Even though XTERRA Oak Mountain is the fourth race on the XTERRA Pan Am Tour and the 10th on the XTERRA World Tour, for athletes in the US, it feels like the first day of school (only way better because you don’t actually have to go to school).
Many athletes are full of anticipation, not just about experiencing the award-winning course in Pelham, Alabama, but about reconnecting with the XTERRA Tribe, many of whom haven’t seen each other since the XTERRA World Championship in Maui last October.
But don’t think for a second that XTERRA Oak Mountain is a rust-buster. The course at Pelham is far too special for that. In fact, most athletes have been training for XTERRA Oak Mountain since snow and ice covered the ground (and in some cases still does) and have been dreaming about Blood Rock since Valentine’s Day.
Men's Amateur Race
The men’s race is especially competitive this year with many of last year’s top athletes returning. In the 15-19 age group last year’s defending champ and 2018 XTERRA Southeast Regional Champ, Will Stacey, is back to defend his title against Juan Gonzalez, Reed Legg, Carlos Hernandez, and Kai Payne.
The 20-24 age-group is always sparse, probably because most recent college grads can barely afford ramen, much less racing flats. The 25-29 age group makes up for this with last year’s champ and four-time XTERRA regional champ Caleb Baity looking to win again. Expect Dalton Guggemos to be giving chase as well as a host of new racers who are well-poised to impress.
“I’m really excited about this year,” said Baity, who has been coached by XTERRA elite, Karsten Madsen, since December. “I have been training very hard this winter and put in a lot of effort to get stronger for this season.”
In the 30-34 bracket, last year’s age group champ Michael Drackert – who came in about 13 minutes before the next age-group competitor - isn’t returning. In his wake, Jason McIntrye (seventh last year at Oak Mountain) will be duking it out with XTERRA regional champ Tyler Guggemos. Last year, Guggemos raced 10 times and placed no lower than second in nine of them.
In the 35-39 age group, it may come down to who can hold off 13-time XTERRA regional champ, Kyle Grieser. The Texas firefighter has been too busy battling blazes to compete at Oak Mountain in recent years, but this year, he’s back. Specifically, he will be making the journey to Alabama in the way back seats of two-time XTERRA regional champ, Jordan Winar’s minivan.
“I will be loading up the swagger wagon - aka the mini-van with Mandy, London, Windsor, and Duke - not our dog but our youngest son - to try and qualify for Maui at Oak Mountain,” said Winar. “It will be a tight fit because Kyle is coming as well. So, I'll cram him in the back seat with the kids and let him watch Cars and Lighting McQueen over and over again to get him ready. It would be nice if we could both qualify for XTERRA Worlds at Oak Mountain but that won’t be easy."
This age group is stacked and includes last year’s runner up Ryan Hobbs, third place finisher Derek Tingle, and Dave Gill who was fourth. XTERRA regional champ Shawn Bohrer, two-time XTERRA regional champ Luke Alexander, and Jason Weaver will also be gunning for the podium steps.
In the 40-44 group, it's another strong field. Last year, Hans Ryham (now racing elite) Garren Watkins and AJ Petrillo were on the podium in that order followed by XTERRA regional champ Yaro Middaugh and 2017 XTERRA Pan Am champ, Mike Dorr. This year, only Middaugh and Dorr will return and will be trying to hold off four-time XTERRA regional champ, Ralph Nurse, and XTERRA Portland race director, Robert Jackson. Last year, Nurse won his age group in four out of the five races he entered on the XTERRA America Tour, so it will be fun to see what will happen in Alabama.
Luckily for the 45-49 crew, last year’s champ Andy Lee is racing elite this year. Not so lucky is that racing in the 45-49 gang is still no joke. Last year’s runner-up, Marcus Barton, is practically an Oak Mountain native and always shines in Pelham. Last year, he was closely followed by Eric Snowberg, and Karl Stover, who almost tied for third. This year look for another showdown between Snowberg and Stover, who are well-matched in the swim. On the bike Stover may take off, but Snowberg can catch up on the run. These two are going to have to hold off Barton who has wheels no matter if he’s riding or running. (Look for his post-race recap at www.speedylizard.com.) Also, a big welcome back to Dave Dornaus, who took most of last year off because he is now the father of twins.
In the 50-55 bracket, last year’s champ Donny Forsyth and runner up Mike Barro aren’t signed up (yet). But Andy Kelsey, Chuck Olinger, and John Stehmeier, who finished just off the podium at last year’s race in Pelham, in fourth through sixth places, respectively, will return this year. With a solid off-season of training, they are more than ready to climb to the top spots.
In the 55-59 age group, we are excited to see new faces. Robert Pair, who was fourth last year and Jack Denver who was eighth are returning this year to race against new competition.
The conditions are reversed one bracket up, in the 60-64 division. 18-time regional champ Steve Cole and seven-time regional champ Cliff Millemann will be showing the Tribe how it’s done. Cole was fifth last year and Millemann was third. They will be joined by Mike Gerache who was also in top 10 in 2018.
“My goal for the year, as usual, is to have fun and travel to new venues,” said Cole, who is a pilot and often takes his bike with him on work trips. “I don’t have a specific training plan and never have. I just run and bike and swim and see where the winds take me. It keeps me fresh.”
In the 65-69 bracket, Wes Little, Doug Jones, James Clark, Bill Schmitt, Bill Blankenship, and Mike Berger will all be toeing the line. One bracket up, six-time regional champ and last year’s 65-69 champ Alan Moore is moving up to the 70-74 division where John Pickard, who finished fourth last year, will be giving Moore chase. Dale Vaughn who won the age group last year has aged up and will be racing the 75-79 division.
In the women’s race, Staci Lovell will be racing at XTERRA Oak Mountain for the first time and will be representing the 15-19 age group. The Hawaii native is finishing off an adventurous spring and has already raced at XTERRA Greece and the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship in Kenting.
In the 25-29 age group, look for Heather Wilson and Amanda Bayer to be close. Bayer, a three-time XTERRA regional champ, beat Wilson by only three minutes in last year’s race, but Bayer also had serious mechanical issues on the bike. It will be fun to see how this age group shakes out this year.
“I’m aging up and changing regions so there are a lot of unknowns for this season,” said Bayer, who recently moved from the northeast to Wisconsin. She’s also planning to race in Utah at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship on September 7th and in Maui for the XTERRA World Championship on October 27th. Her goal is to be in the top three to five at both Oak Mountain and the XTERRA Pan Am Championship.
Last year, Bayer's fiancé proposed at XTERRA Oak Mountain, and this year, they are getting married the day after the XTERRA World Championship, on the beach in Maui.
In the 30-34 age group, three-time XTERRA regional champ, Amelia VanDyke, is looking very strong after a second-place finish at the 2018 XTERRA Pan Am Championship, while the 35-39 division has some serious competition, as usual. Seven-time XTERRA regional champ, Sian Turner Crespo, won the age group last year by over eight minutes and is back to defend against Melanie Willard and two-time XTERRA regional champ, Lua Walter.
Turner Crespo, a Truckee resident, is now being coached by Lesley Paterson and has been hitting it hard all winter despite the epic snow in the Sierras this year.
“I’ve got the XTERRA national and world titles as goals this year and have been knuckling down with a lot of quality time on the indoor bike trainer this winter,” she said. “But I did most of my runs outside in the snow. It helps to have four huskies who are very willing to join me on my runs.”
In the 40-44 bracket, look for three-time regional champ Lindsay Jackson to be strong against tough competitors Angie DiFillippi and Melanie Etherton. In last year’s race, Jackson was third behind Deanna McCurdy and Courtney Kaup. Kaup isn’t returning and McCurdy will be racing with the elites so this will be a race to watch.
“I’m excited about XTERRA Oak Mountain,” said Jackson, who is also race directing XTERRA Portland. “After Oak Mountain, I'll be racing at XTERRA Beaver Creek and in Utah. My goals are to finish in the top three at each venue, but I know I’ll be up against some strong women.”
In the 45-49 age group, look for Jen Razee to be strong. The Colorado athlete was injured last year and will be coming down from altitude to battle Angie Childre who was second at XTERRA Oak Mountain last year. Two-time regional champ, Jeanne Hoffman, who was fourth in the race last year, will also be toeing the line.
In the 50-54 age group, four-time regional champ Kate Lucas will be trying to hold off two-time regional champ Linda Matheson as well as Michelle Blankenship, who was seventh last year. Last year Lucas was third behind Margo Pitts and Cindy Duby. Pitts, who is still rehabbing after a mountain bike crash last year, will hopefully be back later this season.
In the 55-59 age group, look for three-time regional champ Elaine Morrison to be strong and defend her age-group title. In the 60-64 division, Sharon Startup will be facing Maureen Sanderson, and in the 65-69 division, look for Sheri Schrock to be strong.
With only a few days to go before the festivities kick off in Pelham, Alabama, we expect more athletes than we have listed here to show up and mix it up, because, after all this is XTERRA, and the trails at Oak Mountain are tough to resist. As always, this race is a festive adventure that feels like a picnic when you are racing your heart out under the fierce ‘Bama sunshine. We can’t wait to see how the day will go and we wish the Tribe a fantastic day.