The 2019 season started six months ago in Texas and it’s been game on ever since with amateur dirt devils fighting for points, podium steps, and personal pride.
Now, as the season is at its peak, we look forward to September 7, when the XTERRA Tribe will converge on the lovely mountain resort of Snowbasin, in Ogden, Utah, to compete for the coveted title of XTERRA Pan Am Age Group Champ.
Here we’ll try to predict who will stand on those top three steps in Snowbasin based on past performances, but the only true metrics to decide who crosses the line first are pain tolerance, skill, perhaps a little luck, and the whims of Mother Nature.
In the women’s race, the 25-29 bracket features Kelli Lessmeier, Megan Baner, and Heather Wilson. Wilson is the most experienced of the bunch and comes to Utah with a second-place finish at XTERRA Oak Mountain, an age group win at last fall’s XTERRA Laguna Beach, and a fourth-place finish at last year’s Pan Am Champs. Wilson went all the way to the XTERRA World Championship last year, where she finished seventh.
Last year’s XTERRA Pan Am Champ 25-29 runner-up, Amanda Bayer, is aging up to the 30-34 bracket this year. The 2018 phenom won her age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain in 2019 and was the second fastest female amateur in the race. She went on to win her age group at XTERRA St. Louis in August, despite a big move from the Northeast to the Midwest.
To her credit, Bayer came into this season with a lot of grace.
“This was my first tri of the year,” she said after XTERRA Oak Mountain. “That combined with moving this spring and adjusting to a new job, I felt a little untested and unsure on how things would pan out for me at the first race of the season. I wanted to do well - but I was also prepared to forgive myself if life cost me a couple of places. Last year I put a ton of pressure on myself for performance and this year I came in really relaxed and just excited to race.”
Given her success in Alabama, if she uses that philosophy in Utah, expect her to do great things. In addition to Bayer, look for Chelsea Cotton to impress.
Moving up to the 35-39 age group, Sian Crespo has been on fire this season. A recent addition to three-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson’s Braveheart stable, Crespo won her age group last weekend at XTERRA Lake Tahoe and finished first in her age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek in July. However, 2017 Pan Am Champ, Megan Riepma – who finished behind Crespo at Beaver Creek – will also be heading to Utah, following her age group win at XTERRA Indian Peaks on August 10th. Additionally, Jennifer Horstmann will be toeing the line. Horstmann has had a busy year with a 3rd place age-group finish at XTERRA Oak Mountain, a second-place age-group finish at XTERRA Illinois Wild, and a third-place finish at XTERRA DINO South. She will be up against the Atlantic Region’s Stacey Jackson who won the bracket at XTERRA DINO South, EX2, and Charlottesville. Expect California’s Melanie Willard to also be in the mix.
In the 40-44 bracket, expect a lot of new talent to show up in Snowbasin. Last year’s champ, Deanna McCurdy, is now an elite, but Lindsay Jackson – who finished second last year in this division in Utah – will be returning. This year, Jackson was second in this bracket at XTERRA Oak Mountain and is always ready to do battle. However, at Utah this year, her battle is against some of the fastest and fittest off-road athletes in the country. While Jackson was race-directing at the acclaimed XTERRA Portland last weekend, Remy Maguire won the women’s race there and will be in Snowbasin, going head-to-head with Jackson. A personal trainer and nutrition coach, Maguire is up to the challenge of Utah. Meanwhile, Emma Briggs, Holly Wright, Kirsten DeHart, and Brenda Andreason bring a slew of speed to this age-group.
Moving up to the 45-49 division, it’s another new group of off-roaders. Last year’s podium isn’t returning, so it will be exciting to see who moves up to fill those top steps. Jen Razee is incredibly talented and won this bracket at XTERRA Oak Mountain this year and was second at XTERRA Beaver Creek behind Jenny Smith.
“I love the Pan Am Champs,” said Razee, who is experienced on the Snowbasin course. “The altitude, climbing and impressive backdrop at Snowbasin always serve up an amazing race experience. It inspires everyone to bring their A game. I’m always happy to be in the mix and leave it all out there on the course!”
