Forty-four elites are scheduled to compete at the XTERRA Pan America / USA Championship race in Ogden, Utah next Saturday, September 16.
As the culmination of a series of off-road triathlons spanning South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and the U.S., the contenders are coming from near and far, and with $80,000 in prize money at stake and cameramen capturing all the action for a nationally broadcast one-hour TV show, the stage is set for XTERRA’s best to show what they can do.
The challenge starts with a one-mile swim in Pineview Reservoir (4,900-feet elevation), followed by an 18-mile mountain bike leg that climbs more than 3,000-feet to the top of Sardine Peak (7,300-feet elevation) and culminates with a 7-mile trail run featuring another 700-feet of climbing on trails around Snowbasin Resort in the Wasatch Range. The course, they say, is best suited for mountain goats.
In the last few weeks we’ve caught up with some of the race favorites including reigning champs Josiah Middaugh and Suzie Snyder from the U.S., and top contenders Bradley Weiss from South Africa (who just won the XTERRA European Championship) and Kara LaPoint from Colorado, but the talent goes well beyond those four.
In the men’s race Mexico is well represented with Mauricio Mendez, the current XTERRA World Champion. He was second to Middaugh at XTERRA Beaver Creek this year and 3rd at this race in 2014 as an 18-year-old.
XTERRA Argentina Champion Gonzalo Tellechea, who is currently ranked 5th in the Pan Am Pro Series, is on the start list along with his countrymen Andres Darricau and Mario de Elias. Representing Brazil is Felipe Moletta, the reigning and three-time XTERRA Brazil Champion.
Jean-Philippe Thibodeau, who finished in the top four at four races this year and is ranked fourth in the Pan Am Pro Series, will carry the torch for Canada while rookie elite Cedric Wane (ranked 6th) represents Tahiti.
The Kiwi’s are in full force with Kieran McPherson, the XTERRA Thailand Champion who is ranked 3rd in the Series, Kyle Smith, who was 3rd at XTERRA New Zealand and the ITU Cross Tri World Champs in Canada a few weeks ago, and Alex Roberts.
The Aussies are led by Ben Allen, who finished 3rd at XTERRA Worlds twice in the last three years.
Markus Benesch and Dominik Wychera from Austria and Julien Buffe from France add a European twist to the mix. For Buffe, ranked 8th on the tour, this will be the fifth race on the Pan Am Pro Series for him and his girlfriend Morgane Riou.
“Even if it was a tiring schedule with many travels between Europe and America, we don't regret anything as we have discovered lovely places and beautiful races,” he said. “I'm very happy with my season which is my second as a pro on the XTERRA World Tour. I've reached the Top 10 at each race I've done on the Pan Am Tour and it is an unexpected result for me before the start of the season. My best race was the last one at XTERRA Dominican Republic with my first podium on the Tour (5th) and the first victory for Morgane. My goal in Utah is to enjoy the race and try to stay in the Top 10 of the Tour.”
And then there are the Americans, who will also be racing for the USA Championship title.
Branden Rakita leads the charge as the Pan Am Pro Series points leader, having finished in the top seven at nine events this season. Sam Long could be the dark horse, he finished 3rd at XTERRA Beaver Creek behind only Middaugh and Mendez this summer.
Chris Ganter says he’s looking forward to another shot at this course, where he did his first XTERRA as a pro back in 2010.
“Every year I say ‘this course doesn’t suit me, etc, etc.’ but then I decide to come back with a new strategy. This year I’ve trained in nordic skiing at high altitude, and it seems to have helped with my cycling performances above 5,000-feet, so we’ll see! Luckily, I’m coming into form at the right time after injuring my ribs five-weeks back. It still hurts when I swim, so my strategy will be to get through the swim and really give’r on the bike and run! JP Thibodeau and I are road-tripping down to Ogden from Boise in the RV, which should be a rad adventure in-and-of itself!”
Alex Modestou, after a busy legislative season with his “real job” as an education data and policy analyst, is hoping to find the form he had in 2014 when he finished fourth at this race. Others in the mix include Walter Schafer, Michael Nunez, Ian King, and the senior statesman of the bunch, 42 year old Brian Smith.
“I am grateful that I can continue this amazing and challenging sport into my 40s at the highest level, and definitely pleased with how the season has unfolded,” said Smith, who finished fourth at both XTERRA Oak Mountain and Beaver Creek and 7th in Mexico. “The championship event at Snowbasin always brings out my best efforts. I love the long, sustained climbing on the bike and challenging run that follows. Both courses really suit my strengths and the lower altitude allows me to dig a little deeper into the pain cave. I want to be top five with the hopes of a top three if everything is perfect.”
