Conrad Stoltz, 37, of Stellenbosch, South Africa and Shonny Vanlandingham, 42, of Durango, Colorado won the 13th annual XTERRA East Championship in Richmond, Virginia.
It’s the third straight year Stoltz, a two-time Olympian and four-time XTERRA World Champion, has won the event and it’s his sixth victory in Richmond since 2005. Even more impressive, the day marked Stoltz 10-year anniversary with XTERRA.
“Back in 2001 I was just an innocent roadie thinking I had reached the pinnacle of triathlon going to the Olympic games and I came to Richmond for my first XTERRA,” said Stoltz. ”I borrowed this 35-pound soft ride bike a week before the race and came out just to see what XTERRA was all about, and I was blown away. Mike Vine won, I got second, Nico Lebrun was third, Steve Larsen was fourth, and Ned Overend was fifth. After the race Steve and Ned came over to me and said ‘welcome to XTERRA, great to see you.’ The people were so friendly and I had such a good time that XTERRA became my goal. I really lost my heart to XTERRA in Richmond.”
Likewise, Richmond is infatuated with Stoltz, and the forest surrounding the incredible James River Park System trails are packed every year with locals coming out to see the “Caveman” crush it. He did not disappoint. Stoltz splashed out of the James River in third place just a few seconds behind Craig Evans and fellow countryman Dan Hugo (pictured). He was four seconds behind Evans leaving the transition area, and in first place just a few moments later.
“An 800 watt sprint out of the transition area and he’s gone, and I’m still trying to get in my shoes. It’s amazing. The first kilometer on the bike he’s putting down 500 watts and I’m thinking to myself this is the moment, I’ve got to be on his wheels, but the power he generates,” said Hugo, who has now finished second behind Stoltz in the last three XTERRA regionals and second here in Richmond for the third time in four years. “Just call me silver Stephanie,” he joked, and added that the “fun factor” of this course was off-the-charts
Indeed, Stoltz had more than two minutes on Hugo by the second 10-mile loop of the bike, with Evans another two minutes behind Hugo, and Branden Rakita and Nicolas Lebrun a close fourth and fifth. His 20-mile bike split through the forest maze was 1:24:12 – three minutes faster than Hugo, six better than Evans, seven quicker than Rakita, eight faster than Lebrun and on, and on.
Stoltz never let down on the run, posting the third best time, and pumped his fist high as he crossed the finish line for his 41st XTERRA championship win since 2001. To celebrate, he’ll head home to South Africa for the first time during the winter in 20 years.
“I’m going to visit my Dad on the farm and celebrate Father’s Day with him, spend time with my fiancée, plan a wedding, and gear up for the South Africa time trials to see if I can qualify for the Olympics,” smiled Stoltz, who will return to the U.S. in late September to defend his XTERRA USA Championship in Utah and try to win the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series for the ninth time.
While the duo from Stellenbosch (pictured) were cooling off and talking with the media Frenchman Nico Lebrun – who like Stoltz started his XTERRA career here in Richmond in 2001 – was hard at work posting the fastest run split to overtake Evans and Rakita to finish 3rd – his best result of the season (and sixth time in the top 3 in Richmond).
“Today for the first time in a while I had good energy and was able to catch Branden on Belle Isle, but it is amazing what Conrad and Dan can do on this kind of course. I was really far away from them,” said Lebrun, who is amazing himself when the course is better suited to his strengths (altitude and climbing).
Rakita, incredibly, had the fourth best swim, bike, and run times and finished in fourth place. Evans had the fastest swim and third-best bike to enter T2 in third, but was passed by Rakita and Lebrun on the run and finished 5th.
Brad Zoller, a pilot who rowed crew at Purdue, had the best race of his pro XTERRA career to finish in 6th and the young Will Ross from Anchorage, Alaska had his best result in 7th.