Alissa Magrum, from Texas, will be in Utah for the challenge. Magrum won her age-group at XTERRA Muleshoe, Magnolia Hill, and ATX. Also look for Jeanne Hoffman who was fourth at XTERRA Oak Mountain and won her bracket at XTERRA Bluebonnet, while finishing second to Magrum at Muleshoe, Magnolia Hill, and ATX. Wanda Bamburger will also be in the mix.
“It’s been a good season for me and great to have bumped into 45-49,” said Magrum. “I’m hoping for a solid race in Utah.”
In the 50-54 age-group, things are just as unpredictable. Last year’s Pan Am Champ, Margo Pitts, isn’t returning, and last year’s runner-up – Paula Maresh - has aged up. This year expect Michelle Blankenship, Linda Matheson, Robyn Kahn, and Michelle Yost to be excellent. Blankenship was second in this division at XTERRA Beaver Creek and third at Oak Mountain while Matheson was fourth at XTERRA Oak Mountain. Michelle Yost has only competed in one XTERRA so far this year – which she won – at XTERRA Lory, so her potential remains untapped. Meanwhile, Robyn Kahn, from the Northeast Region may sneak under the radar.
In the 55-59 division, there is a blaze of mountain biking glory with Paula Maresh joining this division. Additionally - Sharon McDowell-Larsen – a former competitive mountain biker – always shreds on the western dirt. She is the defending XTERRA Pan Am Champ and there is no doubt she is back to claim the title again in 2019. “When I first discovered XTERRA, I realized it was the perfect sport,” she said.
However, McDowell Larsen has competition in the form of 2017 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Janet Soule and 2016 Pan Am Champ Tammy Tabeek, in addition to Maresh. Soule was second in her age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek in July (behind McDowell-Larsen) and won her bracket in the tenuous XTERRA Tahoe City back in June. Meanwhile, Tabeek has been concentrating on mountain biking this year, most notably, with an outstanding performance at the Breck Epic in Colorado in August. While these three women will bring the hurt, we can’t discount Susan Moote, who won this division at XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Rockhopper and was sixth at XTERRA Beaver Creek.
In the 60-64 division, Gail Waldman is looking to lead, following her second-place finish at XTERRA Beaver Creek.
Men’s Amateur Races
In the men’s 15-19 age group, last year’s runner-up, Benny Smith, is raring to go … but he’s going to be competing in the elite category for his first pro XTERRA race ever. Without Smith and last year’s champ, Robbie Day, we look to Valentino Agnelli and Sam O’Brien.
In the 25-29 bracket, last year’s champ, Lukus Klawitter, is now in Fargo, North Dakota where he is working towards his Ph.D. He is still training like the champ he is, and we look forward to him coming back to the trails and schooling us in more ways than one. In his wake, Colin Grey, Sebastian Maarraoui, Matthew Taylor, and Anthony Farley will make up the race.
Moving up to the 30-34 division, the Northeast Region’s Steve Croucher may be the man to beat. The 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ is out to re-get his title in 2019. A former masters swim coach at the XTERRA Westin, Beaver Creek, Croucher’s former athletes included Josiah Middaugh and Jen Razee.
Now, Croucher is coached by elite XTERRA athlete and Suunto multi-sport team member Karsten Madsen.
“Karsten’s the guy,” said Croucher. “He’s taught me how to rest this year. And how to push the dial when it needs to be pushed.”
Croucher, who is the athletic director of Randolph Union High, in Vermont, is used to training while multi-tasking. This year, he won XTERRA Way Over Yonder – which is also next year’s site for the USAT 2020 Triathlon Off-Road National Championships.
