Branden Rakita from Colorado Springs is the top ranked men’s elite racer in the XTERRA Pan America Tour standings after nine of 10 events. The 10-year XTERRA veteran has held the top spot since the 5th race of the year back in May at Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama, but being on top of the pile when the dust settles Saturday after the XTERRA Pan America Championship in Utah is the ultimate goal.
“It will be a monumental task to hold on to the No. 1 position by the end of the race,” said Rakita, who has 466 points, 16 more than reigning Pan Am Tour champ Josiah Middaugh. “The easiest way to do that is to win the race. Anything can happen, right, I just need to race to my strengths and stay relaxed going into it.”
This season Rakita finished as high as third (at XTERRA Victoria) and no worse than seventh at all eight races he competed in. While there are a million potential scenarios on how the points could play out, Rakita basically needs to finish ahead of Middaugh on Saturday to win the Series, which is no easy task considering Middaugh has won this race three times and been in the top three eight straight years. For Rakita, his best result on this course was a 5th-place showing five years ago.
“Nothing is impossible, and I am coming into Pan Am on a good note,” said Rakita. “I had a solid race and felt good at ITU Cross Tri World Champs in Penticton, and I know I have gotten stronger from there. On Saturday, I just have to do what I have always done, race hard from the start, build as big a lead as possible, and hold on as long as I can.”
Rakita has been the most recognizable face on the Pan Am Tour this year having competed at XTERRA Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Dominic Republic, and twice here in the U.S.
“The travel to so many new places and new race venues has been great, and I’ve also enjoyed going back to the established venues and seeing old friends. I headed in to the season with high expectations about where I should place at all the events, and I would be in a much better points position heading into this finale had I raced to my expectations. If I would have finished just one place higher at each event I would have had some breathing room going into the finale, but the fields were strong at every event and that was good to see.”
Rakita finished 4th at XTERRA Argentina, 6th at XTERRA Chile, 4th at XTERRA Costa Rica, 5th at XTERRA Oak Mountain, 3rd at XTERRA Victoria, 7th at XTERRA Beaver Creek, 6th at XTERRA Mexico, and 4th at XTERRA Dominican Republic.
As for his favorite race this year, “It is a big toss-up between Victoria, which has a fantastic course and I love the area, and Dominican Republic, which took some feedback from the athletes last year and made great improvements to the course this time around. The venue was already top notch but they really improved it with the resources they had and made a great, Pan Am Tour worthy course.”
Rakita also thinks highly of the Utah course, and has already been out on the trails here in the Wasatch range surrounding Snowbasin Resort.
“After getting out and riding it, I am liking that the descents are getting a little more technical,” said Rakita. “The Middle Fork descent is rocky and rowdy and Conrad (Stoltz) would approve of it getting rougher.”
Full pro race preview here: http://www.xterraplanet.com/2017/09/star-elite-field-set-xterra-pan-champs
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.