Smiles ruled the day as Conrad Stoltz, 37, from South Africa and Lesley Paterson, 30, of Scotland won the inaugural XTERRA Pacific Championship at Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, California.
The tone was set by XTERRA great Jamie Whitmore (pictured above), the most successful off-road triathlete of all-time with a world title and 37 championship wins, who was back on the bike and in her first race since 2007 after a bout with cancer that took her glute muscle, hamstring, calf and left her with no feeling in her foot. With a help of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and a brace for her leg, she raced and won the physically challenged division of the XTERRA sport race to the heart-warming admiration and joy of the entire XTERRA community.
Combine the good vibes from Whitmore with the sexy swim start spot right on the Santa Cruz Wharf with crowds lining the pier, waves crashing on the shore, and the sun shining brightly on a cool and crisp Northern California morning and you had all the right ingredients for a fabulous event.
The victory for the “Caveman,” however, didn’t come easy as his fellow countryman Dan Hugo pushed him to the extent of his resources.
“I’m really happy to win here today because it’s been a tough week, a tough couple weeks actually as I’ve been sick since I got back from Spain,” said Stoltz, who won the ITU Cross Tri World Championship in Spain on April 30. “Since then I swam once and ran once. Yesterday I didn’t feel like racing, and the day before I was in bed all day, so today I just really hung in there because it was tough. Glad I won this race despite everything not going to well. That’s what the Caveman’s all about.”
Feeling less than perfect was a common theme for the dozen elites who competed in Spain, with nearly the whole lot suffering from some bug or another.
Hugo showed little sympathy as he spun his way into the lead on the bike during the first few miles and put nearly the entire field out of contention by the midway point. The race narrowed to three main players – Hugo, Stoltz, and Seth Wealing by the time they hit a piece of majestic redwood forest singletrack trail at Wilder aptly named “Enchanted”.
As has long been the case, Stoltz is deadly on downhills and after a few thousand feet of climbing the course pointed down and the four-time XTERRA World Champ made his move.
“He’s simply magical. So incredible to watch when he’s on his game, out of the saddle twisted to one side, and never a thought of touching the brakes,” recounted Hugo, who did his best to stay with Stoltz but ultimately came into the bike-to-run transition a little less than a minute back.
The two posted nearly identical run splits as the Caveman dug deep to tap his instinct for victory. He was clearly exhausted and relieved after crossing the line in 2:12:51, 47-seconds ahead of Hugo.
“I’m really excited that XTERRA is back in California, the birthplace of triathlon and Santa Cruz is so quirky and funny and crazy. I love it here and can’t wait to come again,” said Stoltz at the awards ceremony.
Wealing was first out of the water along with Branden Rakita and Christine Jeffrey and he also had the fastest run split to rally for a third place finish, a little more than a minute behind Hugo.
“This course is an aerobic monster and you needed to be fit and firing for this race because there was no place to hide,” explained Wealing. “And the rain that came last night changed the course dynamic, adding some snotty and slippery sections to the downhills.”
Middaugh was three minutes behind Wealing in fourth, and Branden Rakita was nearly another three minutes behind Middaugh in fifth. Trevor Glavin had his best race as an XTERRA pro in sixth place, and remarkably just a week after finishing 19th overall in 9 hours, 34 minutes at Ironman St. George.
Cody Waite had his best showing of the season in 7th, followed by Craig Evans, Chris Stehula, and Santa Cruz local pro Eric Clarkson. Shiloh Mielke ran his way into 11th, while former Santa Cruz resident and pro mountain biker Barry Wicks dropped a few spots after having the third best bike split to 12th.
1 Conrad Stoltz Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:12:51
2 Dan Hugo Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:13:38
3 Seth Wealing Boulder, Colorado 2:14:49
4 Josiah Middaugh Vail, Colorado 2:18:11
5 Branden Rakita Manitou Springs, Colorado 2:20:59
PATERSON WINS FIRST XTERRA CHAMPIONSHIP
After four runner-up finishes in the last three years, including a second-place finish at XTERRA Worlds in 2009, Lesley Paterson finally got herself a championship.
The petite but incredibly powerful Scottish triathlete who lives down the coast in San Diego, strung together the second-fastest swim, third-best bike, and fastest run by far for a winning time of 2:33:13.
“This is awesome,” exclaimed Paterson after crossing the line. “I hit it hard the whole way, and loved the course. The bike was awesome, and the run really suits me because it’s a leg speed course and that’s what I’ve got.”
Paterson came into the bike-to-run transition in second and started chasing Swiss sensation Renata Bucher. She caught her about a mile-half into the run and pulled away from there, finishing more than two minutes ahead.
The victory is especially sweet for Paterson as it was her first XTERRA of the season due to a groin injury that kept her out of racing for months.
“I couldn’t run for about 10 weeks, but sometimes that’s a good thing. You learn from it, you move on from it, and it made me hungry to get going again,” said Paterson.
Bucher was thrilled with second, and said she attacked every hill with all she had. Her 1:27:47 bike split was almost a minute faster than that of mountain biking legend and reigning XTERRA World Champ Shonny Vanlandingham, and she was happy that she still had enough in her legs to hold off Emma Garrard (who she had recently been training with in Switzerland).
Garrard had the best race of her XTERRA career to finish in third, just 27 seconds behind Bucher.
Vanlandingham, McQuaid, and Jeffrey (who had placed 2nd, 1st, and 3rd in each of the first two races) finished uncharacteristically in fourth, fifth, and sixth, with all three feeling under the weather.
The weather itself in Santa Cruz was chilly but cooperative. After a night of driving rain the sun came out for the 8:30am swim start and stayed out until just after Paterson crossed the line.
All told, several hundred athletes from across the country had high praises for the new course that is sure to become one of the staples of XTERRA racing for years to come.
1 Lesley Paterson San Diego, California 2:33:13
2 Renata Bucher Lucerne, Switzerland 2:35:50
3 Emma Garrard Park City, Utah 2:36:17
4 Shonny Vanlandingham Durango, Colorado 2:36:53
5 Melanie McQuaid Victoria, B.C., Canada 2:37:43
6 Christine Jeffrey Guelph, Ontario, Canada 2:40:10