Pam Am Tour Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Branden Rakita – 36, Colorado Springs, Colorado
2 - Josiah Middaugh – 39, Eagle-Vail, Colorado
3 - Kieran McPherson – 25, Matamata, New Zealand
4 - Jean-Philippe Thibodeau – 26, Quebec, Canada
5 - Gonzolo Tellechea – 33, San Juan, Argentina
6 - Cédric Wane – 31, Papeete, Tahiti
7 - Brian Smith – 42, Gunnison, Colorado
8 - Julien Buffe – 30, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France
12 - Felipe Moletta – 31, Parana, Brazil
14 - Chris Ganter – 38, Boise, Idaho
15 - Ian King – 27, Fort Collins, Colorado
18 - Michael Nunez – 36, Salt Lake City, Utah
19 - Mauricio Mendez – 21, Mexico City, Mexico
20 - Sam Long – 21, Boulder, Colorado
29 - Mario de Elias – 33, Buenos Aires, Argentina
31 - Andres Darricau – 41, Buenos Aires, Argentina
NR - Ben Allen – 32, Wollongong, Australia
NR - Markus Benesch – 43, Vienna, Austria
NR - Alex Modestou – 30, Durham, North Carolina
NR - Alex Roberts – 27, Taupo, New Zealand
NR - Walter Schafer – 26, Centennial, Colorado
NR - Kyle Smith – 20, Waikato, New Zealand
NR - Bradley Weiss – 28, Stellenbosch, South Africa
NR - Dominik Wychera – 24, Kritzendorf, Austria
WOMEN’S ELITE RACE
The women’s elite field is just as diverse as the men’s with racers representing France, Brazil, Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, the U.S., and the U.K.
Two-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson finished third on this course the first time she raced it in 2009. She was second in 2010 and 2011, and she won it in 2012 and 2013. This year, after a season spent touring the nation promoting her book The Brave Athlete, she says she’s ready to get back in the dirt.
“I'll hit it hard from the start and never look back, I wanna win this,” she exclaimed. “I'm feeling good and just love the beauty of the course with the fall leaves and gruesome climbs. XTERRA is my home, its gritty, muddy, primal, and family grown!”
To win it she’ll have to get past Snyder, who won five races this year included a head-to-head against Paterson at Oak Mountain. In their next head-to-head, however, Paterson won big at Beaver Creek, so this will be the rubber match.
Other hopefuls include Morgane Riou from France, who did 11 XTERRA races this season including a stretch of eight in eight weeks this summer. In her last race, she won XTERRA Dominican Republic, and is ranked 3rd in the Pan Am Pro Series.
“I'm very satisfied with my season, it has been my best one since I began to race as a pro in 2014,” she said. “I recovered well after the big summer series of 8 races in 8 weeks and I'm now ready to fight again. XTERRA Ogden will be my last off-road triathlon of the year since I don't have any more rest days to go to Maui. So, I would like to have a good race from the beginning to the end and enjoy each moment of the race.”
Lizzie Orchard from New Zealand was the runner-up here a year ago, finishing just three minutes behind Snyder and is fresh-off a third-place showing at the European Championship in Denmark.
“I had such a great trip to the Pan Am Champs last year Keith and I knew we wanted to come back again,” said Orchard. “It wasn't just that the race went well for me, it was the atmosphere and activities that we enjoyed...the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah State Fair, Faar better Ice cream shop, Bobsledding down the Olympic run, there's a lot to do. As for the race itself, the course is tough but beautiful. The elevation gain on the ride suits me and with enough preparation I'm not as concerned about the altitude as I have been in the past. It's a mental challenge to keep the pressure on all the way up to T2 and then continue going up on the run.”
Canada is sending a strong contingent with Katie Button, Katharine Carter, Annie Bergen, and XTERRA newbie Holly Henry. Brazil counters with Sabrina Gobbo, winner of four straight XTERRA Brazil Championships, and Laura Mira Dias who is ranked fourth in the series.
“This year I would like to have a better race than last year,” said Gobbo, who was 12th last year. “I felt a lot the altitude and was a little tired. This year I'll be in Ogden one week early, and hope that helps and my body responds.”
Jacqui Allen has also had trouble with the altitude at this race in the past, but will be a little more comfortable this year
"This race has always been a real challenge for me to master due to the altitude,” she said. “I’ve struggled in the past with my energy levels so the goal for this race will be to finish and finish strong. I’ve been living at altitude for four weeks now and have adapted very well so I’m excited to see what I can bring to the race. If it doesn’t work out it’s certainly no reflection of my fitness, it’s just altitude. I love the course, it’s the most stunning place to be in September and once I’m up the first hill on the run I’ll be smiling all the way into the finish line."
In addition to Snyder and LaPoint, the American’s will be represented by 2015 USA Champ Emma Garrard and Julie Baker, who finished third in Utah last year. Other U.S. racers include Genevieve Evans, Heather Zimchek-Dunn, Caroline Colonna, Jessie Koltz, and Anne Usher.
Follow the elite race live on twitter @xterraoffroad and find live video look-ins on Facebook /xterraplanet starting at 9am MST on Saturday, September 16. Learn more at www.xterraplanet.com.
Pam Am Tour Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Suzie Snyder – 35, Reno, Nevada
2 - Kara LaPoint – 30, Woody Creek, Colorado
3 - Morgane Riou – 31, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France
4 - Laura Dias – 32, Lavras, Brazil
5 - Annie Bergen – 41, Kelowna, B.C., Canada
6 - Sabrina Gobbo – 40, Sao Paulo, Brazil
7 - Lesley Paterson – 36, Stirling, Scotland
8 - Caroline Colonna – 53, Taos, New Mexico
9 - Julie Baker – 40, Sonora, California
10 - Jessie Koltz – 28, Reno, Nevada
11 - Katie Button – 32, Victoria, B.C., Canada
14 - Emma Garrard – 36, Park City, Utah
16 - Heather Zimchek-Dunn, 31, Olympia, Washington
22 - Genevieve Evans, 44, Tahoe City, California
26 - Katharine Carter – 30, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
29 - Anne Usher – 38, Portland, Oregon
NR - Lizzie Orchard – 32, Auckland, New Zealand
NR - Holly Henry – 19, Victoria, B.C., Canada
NR - Jacqui Allen – 34, Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom