Francisco “Paco” Serrano and Renata Bucher captured the fifth edition of the XTERRA Mexico Championship on a picture perfect day for a sold-out field in the mountains of Tapalpa, Jalisco.
The morning sunrise shined a spotlight on the beauty of Valle de Lago, a private lake at 6,900-feet just up the road from the bustling tourist town of Tapalpa. The kids started the day, nearly 100 from six-to-sixteen-years-old, with mini XTERRA triathlons that made everyone smile with pride and optimism about the future of XTERRA in Mexico.
The pros were next with a non-wetsuit swim (legal for age groupers) that was right on the bubble of being wetsuit legal. Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey was thrilled, Shonny Vanlandingham was not.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I tend to implode in cold water,” smiled the 2010 XTERRA World Champ.
Jalisco-native Irving Perez was first out of the water by more than a minute and went on to finish fourth overall, his fourth consecutive top five finish at XTERRA Mexico. The race, however, would be an epic battle between the 2008 Olympian (Serrano) and last year’s Mexico runner-up Branden Rakita. The two came out of the water together (four seconds difference), went back-and-forth on the bike together (three seconds difference) and were neck-and-neck the entire run. The ultimate difference was 23 seconds.
“That was the closest race I’ve ever been in at an XTERRA for sure,” said Serrano. “We went back-and-forth the whole course. I was so close to first towards the end so I gave it a go on a downhill and my legs responded.”
Serrano had a flat on the bike, Rakita dropped his chain, and they both slipped side-to-side with the mud but after roughly 1,200 feet of climbing on the bike, which tops out at nearly 8,000-feet, they hit T2 (which sits at 6,700-feet) together.
“Today was gorgeous but we had some good rain in the days leading up and it made the course really muddy so we were slipping all over the place just trying to keep it together,” said Rakita.
The run here in Mexico is incredibly tough with 1,200-feet of climbing (600 per lap), a ton of stairs, and the relentless sun beating down on weary legs.
After the first lap when Serrano and Rakita came through “la plaza” with thousands of spectators in every direction, Rakita had about a 15-second lead.
“I was super happy to hold him through the first lap and after clearing the top of the climb on the second lap I thought I could do it but my legs started dying on the downhill and he sprinted by me. I mean he was flying, and I had nothing to respond. It hurts, to be that close and not come out on top but everyone knows Paco is a great runner. It’s neat for Paco, and I guess if I can’t win it’s good to see the home country take it,” said Rakita, who repeats as runner-up for the second straight year.
Behind those two Will Kelsay crashed hard on the bike and might have broken a finger, but toughed-out the rest of the course to finish third in Mexico for the second consecutive season. Perez edged Pablo Voigt Rodriguez by just six seconds for fourth place.
Top 5 Pro Men
1 Francisco Serrano MEX 2:20:02
2 Branden Rakita USA 2:20:25
3 Will Kelsay USA 2:28:37
4 Irving Perez MEX 2:32:21
5 Pablo Rodriguez MEX 2:32:27
BUCHER WINS 29TH IN 12TH COUNTRY
The “Swiss Miss of XTERRA” continues to leave a legacy wherever she goes on the XTERRA Planet. Her win today was the 29th championship of her career in 12 different countries, plus the territory of Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (Saipan).
“I’m just so happy; this was such an amazing experience. Beautiful people, beautiful course, so remarkable in every way,” said Bucher.
As expected the “Big Fish” Christine Jeffrey led out of the water (she came out with Serrano and Rakita), which is a great sign that the shoulder she broke earlier this year is mending nicely. A handful of fast Mexican swimmers followed with Michelle Flipo, Dunia Gomez, 2008 Olympian Fabiola Corona, and Daniela Campuzano. Bucher came out of the water more than four minutes back and last year’s champ Shonny Vanlandingham was a full six-minutes behind.
The chase was on, and Bucher was up to the task, weaving in-and-out of the field and catching Jeffrey on the big climb about a third-way through the bike. Once in front she never let up, knowing the mountain bike prowess of Shonny V. Bucher ended up having the fastest bike split – a 1:24:43, then exited transition like a rocket and posted the fastest run of the day as well.
“It’s amazing, I feel so lucky,” said Bucher at the finish line. “I really wanted to come to Mexico so I choose this race over the European races and I’m super happy. It’s a great course, lots of climbing, lots of mud – definitely not easy but so beautiful.”
Mexican mountain bike pro Daniela Campuzano worked her way from sixth out of the water to second at the transition but didn’t have the run today and faded to eighth overall female.
Vanlandingham moved past Campuzano on the run to finish second, followed by Jeffrey, Corona, and Ana Guzman in fifth.
“So happy to finally put all this year’s troubles behind me,” posted Jeffrey on her facebook page. “3rd today behind fast chicks Renata Bucher and Shonny V. XTERRA Mexico totally delivered with a spectacular, tough and muddy course.”
Top 5 Pro Women
1 Renata Bucher SUI 2:39:29
2 Shonny Vanlandingham USA 2:46:28
3 Christine Jeffrey CAN 2:48:23
4 Fabiola Corona MEX 2:48:44
5 Ana Guzman Fuerte MEX 2:49:28
Now, it’s time to party. As the racers go to their hotels to clean up, wash the bikes – organizers are transforming the village square for the awards presentation where 40 fast amateur athletes will receive their entry certificate into the XTERRA World Championship. What follows is the ultimate XTERRA party.
“The fiesta, really, it’s the best after-party anywhere,” said Vanlandingham, on why she returns to race XTERRA Mexico year-after-year. “This event is the best fun, and it’s easy to get to it. If you want to go to an international race, this is easier logistically than a lot of the U.S. events. The organizers are great, the course is very well marked, and it’s very professional. And, it’s good mountain biking, the venue is beautiful, both the lake and the town. You get to experience the culture, and see the excitement in town. It’s definitely one of my favorite XTERRA’s anywhere.
Rakita concurs, saying “It’s crazy, complete awesome. Here you have a family atmosphere, and that’s what I really enjoy about the sport – nothing really beats it.”
Next on the XTERRA World Tour: The XTERRA Mexico Championship is one of 16 major World Tour championship events. The XTERRA Czech Championship was also held today, with Nico Lebrun and Helena Erbanova emerging victorious. Next up, XTERRA Germany in a week, then Japan, Canada, the USA Championship to conclude the America Tour, the Switzerland Championship that culminates the Euro Tour … and Maui!