Amateurs Shine and Surprise at XTERRA Beaver Creek
The reasons why people sign up for XTERRA are as varied and unique as the athletes themselves. Some sign up as a challenge, an incentive to be healthier, or to become faster at open water swimming, mountain biking, and trail running. For others, XTERRA is more about strengthening the internal terrain, and they hit the trails to overcome an addiction, a loss, or a personal crisis.
Everyone on the course has a story. And when the athletes come together to race, we don’t just see expert technical skills and strong athletic performances. Instead, those stories come to life and we are routinely wowed by the courage it takes to try something new, the guts to go faster and harder than makes sense, and the faith to keep going, even when your legs and lungs are telling you to stop.
As a result, races are full of surprises, stunning efforts, and new faces on the podium. XTERRA Beaver Creek was a perfect example of this. The top female amateur is a fourth-grade teacher who had the second fastest time overall for the women, and the fastest dude came all the way from Chile to race. Even better, the leaderboard was filled with CPAs, ER doctors, mothers and fathers, and as always, extraordinary people.
In the men’s amateur race, Jonah Saya (20-24), Tim Hola (40-44), Christopher Portugal from Peru (25-29), Eric Snowberg, Jeremiah Zgliczynski (25-29), and Karl Edgerton (55-59) were first out of the water in under 19 minutes, with times on par with some stellar swimming elites like Brad Zoller, Mauricio Mendez, and Branden Rakita (see split times here).
On the bike, top amateur of the day, Francisco Gonzalez (35-39), an Ironman and 70.3 competitor from Chile had the eighth fastest bike split on the course overall. He shredded the single track with a 1:16:58, making him faster than several elites. For the past six months, Gonzalez has been living in Boulder with his wife and three children so altitude was no problem. Gonzalez has competed in XTERRA Chile twice and won his age group at the 2017 XTERRA World Championship in Maui. This year, Gonzalez will also compete in Utah in the XTERRA Pan American Championship on September 15th. And then he will be back in Maui this October to defend his age group title.
On the bike, 25-29 XTERRA Beaver Creek age group champ, Christopher Portugal showed that he is as strong on two wheels as he is in the water, and Shaun Martin (35-39), Garren Watkins (40-44), and Niels Vande Casteele (30-34) had similar splits of around 1:20.
Watkins (pictured above), who finished in the top 35 in the swim and run, was the XTERRA Beaver Creek 40-44 age group champ, proving that he is as consistently good in all three sports as he ever was. While Watkins likes to remain under the radar, that big red beard gives him away, as does his calm demeanor and steady leadership, which are often praised by his fellow competitors.
Colin Szuch, 15-19 age group champ, also had a solid ride and established himself as one of the new faces to watch as did 20-24 age-group champ, Ben Hogan. Young Benny Smith had a great swim, but Szuch’s ride and blazing run gave him about a minute lead on Smith at the end of the day. Hogan also had the fastest bike split in his 20-24 age group, and his run time was an incredible 12 minutes quicker than anyone in his division.
XTERRA Beaver Creek 30-34 age group champ and former swim standout, Andrew Hall, also displayed some pretty fleet feet. Hall had the ninth fastest run split overall and second fastest for the amateurs. (Andrew Auer of the 25-29 age group had the fastest run split of the day for the age-groupers.) This performance - combined with his solid swim and 18th fastest time on the bike overall - earned him the division title. Hall is an excellent triathlete on the roads and has won several age-group national titles in both the sprint and Olympic distances. While Hall mountain biked before he began road biking, in college, he primarily used his mountain bike to head to the library, despite the fact that he was living in Utah.
“It wasn’t until later that I realized I was living in a mountain bike mecca and started to get into it,” said Hall, a CPA, who loves the balance XTERRA provides his body and his life. “I had such a blast at Beaver Creek that I’m thinking of heading to Ogden in September now for XTERRA Nationals.”
45-49 age group champ Henry Reed also ran away from competitors Eric Snowberg and Scott Silver with a run split over five minutes faster than anyone else in his division and a blazing bike ride. Snowberg was stellar on the swim as usual and posted a solid run, but like the 40-44 age group, the 45-49 journeymen shine on the mountain bike. For reference, Reed’s split was on par with elite athletes Alex Roberts and Alex Willis.
The run isn’t the only way to win XTERRA though, as displayed by 25-29 age-group champ Christopher Portugal, who blew everyone out of the water with his 18:34 split and followed it up with a 1:18:43 on the bike course, which is only about nine minutes slower than XTERRA World Champ, Josiah Middaugh.
50-54 age group champ Grzegorz Zgliczynski is also a strong swimmer but backed up that performance with the fastest run split in his division and a solid mountain bike ride, which you might expect from the former roadie. Last year, Zgliczynski won his age group at the XTERRA World Championship. He also won his age group at the Ironman 70.3 distance (Clearwater, FL.), Olympic distance (Cozumel), the Aquathon (Cozumel), and in the long-distance ITU (Weihei, China). Zgliczynski coaches a USA swim club at Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming, and his son, Jeremiah Zgliczynski (25-29), was the fifth amateur out of the water at XTERRA Beaver Creek and finished ninth in his age group.
