The heat is on in the chase for the XTERRA Pan America Pro Series crowns as the Tour heads to Tapalpa, Mexico for a showdown Saturday featuring the regions’ fastest off-roaders.
XTERRA Mexico, to be held in the mountains of Jalisco (Tequila country) is the eighth of 10 stops on the tour and one of four Gold races offering more points and prize money for elites. The following weekend, on August 13, is XTERRA Dominican Republic.
For reigning Pan Am Tour Champ Josiah Middaugh, currently ranked third in the standings behind Jean-Philippe Thibodeau and Branden Rakita, this trip is all about redemption.
“Last year I had a flat tire late in the race in DR, taking me out of contention, and then quickly fell ill with a case of appendicitis in Mexico missing that race for an emergency surgery in Guadalajara,” he explained. “Luckily, I was in great hands and experienced great care during my surgery in Guadalajara. Despite my misfortune I am excited to return to these races to challenge myself once again. I will have my work cut out for me at each race with the likes of Francisco Serrano in Mexico and Leonardo Chacon in DR. Nothing worth doing is easy.”
Serrano has won XTERRA Mexico twice, is a former Olympian and one of XTERRA’s long-time favorites. He was in hot pursuit of Rom Akerson for the lead last year on the run before literally losing his shoe in the mud on the second lap, at which point Kieran McPherson jolted past him to finish in the runner-up spot. McPherson is also back for another crack, alongside Julien Buffe from France, Cedric Wane from Tahiti, the resurging Brian Smith from Colorado, and Tour leader Branden Rakita.
“I am coming into both Mexico and DR on a good note,” said Rakita. “Things have been going well and I am looking forward to putting it all out there. Mexico will be a tough race, there is a lot of strong competition. Josiah, Paco, Kieran, and Brian are all solid racers and Cedric Wane has been getting better and better throughout the season, and those are the guys that I know are racing. I am sure there will be a couple more of Paco's country men that will put up a good race as well. My primary goal is to protect my lead in the Pan Am Series and go into the Championship race in Utah with as large a lead as possible. I have a lot to fight for and am not going to give up, but Josiah is a beast so I have a lot of work cut out for me to try to hold him off.”
After the first seven races Rakita has racked up 347 points to Middaugh’s 275 points. Mexico is scored on 100-point scale, DR is on a 75-point scale, the finale in Utah on September 16 is on a 200-point scale, and every race counts. What all that means is anything is possible, and completely unpredictable.
Also unpredictable is the Tapalpa course itself.
“The Mexico course has some surprises,” said Rakita. “The water is always right on the edge for a wetsuit-legal race, it really comes down to if it rains. The bike gets tougher the further along, there is a nice steady first climb and then the second one is longer and steeper before a very steep descent that is sort of a choose your own adventure. The run is a false flat run that you just try to open up and go and try not to lose a shoe in one of the two water/mud crossings. The fiesta post-race and the awards fiesta are the highlight of the race for sure. Tapalpa is a great quaint little town with a ton of character and always fun to explore.”
Middaugh agrees. While he was sick as a dog last year he won here in Tapalpa in 2015 and said he loves the course and the experience.
“I really like heading south of the border for XTERRA racing,” he said. “I think its a good way to get off the beaten path and experience the countries in a different way than the average tourist. The two courses in Mexico and Dominican Republic are very different. The race in Tapalpa, Mexico is at moderate altitude in the big hills about 2 hours from Guadalajara, so plan for afternoon showers and cooler than expected temps. Tapalpa is a historical town with a vibrant culture and the race takes place at Los Reflejos, a community of small equestrian ranches. There is a strong triathlon community in Guadalajara and they all show up to get dirty. It's a great time. I am looking forward to visiting our close knit, international XTERRA community, eating some good food, and getting in some good training and racing.”
XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series Rank, Name, Nationality
1 – Branden Rakita, USA
3 – Josiah Middaugh, USA
4 – Kieran McPherson, NZL
6 – Cedric Wane, TAH
7 – Brian Smith, USA
18 – Julien Buffe, FRA
19 – Francisco Serrano, MEX
SNYDER FAVORITE IN WOMEN’S RACE
Reigning women’s Pan Am Tour Champ Suzie Snyder heads into XTERRA Mexico looking to extend her lead in the Pan Am Pro Series and have some fun while she’s at.
“I think the best part of going to Mexico is the post-race festivities in town,” said Snyder. “The restaurants have great food, there are some cute shops to get souvenirs for the kids/family and the fireworks show is spectacular! Of course, the race is cool too. I like how it is situated at the lake so there are competitors and spectators all the way around the lake all day. The toughest part of the bike course is the rough terrain as it winds through a lot of farmland. The two climbs are enough to challenge you and put some fatigue in the legs but nothing like the big mountain courses! The run course is deceptively tough as it has some good false flat sections and rough footing that can also be quite wet in places and requires a fair bit of foot speed and agility which is tough when you're fatigued.”
Snyder held of Myriam Guillot-Boisset by one-second last year, and will have another fast French woman chasing her again this year by the name of Morgane Riou, who sits third in the Pan Am Pro Series.
“I'm very happy to be back racing the Pan American tour here in Mexico, just one week after my "double" European Championship in cross-duathlon and cross-triathlon in Roumania,” said Riou. “It's always a pleasure to visit new countries with XTERRA, and this year my boyfriend and I dedicated ourselves to this exploration. Moreover, I like speaking Spanish even if I've forgotten a lot of words in the past few years. With Argentina, Chile, and now Mexico and Dominican Republic, I'm very happy with this opportunity! As for the race, I think one of the hardest challenges for me on Saturday will be dealing with the altitude. I hope not to suffer as much as I did in Beaver Creek, and with these two new races I will try to keep my place in the tour rankings.”
The elite women’s field is deep, with Kara LaPoint, ranked 2nd in the Tour, Laura Mira Dias from Brazil (5th), Annie Bergen from Canada (7th), Caroline Colonna (11th), Jessie Koltz (14th), and local hero/former Olympian Fabiola Corona.
“My goals for Mexico are two-fold,” said Snyder. “I want to win and secure another 100 points for the Tour, and get a good week of training in since ITU Cross Tri Worlds is coming up so soon. That means I won't be tapering too much going into race day on Saturday which may hinder my speed but it’ll be worth it to peak at Worlds! And, of course, I want to stay upright and accident free!”
XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series Rank, Name, Nationality
1 – Suzie Snyder, USA
2 – Kara LaPoint, USA
3 – Morgane Riou, FRA
5 – Laura Mira Dias, BRA
7 – Annie Bergen, CAN
11 – Caroline Colonna, USA
14 – Jessie Koltz, USA
NR – Fabiola Corona, MEX
ALL-TIME XTERRA MEXICO CHAMPIONS
2016 (Tapalpa) Rom Akerson, Suzie Snyder
2015 (Tapalpa) Josiah Middaugh, Fabiola Corona
2014 (Tapalpa) Irving Perez, Fabiola Corona
2013 (Tapalpa) Leonardo Chacon, Fabiola Corona
2012 (Tapalpa) Francisco Serrano, Renata Bucher
2011 (Tapalpa) Seth Wealing, Shonny Vanlandingham
2010 (Valle de Bravo) Seth Wealing, Fabiola Corona
2009 (Valle de Bravo) Seth Wealing, Shonny Vanlandingham
2006 (Puerto Vallarta) Francisco Serrano, Jamie Whitmore