the time he gets to spend with his son.
“Me and my son, we try to go mountain biking once a week,” explained Griffith in a must-see pre-race interview.
“That’s my main pleasure in life … It’s just something I look forward to. Monday is waiting for Sunday to ride with my son. It’s a big pleasure. It’s exercise that helps me do that. He rides once a week, and I work my rear end off and still can’t keep up on Sunday. But I try.”
SUZIE SNYDER “CHIEFS IT OUT”
“It was frustrating,” said Snyder, about her day on the course. The long-time XTERRA pro raced just six weeks after breaking her pelvis and by just finishing was able to hold on to her 2nd place Pro Series standing and the $6,000 paycheck that comes with it.
TODD WELLS FIRST XTERRA
There was a lot of excitement around the participation of Todd Wells, a three-time Olympic mountain biker.
“Well, you can see what Josiah can do on the bike coming two and three minutes down out of the water sometimes so I can only imagine what Todd could do,” said Braden Currie in a pre-race interview.
Wells, however, was worried about the swim and as it turned out, rightly so.
“Right now it’s nothing but pain,” said Wells when he crossed the finish line in 19th overall (15th elite). “When I came out of the water they said I was 10 minutes down, but at least I didn’t drown out there! I’ll tell ya that swim was every bit as bad as I thought it would be, even worse! But the bike was good and everyone was very nice and would let me by, way nicer than at mountain bike races. Then the run was good too. I got passed by somebody going twice my speed, but then I didn’t get passed by anyone else so that was good.”
Wells had the fourth-best bike split behind Josiah Middaugh, Braden Currie, and Brian Smith.
GARRARD, MIDDAUGH WIN ELITE NATIONAL TITLES
Emma Garrard and Josiah Middaugh were honored as the pro XTERRA USA National Champions at Snowbasin Resort on Saturday.
The honor is bestowed upon the top American finishers in the final XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Standings.
Both Middaugh and Garrard won the Pro Series outright. It's the 11th time in the last 12 years Middaugh has been crowned the National Champ (Seth Wealing won the title in 2006) and it's the second-year in a row Garrard has won the XTERRA National Championship.