The XTERRA Pan America Pro Series takes shape this weekend at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County, Alabama as some of America’s best racers host all-stars from Mexico, Canada, and Brazil.
It’s race number four of 10 in the inaugural XTERRA Pan Am Tour, and the first of three on American soil.
In the men’s race reigning XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh welcomes Mexico’s best off-roader Mauricio Mendez, Canadian upstart Karsten Madsen, Kiwi Kieran McPherson, and a host of his U.S. countrymen with the likes of Chris Ganter, Branden Rakita, Cody Waite, and more.
On the women’s side Sabrina Gobbo (pictured above), the cross triathlon queen of Brazil, takes on a roster full of established and up-and-coming American racers to include former National Champ Suzie Snyder and XTERRA U.S. Pro Series stand-outs Maia Ignatz, Kara LaPoint, Debby Sullivan and others.
We caught up with the elite crowd racing this weekend to get their thoughts on the course, the race, and other random funny stuff.
Here’s what they said…
“I've done this race every year for the past 10 or 11 years and still love it! The lake is beautiful and clean, the bike course is fun because the trails were created and maintained specifically for mountain biking, and the run is rolling, fun and shady! This course always proves to be challenging, whether from the heat and humidity or the wet roots and tricky single track so you have to be ready for anything!” – Suzie Snyder, former XTERRA National Champ living in Reno, Nevada. Suzie finished 3rd here the last two years.
“The XTERRA at Oak Mountain is one of the best. The trails are top notch thanks to the local trails organization BUMP, they keep adding and maintaining more and more trails in the park. It is a very challenging course and you have to maintain your focus 100% through the bike to keep the rubber side down,” – Branden Rakita, who has finished in the top 10 here seven times since 2009.
“When it was announced they would have a Pan American XTERRA circuit, I thought “wow” that's a great opportunity for me to evolve, go and compete, and get out of my comfort zone to try and reach for that extra power to achieve more,” – Sabrina Gobbo, reigning and 3-time XTERRA Brazil Champion. This will be her first time in Alabama. She finished 3rd at XTERRA Costa Rica in March.
“I think this is the best XTERRA course there is. Lots of rocks and roots and fun crazy riding along with a awesome swim that is in a calm lake. The run course is also a blast and gives a good opportunity to run hard & fast. I really think without that crash I had a great shot at the podium. That’s why it hurt so bad. I’m really looking for redemption and coming off my 2nd place in Argentina I’m going to give it all I got as this is a course I truly feel at home at,” – Karsten Madsen, who was in the mix last year before a bad crash on the bike took him out of contention. The Canadian currently sits 2nd in the XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series standings.
“I think this is one of my favorite races, that is why I am back doing it again this year. I love that the riding is different from the high and dry riding I do at home in the Rocky Mountains. The twisty trails through dense trees and occasional owl spotting make it worth coming back! This will be my 3rd time doing this race, and I'm excited for another tried and true XTERRA experience,” – Maia Ignatz, who won the overall amateur title at Oak Mountain and Maui before turning pro and finishing 6th here last year.
“XTERRA racing has been a great way to satisfy my sense for adventure and allowed me experience many exciting places around the world,” – Josiah Middaugh, who has already raced at XTERRA Costa Rica, Argentina, and won in Tahiti last weekend. There are pics and videos of him riding horses on the beaches of Guanacaste and petting Manta rays in French Polynesia all over the internet. He’s won this race twice (2013-14), was second three times (’09, ’10, ’15), third twice (’07, ’11), fourth once (’12), and broke his kneecap pre-riding before the 2008 race.
“This is my first pro race, so I'm a bit nervous, but also excited. I did this race last year and loved the trails and venue. The trails are epic and so much different than what we have in Utah. I’ve been doing these a long time (since 2005) and I’m older (35) than most of the other neo-pro's but I figure you only live once, and I'm going to give it my all. I love the course at Oak Mountain, and really excited to race and share this event with my girlfriend Stephanie,” – Michael Nunez, an Aerospace/Mechanical Engineer who was born and raised in Rock Springs, Wyoming and currently calls Salt Lake City, Utah home.
“This is one of the purest off-road XTERRA courses because the mountain bike is a true mountain bike single track and somewhat technical course. Oak Mountain lends itself to a great experience with lots of lush vegetation and abundant wildlife. I crashed really badly last year on the bike, slid into a tree breaking my rear wheel and derailleur, so my goal this year is to complete the course!” – Caroline Colonna, who has finished in the top 10 here three times in the last five years. She is (rather humorously) nursing a foot injury from “last weekend’s dance performances. I was Nana, the Dog, in Peter Pan … a lot of leaping!”
“I am an XTERRA athlete day in, day out and I love it! I am more than happy and excited about this weekend, kind of nervous, but really excited. It's my third time here, and it is a unique XTERRA course full of amazing wood forests and a great single-track trail full of surprises!” – Mauricio Mendez, a 20-year-old from Mexico City who finished 4th at the XTERRA World Championship last year.
