The chase for the XTERRA Pan America Pro Series crown is in full swing this weekend at a new venue in Samana, a province on the northeastern Atlantic coast of the Dominican Republic.
Four of the top five men and three of the top four women in the elite points standings will be on the peninsula fighting for points and prize money at the seventh of 12 stops on the tour this Sunday, June 3.
In the men’s race all the ringers are there; Kieran McPherson (who won at XTERRA Argentina and XTERRA Brazil), Karsten Madsen (who won at XTERRA Uruguay), Branden Rakita (the runner-up in the Series last year), Josiah Middaugh (the reigning Series champ who just won at XTERRA Oak Mountain), Rom Akerson (who beat Josiah and Karsten to win XTERRA Costa Rica), and sixth-ranked Alex Roberts as well.
“I’m looking forward to the race in DR,” said Middaugh, who won XTERRA Dominican Republic last year when it was held in Barahona. “We will be racing at a new venue this year, so I don't know quite what to expect, other than that the pictures look amazing. I know the environmental conditions are similar to the XTERRA World Championships in Maui, so it will be a good opportunity to test nutrition, hydration, pacing, etc.”
Middaugh added that he’s also looking forward to connecting with the competition again, saying “I won't be bringing my family to this race, but the XTERRA family will be there, and all my main competitors, Karsten, Rom, Kieran, Branden and I will be traveling and lodging together once we get to the Santo Domingo Airport. We’re all good friends before and after the race, but during is when the gloves come off.”
It’s a seasoned bunch of guys for sure, with loads of experience and endurance to boot, but none are more traveled on the Pan Am circuit than Rakita, who gives us this valuable insight on DR.
“Racing in Dominican the last two years has been awesome,” he said. “The crew is top notch and they really put on a great event. It will be very interesting this year with the new venue at Cosón Bay. I can bet 100% that it will be hot and humid and it will also be a hotly contested race for sure with the top guys there gunning it out for the Pan Am Series. We will all be looking to close the points gap on Kieran and work to keep him behind us but he has been racing very well and it will be hard to do.”
McPherson, the tour leader through six, has been on fire this year, and has posted the fastest run split at every stop along the way.
“It was a very big start to the year for me,” said the 26-year-old from New Zealand. “Chile and Argentina went better than expected and now I’m in the box seat halfway through the season. The chase for the Series is still wide open with plenty of racing left, and I have not yet planned my assault on the second half of the season but hope to be on everyone’s radar now.”
He most certainly is, especially after chasing down Madsen to win in Brazil a few weeks ago. Still, the Canadian (Madsen) is showing great strides of his own this season and was second to only Middaugh in a stacked field in Alabama two weeks ago.
“I’m having an amazing time this year,” exclaimed Madsen. “I’ve traveled to places I’d never go and having success all over. I’ve worked so bloody hard to get back to this level and so many months of wondering will I get the return on investment. So, I’ve balled pretty good and am hungry for more! I know I’m back to knocking on the door of beating some of the sports best. To win in DR, it’s going to take the perfect day and a relentless effort.”
Madsen and McPherson both traveled to compete at back-to-back-to-back races in Uruguay, Brazil, then Alabama so took the last week or so to rest and connect with their families back home. They’ll need every bit of energy to get past each other, Middaugh, and the tiger from Costa Rica, Rom Akerson.
Akerson, who won the inaugural XTERRA DR two years ago, was leading the race at XTERRA Oak Mountain heading into the run before experiencing some weird chest pains that dropped him to fourth by the finish line.
“I am feeling good, my heart is great, it was a thing with my ribs and my breathing,” explained Akerson. “Right when I got home I did seven different tests and figured it out. I am working on it, but you never know until race day. I know DR is going to be super hard and fun. It feels like we are all super strong right now and will fight it out to the end. No pain no gain.”
Beyond the finish line is the experience, and the travel and discovery of this race in Samana speaks to the spirit of the sport.
“A huge draw for the Pan Am Series is all the incredible places we get to go and experience,” said Rakita, who traveled to nine of the 10 stops on the tour last year and went to Brazil (the one he missed) this year. “With XTERRA we get to see some very unique parts of other countries and places you may not think or know to visit. I think at the core of every XTERRA racer is a spirit of adventure to live more and get outside of our comfort zone, and it is really what brings the XTERRA family together. I believe 100% that everyone from the race staff to the athletes to the supporters, we all love collecting the experiences going to the races and doing it together. It would not be the same without the family feel and support that has been built over the last 20 plus years, that is the most important part of XTERRA, it is what makes it unique.”
2018 Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name – Nationality
1 - Kieran McPherson, New Zealand
2 - Karsten Madsen, Canada
3 - Branden Rakita, United States
5 - Josiah Middaugh, United States
6 - Alex Roberts, New Zealand
8 - Rom Akerson, Costa Rica
In the women’s race Kara LaPoint is looking to win her first XTERRA World Tour major, Kelli Montgomery is looking for her second, Fabiola Corona has her eyes on the big prize, and Nike Matanza is looking to see where she stands among the tour’s top performers.
“I’ve been working hard to recover this last week to hopefully be ready for DR,” said Montgomery, the XTERRA Costa Rica winner who also did back-to-back-to-back races in Uruguay, Brazil, and Alabama earlier this May. “The three races in a row have left me blasted, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge, both physically and mentally. I’ve also had a great time seeing new places, racing, and having some fun adventures with the other racers. I’m going to give it 100% in DR and see what happens. The heat and the open ocean should benefit me, and I'm also looking forward to exploring the Dominican Republic as I haven’t been there before.”
As for Corona, the 4x XTERRA Mexico Champ who took top honors at XTTERRA Argentina earlier this year, the goal is clear.
“To win,” she exclaimed. “My game plan is to die in the swim, on the bike, and in the run as well. I feel ready, strong, and motivated to grab the crown and be the XTERRA Pan American queen.”
Corona sits in third place in the standings, behind Montgomery and tour leader Carito Nieva, but could jump into the top spot with a good showing in Samana on Sunday.
She’ll have to get past a determined Kara LaPoint, who was the runner-up in the Pan Am Pro Series last year and is just starting to find her groove on the run after an early season injury.
2018 Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name – Nationality
2 - Kelli Montgomery, United States
3 - Fabiola Corona, Mexico
4 - Kara LaPoint, United States
NR - NIke Matanza, Slovenia
As for the course itself, race director Polibio Schiffino says, “the bike course starts flat, changing from sand to dirt with brief uphills to warm up for the steep and short climb that will reward racers efforts with a sweet and technical downhill and fast single track. There are two laps, each lap is 15.3 KM for a total distance of 30.6 km, and the elevation gain per lap is 287.3 mt for a total of 575 MT.”