The XTERRA Pan Am Championship is a grueling challenge on many levels. For one thing, there is the course, which includes more than 3000 feet of climbing on the bike and then more on the run. Then, there’s the fact that the course ascends to 7000 feet, meaning that those climbs just got tougher. And finally, there is the battle among competitors, which include some of the best professional and amateur athletes in the world.
In Utah next Saturday, September 15, rivals who have been racing each other all season will go head to head in a final battle of skill and will to see who has what it takes to make it first through the one-mile swim in Pineview Resevoir, the 18-mile mountain bike leg to the top of Sardine Peak, and the seven-mile trail run. This is a true championship course that will bring out the best in competitors, so we have no doubt we will be blown away by spectacular performances, surprise upsets, and true displays of courage and sportsmanship.
In the women’s 25-29 division XTERRA Northeast Regional Champ Amanda Bayer will be facing Heather Wilson and Kat Marks. Last year at Utah, Marks was second to Alexa Turzian and Wilson was third in this up and coming age group (Bayer didn’t race). This year at XTERRA Oak Mountain, it was Bayer who won, with Wilson and Marks right behind her. Bayer is a strong swimmer, but Marks lives at altitude, which will give her an advantage. And you can’t rule out Wilson, who is a solid and consistent competitor. In addition to her second place finish at XTERRA Oak Mountain, she won her age group at XTERRA Laguna Beach.
In the 30-34 division, XTERRA Beaver Creek age group champ Amelia Van Dyke is going to try to add an XTERRA Pan Am National Champ title to her collection of awards this year. Melanie Willard may give Van Dyke a run for her money, however. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, Van Dyke finished ahead of Willard, but this is Utah, where anything can happen.
Moving up to the 35-39 age group, XTERRA Midwest Regional Champ Kristen Wade will face off against XTERRA West Regional Champ, Sian Turner Crespo. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, Crespo bested Wade, by about eight minutes, but you can’t underestimate the Midwest dynamo, who won her age group in every other race she entered, including XTERRA Fort Custer, XTERRA DINO North, XTERRA Dino South, and XTERRA Illinois Wilds. Crespo is currently undefeated, having won at XTERRA Oak Mountain, XTERRA Tahoe, XTERRA Tahoe City, XTERRA Portland, and XTERRA Real.
In the 40-44 division, XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Deanna McCurdy is the one to watch. She and XTERRA Northwest Regional Champ Lindsay Jackson will be joined by Kathryn Lockwood from California. While McCurdy is undefeated this year, Jackson finished third behind McCurdy at XTERRA Oak Mountain and won her age group at XTERRA Portland and XTERRA Real. Notably absent from this group is Jen Razee.
Moving up, XTERRA Midwest Regional Champ Mimi Stockton and XTERRA South Central Regional Champ Jeanne Hoffman will represent the 45-49 women. Stockton has been mountain biking a lot this year and her mad skills helped her earn the top spot on the podium at XTERRA Rockport Rugged, XTERRA Ionia, XTERRA DINO North, XTERRA Illinois Wilds, and XTERRA Fort Custer. Hoffman tore it up at the races in Texas, winning her age group in every one she entered. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, Hoffman was fourth in a competitive cohort that included Canadian Heather Pady and “The Angies” – Childre and Milford.
The battle heats up in the 50-54 age group where XTERRA Southeast Regional Champ Margo Pitts will be toeing the line with talented athletes Michelle Blankenship and Paula Maresh who placed fourth and fifth at XTERRA Beaver Creek. Joining them are XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Linda Matheson and XTERRA West Regional Champ Carol Johnston. Matheson lives in Utah, which may give her a leg up, but Pitts has been training in Colorado all summer and posting some pretty epic shots on Instagram of her adventures.
While Pitts has been undefeated in every race she has entered this year from XTERRA Oak Mountain to XTERRA Beaver Creek and most of the races in the southeast, the battle between Matheson and Johnston is one we love to see. Both athletes are fierce and fit and consistently make the podium. Matheson placed in the top five at XTERRA Fruita, XTERRA Wild Ride, XTERRA Iron Creek, and XTERRA Indian Peaks, while Johnston placed in the top four at XTERRA Renegade, XTERRA Real, and XTERRA Portland. These two women are true regional champs who have shown up all season to tackle tough courses and have come out shining. Their race in Utah is one to watch.
