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Previewing Sunday’s XTERRA Canada Championship

Vine, Guest, McQuaid, Kaubush and Jeffrey are among the top contenders.

While the XTERRA Canada Championship race is being held at the Canmore Nordic Center for the first-time, the scenic venue is no stranger to two of the main contenders in the pro race.

Mike Vine and Danelle Kabush have raced on, and won, the XTERRA Alberta provincial championships on this turf in each of the last two years.

“Canmore is tailor-made for me with the altitude, big mountains, shorter swim, vertical bike, and plenty of track over the ride and run,” said Vine after his win in 2010.

On Sunday, however, the “Vineman” will be up against much tougher competition with American XTERRA specialist Branden Rakita (Boulder, CO), Canadian off-road tri champ Kelly Guest (Victoria), and 2008 Olympic triathlete Paul Tichelaar all in the mix.

Rakita recently finished second at the XTERRA Mexico Championship, one of five podium finishes for the 31-year-old at XTERRA World Tour championship races in Guam, the Philippines, and the U.S. Guest was most recently the fastest Canadian (7th overall) against the best in the world at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships held in Pelham, Alabama in May and for Tichelaar, long one of the country’s fastest triathletes, Sunday will mark his XTERRA debut.

The women’s race is stacked with fast and established XTERRA stars highlighted by three-time XTERRA World Champion Melanie McQuaid.  McQuaid, who has won just about every XTERRA and off-road triathlon event ever staged in Canada since joining the sport a decade ago, will have her work cut out for her this year.

Foremost among her competitors is fellow Canadian Danelle Kabush, who not only knows the course well, but is coming off her first-ever XTERRA U.S. Pro Series race win at the Mountain Champs in Colorado’s Rockies this July.  In that same race Suzie Snyder was 3rd, Renata Bucher 4th, and McQuaid 5th.

“Canmore has my favorite XTERRA run course,” wrote Kabush after last year’s race in Canmore.  “The two-lap run course is full of rooty, twisty, fun single-track that takes so much focus to navigate that you can forget that you’re actually suffering at race pace.”

A twisty run course will also play to the strength of Bucher, the “Swiss Miss” of XTERRA who has notched 29 championship wins in 12 different countries over the course of her career.

Brandi Heisterman, one of Canada’s best female mountain bikers, finished 2nd at the XTERRA Canada Champs in Whistler last year in her XTERRA debut, and followed that with an impressive ninth overall at the XTERRA World Championship.

Other notables include Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey, who came back strong from injuries to finish third at XTERRA Mexico last month, and American Suzie Snyder who is having one of her best seasons as a pro.  Katie Button from Stouffville is in her first-year as an XTERRA pro and Chantell Widney from Edmonton is an ITU road tri racer making her XTERRA debut in Canmore.

For pros there is $10,000 in prize money up for grabs on   Sunday, and for amateurs – 40 qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship to be held Oct. 28 at Kapalua, Maui.

XTERRA Canada Pro Men :  Name – Age, Hometown
Kelly Guest – 35, Victoria, British Columbia
Branden Rakita – 31, Manitou Springs, Colorado, USA
Paul Tichelaar – 29, Edmonton, Alberta (2008 Olympian)
Mike Vine – 39, Edmonton, Alberta

XTERRA Canada Pro Women : Name – Age, Hometown
Renata Bucher – 34, Lucerne, Switzerland
Katie Button – 28, Stouffville, Ontario
Brandi Heisterman – 36, Brackendale, British Columbia
Christine Jeffrey – 39, Guelph, Ontario
Danelle Kabush – 36, Calgary, Alberta
Melanie McQuaid – 38, Victoria, British Columbia
Suzie Snyder – 29, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA
Chantell Widney – 32, Edmonton, Alberta

Year    Men’s Champ          Women’s Champ
2011    Josiah Middaugh    Melanie McQuaid
2010    Josiah Middaugh    Melanie McQuaid
2004    Josiah Middaugh    Melanie McQuaid
2003    Justin Thomas       Melanie McQuaid
2000    Mike Vine              Kerstin Weule