In the 55-59 age group, Eric Long outpaced Karl Edgerton by only 10 seconds while in the 60-64 age group, Tom Monica won by about eight minutes. Dawes Wilson and Laurence Goddard won the 65-69 and 70-74 age groups, respectively, while Michael Stone (pictured) won the physically challenged division.
Monica has been to the XTERRA World Championship 12 times, and he plans to be there this year, as well. This time, he is competing in the infamous “XTERRA Double,” which combines the finish times of both the Ironman World Championship in Kona as well as the XTERRA World Championship in Maui.
“I love Beaver Creek, because I’m a climber,” said Monica. “I’ve raced there six times and I’m glad I punched my ticket to Maui again.”
Don’t mess with Tess.
This year, Tess Amer, the top female amateur at XTERRA Beaver Creek and 25-29 age group champ shocked everyone with an overall time that put her just a minute behind two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson and about three minutes ahead of XTERRA Beaver Creek runner-up Julie Baker. Of course, because the elites and the age groupers don’t start together, times don’t always compare. Who knows, next time she races with the pros, Amer might even be faster because she isn’t with a pack of people.
“It’s OK,” said the good-natured Amer, who is a fourth-grade teacher in Boulder. “I was racing with a couple of 40-year old guys, and they were really fast so it wasn’t a problem.”
The same thing happened to Amer at the 2016 XTERRA Beaver Creek race, when her time was faster than all of the elite women.
“Everyone asked me this year, why aren’t you doing the race as a pro? I keep saying that I’m trying!”
After her performance at XTERRA Beaver Creek in 2016, Amer qualified for her USAT Elite License but didn’t get the card because she had knee surgery and sat out for the rest of the season as well as the following year. This year, when she tried to register as an elite, she was told by USAT her results from two years ago wouldn't do it and she needed to re-qualify.
“I had so much fun out there today,” said Amer, after the race. “I haven’t done XTERRA in so long, and I was like, oh yeah, I really like this.”
Amer will be at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship on September 15th, and she will be racing with the elites, where she is sure to shake things up.
It’s clear that Amer is leading the next generation of XTERRA athletes on the trail, including 15-19 age group champ, Sophie Allen, and 20-24 age group champ Abigail Bird, who crushed both the mountain bike and run sections of the course.
In the 30-34 division, Amelia Van Dyke was out of the water before anyone else in her division and had the fastest bike split. Only Jordan Selk-Johnson had a faster run split in the age group.
Moving up, Whitney Barrett-Kaucher won the 35-39 division, showing that she is just as tough on the course as she is in her day and night job as an ER doctor.
“XTERRA Beaver Creek is such a painful race,” said Barrett-Kaucher, who has been working night shifts recently and hasn’t been sleeping much. “But it’s so much fun when it’s over! Another ER doctor was out there racing today and he said that what we lack in fitness, we make up for in mental toughness. You’re on the course for about three hours, but we’ve endured far longer shifts in the ER.”
Look for Barrett-Kaucher at XTERRA Indian Peaks this weekend, and hopefully, she will go with her gut and race at XTERRA Nationals in September.
40-44 age group champ, Deanna McCurdy passed Barrett-Kaucher on the bike and continued to run away from everyone else, although Jen Razee stayed in hot pursuit. McCurdy, who has been steadily improving in the swim had the second-fastest split in this age group, just 30 seconds behind fourth-place finisher, Holly Wright. McCurdy went on to blaze through the bike and run to win the age-group title.
“I went into this race with one goal,” said McCurdy (pictured) after the race. “I wanted to make better memories compared to my race last year. XTERRA Beaver Creek is one of the most grueling races on the whole XTERRA circuit. Combined with altitude, today’s heat, and the smoke from the wildfires, it was even more challenging. But with the greatest challenges come the greatest rewards, right? I just love this sport and everyone who is a part of it.”
In the 45-49 division, former professional cyclist and skier, Anne Nevin, from Norway, absolutely dominated the swim with a 16:45 and ran like the wind. Runner-up Kiki Silver had the fastest mountain bike split, but it wasn’t enough to catch up to Nevin, who was the fastest female amateur behind Tess Amer.
In the 50-54 division, Margo Pitts (pictured), who spends the summer in Colorado, showcased her skills on the mountain bike. She rode the course about ten minutes faster than anyone else in her age group. This weekend, Pitts will be competing in the Leadville three-day mountain bike stage race, and at the end of the summer, she will be racing at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in Ogden, Utah.
Moving up to the 55-59 age group, Sharon McDowell Larsen led from the swim, posting the fastest splits in all three disciplines, although runner-up Janet Soule was less than 20 seconds slower on the run. In the 60-64 division, Martha Buttner also led from start to finish as did 65-69 age group champ, Jo Garuccio. Jodi Petit won the physically challenged division.
And let us not forget the amazing Loftus Family tradition of racing together at Beaver Creek. This year they came in 16-strong, and 10 of 'em raced!