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Stoltz and McQuaid win the XTERRA East Championship

Canadians Danelle Kabush and Katie Button crack the top ten.

Conrad Stoltz, 38, from Stellenbosch, South Africa and Melanie McQuaid, 38, from Victoria, B.C., Canada won the 14th edition of the XTERRA East Championship in downtown Richmond, Virginia this morning.

In a city with such a rich and colorful history it’s only appropriate that the sports most experienced stars stole the headlines.  For Stoltz, who “lost his heart to XTERRA in Richmond” back in 2001 it’s his seventh win in eight years, and for McQuaid the victory marks her 12th consecutive year in the top three.

“I just love Richmond, the course is amazing and really suits me,” said Stoltz, who had the fastest bike split by far in 1:21:00 despite doing an extra little out-and-back section that no one else did.

“On the first lap I caught Craig (Evans) and then five minutes later I caught him again.  Turns out a section had changed since when I went pre-riding and I wasn’t looking at the arrows,” Stoltz explained.

“He did the old course out-and-back,” said Evans, who followed the correct route.  “It was funny because a few minutes later I hear this loud chain slap behind me and thought, oh man Josiah or somebody is riding great and then Conrad comes by and says “where’d you go” and I said “I went straight, where’d you go?”

Evans tried to stay with him the second time around but conceded “he’s in a whole different league right now.”

On the second of the two 10-mile twisty, turny, tree and fanatic-fan filled roller coaster ride of a mountain bike course Stoltz followed the right arrow and got into his groove.

“First lap my head wasn’t in it, I wasn’t focused. So, on the second lap I was paying attention and saw where I went wrong.  The second lap I was just flying, it was so smooth and so much fun. There was a lot of spectators on the cliff all in costume, yelling, spraying beer and dancing around.  It was like riding through a circus.  It’s such a fun race, really the epitome of XTERRA.”

Stoltz took to the run with a big lead, had time to stretch out a twinge in his calf at the 6K mark, and sailed into the finish chute with his third straight win in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series.

Behind him Evans (pictured) – who had a career-best second-place finish three weeks ago at the XTERRA/ITU race in Alabama – kept the momentum going with the second-fastest bike split that was almost good enough to secure his second runner-up in a row.

“I’m super stoked. My fitness this year is best it’s ever been,” said Evans, who held on to second-position until the last river crossing over the Lee footbridge back to the finish.  “So close to being second again, but the legs weren’t responding well at the end of that one.”

Josiah Middaugh, the last man to win here in Richmond – back on Father’s Day in 2008 – overcame a series of mishaps on the bike to reel in Evans on the run with less than a mile to go.

“My chain was popping off the top part of the derailleur, and at one point it tied in two knots and pulled outside the derailleur and it took me forever to figure out how to get it fixed,” said Middaugh, who finished second for the second time this season (also at West Championship).  “That dropped me back into sixth place and I was way out of touch by the run transition.”

The breakout race of the day goes to Will “Mr. XTERRA” Kelsay (pictured) who turned the tide on a decade of being outside the top 5 and earned his way onto the podium. Kelsay overcame a three-minute deficit out of the swim by crushing the bike and the run (3rd fastest splits in both).  His fourth place finish marks his first trip to the podium in 10 years of racing on the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to have finally put all the pieces together and I am now racing at the level that I have wanted for so long,” said Kelsay, who was just sixth at the ITU Cross Tri World Champs last month.  “I’ve never been this fast before and I’m hoping to be even faster. One of these days I want to give the Caveman a run for his money on a course like this.”

Branden Rakita and David Henestrosa also had strong days, placing fifth and sixth respectively.  South African Bradley Weiss, in his first race head-to-head against the U.S. elites, impressed with a seventh-place showing. Also of note, Cody Waite had his best finish of the season in eighth, Adam Wirth had his strongest finish at a U.S. regional in ninth, and Ryan DeCook finished top 10 two years and earned some redemption after ripping apart his knee on this same course in 2010.

Pro Men

Pl  Name  Age  Hometown  Time

1 Conrad Stoltz 38 Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:18:23

2 Josiah Middaugh 33 Vail, Colorado 2:21:05

3 Craig Evans 34 Hendersonville, Tennessee 2:21:26

4 Will Kelsay 30 Boulder, Colorado 2:23:24

5 Branden Rakita 31 Colorado Springs, Colorado 2:24:53

6 David Henestrosa 35 Clearfield, Utah 2:26:30

7 Bradley Weiss 23 Cape Town, South Africa 2:27:44

8 Cody Waite 33 Lakewood, Colorado 2:29:20

9 Adam Wirth 33 Boise, Idaho 2:31:15

10 Ryan DeCook 31 Rochester Hills, Michigan 2:33:24

McQuaid Impressive In 12th Trip To River City

Melanie McQuaid led just about the entire race.  Suzie Snyder got out of the water first but McQuaid passed her on the long run to the transition area, then never looked back using her course knowledge and stellar bike handling skills to take a big lead onto the run that she would never relinquish.

“I’m so excited.  I voted myself least likely to succeed here and had extremely low expectations,” said McQuaid, who raced in a 70.3 road triathlon in tough, windy conditions 5,000 miles away in Hawaii last Saturday.  “The last two months since getting sick in Vegas were disappointing, and I just didn’t have the same kind of confidence.”

You can bet she got some of that swagger back today with an impressive performance that had her crossing the line in 2:36:09, just under two minutes ahead of Renata Bucher from Lucerne, Switzerland.

“Today was my last race for five weeks and it’s nice to end on a high-note,” said McQuaid.  “Usually I’m going this hard and it’s just whether or not I can get to the finish line.  Between the bike and the run the heat went up about 7,000 degrees. The run was really hot, especially on the dry way section.  What helped was so much encouragement from the aid stations, just super people here in Richmond.”

Bucher (pictured), who suffered a big bruise on her leg after a crash before the Alabama race last month, was equally thrilled with her day.

“Last two races I couldn’t run well because of the crash I had in Alabama,” Bucher explained.  “Today I ran for feeling, listened to my body, not focused on anybody and it was great.  I loved the course, and was really by myself for most of the day.  It was awesome.”

Reigning XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson managed the fastest run of the day despite a series of spills on a course that is more technical than most.

“This is too much of a mountain bikers course for me, but to come out with third despite crashing all over the place is pretty good.  I was getting hammered out there, but still had a blast.  What a fun place,” said Paterson, who had scratches and bruises head-to-tie from pre-riding and race day spills.

Shonny Vanlandingham had a strong bike to move her way into third by the bike-to-run transition and was only passed by Paterson, thus finishing fourth, with the speedy Danelle Kabush in fifth.  Snyder finished sixth, and Heather Holmes had her best showing in the U.S. in seventh.

Pro Women

Pl  Name  Age  Hometown  Time

1 Melanie McQuaid 38 Victoria, B.C., Canada 2:36:09

2 Renata Bucher 34 Lucerne, Switzerland 2:38:05

3 Lesley Paterson 31 San Diego, California 2:40:23

4 S. Vanlandingham 42 Durango, Colorado 2:40:48

5 Danelle Kabush 36 Calgary, Canada 2:43:31

6 Suzie Snyder 30 Fredericksburg, Virginia 2:46:37

7 Heather Holmes 31 Pocatello, Idaho 2:52:24

8 Katie Button 27 Stouffville, Ontario, Canada 2:57:12

9 Caroline Colonna 46 Taos, New Mexico 3:02:15

10 Tamara Donelson 36 Edwards, Colorado 3:06:04