In the 35-39 men’s bracket, Matthew Monnot, Herve Orgeas, Luke Alexander, Ryan Terry, and Caleb Guest, are all contenders. Monnot finished second in this age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek, second at XTERRA Tahoe City, and tenth at XTERRA Oak Mountain. Orgeas finished 3rd at XTERRA Beaver Creek, fifth at XTERRA Oak Mountain, third at XTERRA Bluebonnet, and fourth at XTERRA Magnolia Hill. Alexander won his age group at XTERRA JAX, and Fort Yargo and finished 4th at XTERRA EX2 and 11th at XTERRA Oak Mountain, while Terry finished third at XTERRA Tahoe City this year and Guest won XTERRA Deuces Wild back in June.
The 40-44 bracket attracts the same level of talent. The 2019 XTERRA Oak Mountain Age-Group Champ, Beaver Creek Age-Group Champ, and 2017 XTERRA Pan Am Champ – Mike Dorr - will be looking to take the top step of the podium again this year. He is up against Yaro Middaugh, Suunto multi-sport team member Ralph Nurse, and Kyle Herrig. Middaugh was second behind Dorr at Oak Mountain and won this bracket at Fort Yargo while Nurse was third at Oak Mountain, won his age group at XTERRA Ionia and Illinois Wild and was second at XTERRA DINO North and South. Kyle Herrig was second at XTERRA Deuces Wild while Jason Prince may also give chase.
Moving up to the 45-49 age group, last year’s 40-44 XTERRA Pan Am Age-Group Champ, CJ Castle, aged up and may again claim the title. So far in 2019, Castle was sixth at Beaver Creek, behind Eric Snowberg but was second at that same race last year. In August, at XTERRA Lake Tahoe, Castle was second in his age group behind second overall, Jason Lamoreaux, from Alaska. A firefighter and paramedic from Colorado, Castle has always been able to put his feet to the fire and come out on top.
Eric Snowberg – fifth at XTERRA Beaver Creek this year and second at XTERRA Oak Mountain – was the runner up last year at the XTERRA Pan Am Champs. An excellent swimmer, Snowberg is often out of the water first. This summer he won his age group at XTERRA Lory in Colorado, was second at XTERRA Oak Mountain and fifth at Beaver Creek.
In the 50-54 bracket, it’s another wild card as last year’s champs aren’t returning. This year’s contenders include Mike McGann, Paul Burns, Dan Lindsey, and Anthony Gotter. So far this year, McGann was fourth at XTERRA Beaver Creek, second at XTERRA Lory, and eighth at XTERRA Oak Mountain while Burns finished fifth at XTERRA Beaver Creek and fourth at XTERRA Indian Peaks. Lindsey was in the top ten at XTERRA Beaver Creek, Lory, and Tahoe, while Anthony Gotter was on the podium at XTERRA Illinois Wild. Mike Nahom is also a talented athlete from the Northeast Region, while Paul Burns brings the best from the west.
Moving up to the 55-59 division, it’s last year’s Pan Am Champ, Karl Edgerton facing off against this year’s Beaver Creek Champ, Steve Gayner. This year, Edgerton was second at XTERRA Oak Mountain, third at Beaver Creek, and won his division at Fruita, while this year, Gayner won his age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek. Also in the hunt for the podium steps are Morgan Stebbins, Robert Ballou, and Randy Miller.
In the 60-64 division, Cliff Millemann has been the man to beat this year. He won his bracket at XTERRA Oak Mountain, was second at Beaver Creek to Tom Monica, and was second at XTERRA Tahoe City to Dennis Brinson. In the 65-69 bracket, look for Frank George who won XTERRA Oak Mountain and was second at XTERRA Panther Creek and Fort Yargo. Kurt Dallow, from Colorado, will also be strong in this cohort. He was second at Beaver Creek and won his division at XTERRA Lory. In the 70-74 division, you can’t miss David Rakita, who will be cheered on by his elite son Branden.
We expect many more Tribe members to sign up for XTERRA Pan Am Champs in the days leading up to the race, which starts in the dark pre-dawn at the reservoir, heats up on the dry, late-summer mountain bike trails, and culminates in a lung-busting run at altitude. The course at Utah inspires athletes to bring their A-game, but it also has no mercy. As always, we expect the XTERRA Tribe to both shine and inspire as they take their season to the end.