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Previewing XTERRA Mexico

Guelph's Christine Jeffrey returns to racing tomorrow in Tapalpa.

Four years ago Francisco “Paco” Serrano and Fabiola Corona raced against some of the best road triathletes in the world at the Olympics in Beijing, China.  Tomorrow (Saturday) they’ll race against some of the best off-road triathletes in the world in their home country at the XTERRA Mexico Championship.

It may not be London but this old-style mountain “magic” town in Tapalpa, Jalisco is sold-out, excited, and ready for a great race and an even better party.

2010 XTERRA World Champion Shonny Vanlandingham knows first-hand of the electric atmosphere having won last year’s race, which made her an instant rock star.  This is her fourth straight trip to XTERRA Mexico and she’s won two of the last three (Corona won in 2010).

Vanlandingham says she’s feeling much better after catching a bug that kept her out of action at the Mountain Championship in Colorado three weeks ago.  Healthy or not, she’ll have her hands full with Renata Bucher, Fabiola Corona, and Christine Jeffrey.

Bucher, the “Swiss Miss of XTERRA”, seems to be on a mission to collect XTERRA titles like souvenirs around the world.  Since her career started in 2004 she has won 28 championship races in 11 different countries, the territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (Saipan).  She started the season with victories at XTERRA Guam, Philippines, and Saipan on consecutive weekends, then went to the U.S. and won the West Championship.  She’s had the best year of anyone in the field and should she have a clean race she’ll be hard to beat.

For Fabiola Corona this race provides an opportunity to show her strength and prowess in triathlon to an exuberant home country crowd.  Corona, who has been the ultimate guide for the visiting athletes since their arrival, won XTERRA Mexico in 2010, was 2nd last year and 2006, and third in ’09.

For the “Big Fish” Christine Jeffrey (pictured below with Paco Serrano after Thursday’s pre-ride) it’s all about seeing where she’s at.  After nearly eight months of rehab on a series of injuries, Jeffrey says she’s 100% on the bike and run and 90% on the swim (which would still have her coming out of the swim in the lead).

The course itself mixes a cold-water swim in a private lake nearly 7,000-feet above sea-level, with a mountain bike that heads from the lake through the serene forests and into the bustling little town, and a grueling “super steep” two-loop run that passes through town where spectators are packed four-deep yelling “andale! Arriba!”

The men’s race should be equally exciting with three guys seemingly perfectly matched-up for one another.  Francisco “Paco” Serrano, who won the first-ever XTERRA Mexico title back in 2006 and was one of the top XTERRA men for years, it’s a chance to get dirty and ride his mountain bike – a nice mix in scenery from his road triathlon schedule.

“Mr. XTERRA” Will Kelsay is having the best season of his career, with a sixth-place finish at the ITU Cross Tri World Championships followed with a fourth-place showing at the XTERRA East Championships in Richmond.  Certainly Kelsay would like nothing better than to put an exclamation point on the summer with his first-ever XTERRA Championship title.

Perhaps the favorite, however, is Branden Rakita, who was second at this race last season.  Rakita hasn’t put everything together in a single race yet this year, but if he does on Saturday he’ll be hard to beat and like Kelsay, rest assured he wants that first XTERRA Championship title.

Despite the anticipation of great races it seems most are more excited for the after-party fiesta which “is like nothing we see in the U.S.,” said Vanlandingham.

“Huge Fireworks, big band, and it seemed like the whole city was there for the party,” explained Will Kelsay.  “The energy was through the roof.”

Find out more at XTERRA Mexico.