“Just drove in from Colorado, was a lovely drive. I'm enjoying being back down at sea level and a little humidity coming into my first race on the new Pan Am series, and hoping for a good performance,” – Kieran McPherson, a 24-year-old from rural Matamata, New Zealand who will be based out of Fort Collins, Colorado for the next six months.
“You initially think "mountain biking in Alabama? What?" but then you get here and its this amazing network of world class trails and a beautiful lake. I like that the course is a good mix of power and technical, a challenge that requires both fitness and skill,” – Ian King, active duty Coast Guard and member of the newly-formed Happy Tooth Pro Development Team.
“I came here last year for the first time, and had a great time on the course in the days leading up to the race and really enjoyed being here in Alabama. The course is a lot of fun. The race, however, did not go my way. I flatted just when I got to the fun part above blood rock and after a bunch more flats and partial fixes I was finally able to get another tube and make it to transition so I could finish. Hopefully, I can get some redemption this year.” – Debby Sullivan, a Colorado girl who spent the last four years in California before moving to Virginia in February. “Apparently we need to get it all.”
“This is my third year in Alabama and my first as a pro. This is probably my second favorite course (behind Richmond of course) because the trails are the same style that I train on at home. Lots of roots, rocks and twisty turns are where I feel at home!” – Greg Schott, a 19-year-old certified EMT and bike mechanic at Endorphin Fitness who lives in downtown Richmond, Virginia. He won the 15-19 XTERRA National Championship last year before turning pro.
“Oak Mountain is a great course, and certainly one of the most fun to ride!” – Cody Waite, of Sessions:6 Sport Performance out of Denver, Colorado. Cody has finished in the top 10 five times at this race.
“This will be the first time racing XTERRA Oak Mountain, and it’s my first race of the season so I really don't know what to expect. I am looking forward to it and hoping for a fun course. My first XTERRA was at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania called the Dirty Grizzly. That was about seven years ago, and I remember I barely survived the swim. My swimming hasn't improved that much since that race but I am optimistic for this weekend,” – Thomas Spannring, a 40-year-old firefighter in Boulder, Colorado, originally from Austria.
“It’s a blast coming to Pelham every year. The weather is amazing, the forests are lush and the trails are primo. There’s just a laid-back vibe in Pelham that sort of tells you to just chill and enjoy life. The highlight of this race is obviously the bike course. It has everything, from fast single track, roots, tree squeezes, technical rock crawls, and bombing downhills. It keeps you on your toes. It’s a mountain biker’s mountain bike course! There’s something for everyone, and on the flip side of that, it also tests everyone from beginner to pro.” – Chris Ganter, who was third here last year.
XTERRA OAK MOUNTAIN ELITE START LIST
Rank denotes current position in XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series after three events.
NR = Not ranked
Bib# - Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1 - 1 - Josiah Middaugh – 37, Vail-Eagle, CO
2 - 2 - Karsten Madsen – Guelph, Ontario, Canada
3 - 15 - Ian King - 26, Virginia Beach, VA
4 - 19 - Greg Schott – 19, Chesterfield, VA
5 - NR - Chris Ganter – 38, Boise, ID
6 - NR - Kieran McPherson - 24, Matamata, New Zealand
7 - NR - Mauricio Mendez – 20, Mexico City, Mexico
8 - NR - Michael Nunez - 35, Salt Lake City, UT
9 - NR - Branden Rakita – 35, Colorado Springs, CO
10 - NR - Thomas Spannring - 40, Longmont, CO
11 - NR - Cody Waite - 38, Lakewood, CO
Bib# - Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
51 - 3 - Sabrina Gobbo - 39, Sao Paulo, Brazil
52 - 6 - Kara LaPoint – 30, Truckee, CA
53 - 10 - Caroline Colonna – 52, Taos, NM
54 - 12 - Rebecca Blatt - 36, Lakewood, CO
55 - NR - Sarah Graves - 39, Ballantine, MT
56 - NR - Maia Ignatz - 36, Boulder, CO
57 - NR - Maggie Rusch - 29, Asheville, NC
58 - NR - Suzie Snyder – 34, Reno, NV
59 - NR - Debby Sullivan - 35, Stafford, VA
XTERRA OAK MOUNTAIN TRI COURSE
The course at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County, located in the southernmost part of the Appalachian Chain, is praised by competitors as being one of the most fun, fast, scenic and difficult on the XTERRA schedule. It starts with a swim in the warm water of Double Oak Lake - two 750-meter laps separated by a short beach shuffle in-between.
From there the long, single-loop 19-mile mountain bike course starts at about 500 feet elevation, twists, turns, and rolls through the forest for seven miles then begins a gradual 700-foot climb to the summit. The descent is a fast, wild ride highlighted by the notorious "blood rock" section - a series of tricky to maneuver, uneven and jagged rocks followed by a three-mile section on the west side of the lake that’s filled with rolling rights and lefts.
The run course goes around Double Oak Lake on hard-packed, tight, and twisty trails with scenic views at every turn.