The match-ups continue in the 55-59 category between XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Sharon McDowell-Larsen and XTERRA West Regional Champ Elaine Morison. Like Johnston and Matheson, McDowell-Larsen and Morison are well matched. McDowell-Larsen took the age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek while Morison took the top step at XTERRA Oak Mountain. This is a seriously stacked age group and includes Janet Soule, Grace Bollinger – who just won her age group at XTERRA Iron Creek - and 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Tammy Tabeek.
In the 60-64 age group look for Barbara Peterson to display her usual skills and for Jo Garuccio, in the 65-69 category, to be tough.
On the men’s side, the talented Benny Smith could come out on top in the 15-19 age group. The millennial won his age group at XTERRA Indian Peaks and XTERRA Fruita and was second at XTERRA Lory and XTERRA Beaver Creek.
In the 20-24 age group, look for Anders Johnson, Travis Gilpin, and Edward Bird to establish themselves. All three of these athletes have done well in their regional races, and it will be fun to see what they can do at the national level.
In the 25-29 division, 2016 Pan Am Champ Steve Croucher will try to reclaim the title, but will have to fight off both XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Lukus Klawitter and John Sarikas. Both Croucher and Sarikas are undefeated in their local races, which form the heart and soul of our sport. Sarikas won at XTERRA Deuces Wild and XTERRA Renegade while Croucher captured the titles at XTERRA Syracuse, XTERRA Sky High, and XTERRA Way Over Yonder. And of course, there is Klawitter, who is always poised and pushing the pace. Additionally, he lives in Colorado where he has the mountain-high advantage.
Moving up to the 35-39 division, XTERRA South Central Regional Champ Shawn Bohrer will be sole regional champ in his bracket at Utah. And he will be fighting some very fierce lions. While Bohrer seemed to come out of nowhere this year, he has been steadily improving for some time and is proof of what happens when you put your head down and set your goals high. The Texas athlete thrives on technical mountain bike courses, so expect him to shine on the Sardine Trail.
“Really my number one goal for all of these races is to have fun and give the best effort that I feel I can give,” said Bohrer about the races Joel Grimmett hosted in Texas. “Each year I've seen my overall performance improve, and I generally set some rough goals on where I'd like to be. Last year I was shooting for top ten overall and generally met that goal. This year I set my target at the top five overall.”
In Utah, Bohrer will be facing off against fellow Texan, Manny Pena, who made the podium with Bohrer in many of the same races. Both will have to contend with Francisco Gonzalez from Chile, who was the top amateur this year at XTERRA Beaver Creek and won his age group at last year’s XTERRA World Championship in Maui.
In the crowded 40-44 age group, 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Garren Watkins will be trying to recapture the title that he lost to Mike Dorr last year by only two seconds. This division is full of new names this year, so it will be exciting to see who shows up on top. Look for Robert Jackson, from Portland, to have a good race.
One of the most fun races to watch will be the showdown between XTERRA South Central Regional Champ Andy Lee (pictured) and XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Eric Snowberg, both in the 45-49 division. It’s likely that Snowberg will be out of the water first, which is to his advantage, as virtually no one can outrun Andy Lee, who was second overall at the XTERRA Oak Mountain 20K behind elite runner Richard Kimani – and this was the following day after he competed in the off-road triathlon. Last year Andy won his division in both the tri and the trail run in Utah. Both Lee and Snowberg will be joined by Doug Day and David Schwartz, who consistently podium in their local races. And we are happy to announce that Rife Hilgartner is back from a significant injury to his quad tendon, but it’s likely that no one is happier to return to the dirt than Hilgartner himself.
In the 50-54 age group, XTERRA West Regional Champ John Stehmeier is looking to claim the Pan Am age group title. This year, Stehmeier won his age group at XTERRA Lake Tahoe and XTERRA Deuces Wild and was second at XTERRA Renegade, XTERRA Real, XTERRA Rockhopper, and XTERRA Laguna Beach.
In the 55-59 category, last year’s XTERRA Pan Am Champ Karl Edgerton is looking as fast as ever and will be racing Bruce Wilson again. XTERRA West Regional Champ Cliff Millemann and George Lester aged up this year, so look for them to shine in the 60-64 division while XTERRA Mountain Regional Champ Laurence Goddard, 2017 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Daniel Rose, and Peter Wood will solidly represent their divisions as well.
We have no doubt failed to mention more than a few of the contenders and soon-to-be XTERRA Pan Am Champs. We'll just have to fire the cannon, run the race, and find out who.