Top 5 Men
1. Conrad Stoltz Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:20:21
2. Dan Hugo Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:22:37
3. Nicolas Lebrun Digne, France 2:28:02
4. Branden Rakita Manitou Springs, Colorado 2:28:10
5. Craig Evans Hendersonville, Tennessee 2:32:12
After finishing 3rd in 2008 and 2nd in 2009 and 2010, Shonny Vanlandingham finally won it all in Richmond. The reigning XTERRA World Champion had the fastest bike and run splits by far to erase a two-minute deficit coming out of the water.
“I’ve been working on my swim and I felt like I improved. I know it’s a shorter swim than normal but when I heard I was only two minutes back I was excited,” said Vanlandingham.
The Richmond swim is shorter than the typical 1.5km course, but the most unique you’ll find anywhere. It starts underneath train tracks and zig-zags its way side-to-side going with and against river currents (that you can’t see but certainly can feel). The water level in the James was about perfect this year, but there were still sections where competitors had to stand and walk. Then they have to get out of the water at Belle Isle, shuffle across a dirt trail, jump in and zigzag their way back across the river. It took a little more than 14 minutes for the leaders this year, about five minutes longer than in years past. Likewise, the new two-loop bike course was significantly longer, and was reflected in the winning times which we’re the longest in race history. The course consisted of a one-kilometer swim, 32-kilometer mountain bike, and a 10-kilometer trail run.
For Vanlandingham, getting through this wacky course the quickest was of utmost importance. ”It was do or die here today because I needed the points if I was going to challenge for the overall Pro Series title. The pressure was on and I was happy to pull this one out,” said Vanlandingham, the most successful NORBA mountain biker of all-time and seven-time member of the U.S. National mountain biking team. Vanlandingham trailed XTERRA U.S. Pro Series points leader Melanie McQuaid from Canada by two minutes after the swim, caught her at about mile 15 of the bike and the two rode together for a few miles before Vanlandingham pulled away. She finished more than three minutes ahead of McQuaid.
“I’m happy with today,” said McQuaid. “It went well and I stayed in the race for a while considering I didn’t have the power I would’ve like. I’ve been racing a lot and I’m not as fast as I was earlier in the year.”
McQuaid is juggling a 70.3 racing schedule on top of XTERRA, and just finished third at a 70.3 race last weekend.
“Now I’m going to go home, take a month off and recover,” said McQuaid, who will not race at the last regional of the season in Colorado next month. What that means is Vanlandingham has the chance to secure big points at the Mountain Champs and make it a head-to-head duel for the Pro Series title at the XTERRA USA Championship at Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah on September 24.
Suzie Snyder, the two-time age group XTERRA World Champ who turned pro last year, came into the race healthy and rested for the first time in a while and it showed. Snyder reeled in Christine Jeffrey early on the bike to move into second place, was passed by Shonny on the first lap and stayed in third the rest of the way. It’s her best-ever XTERRA result as a professional but not unprecedented, remember she placed 5th at XTERRA Worlds last year.
“Fun day,” said Snyder. “The weather was great, the course was fantastic, I felt strong, and was able to race hard all day. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”
Jeffrey was solid all around to finish in fourth, while Jessica Noyola cracked the top five for the first time in her pro career. Also of note, Caroline Colonna – at 47-years-old, finished sixth on the day and sits in seventh in the Pro Series standings.
Top 5 Women
1. Shonny Vanlandingham Durango, Colorado 2:37:58
2. Melanie McQuaid Victoria, B.C. 2:41:53
3. Suzie Snyder Fredericksburg, Virginia 2:49:01
4. Christine Jeffrey Guelph, Ontario 2:59:35
5. Jessica Noyola San Diego, California 3:00:20
Stoltz has a stranglehold on the Pro Series having won four of the first five regionals and finishing second to Josiah Middaugh in the other. With 490 points he’ll sit out the Mountain Championship and enter the USA Championship race in stellar position. Branden Rakita jumped from third to second place in the series with the absence of Josiah Middaugh – who will be racing at home in the Mountain Championship next month. If Middaugh should win that race, he’d be in second with 447 points entering the USA Champs – still a long way from Stoltz but with a mathematical shot at the Pro Series title nonetheless.
The women’s series got a whole lot more interesting with Vanlandingham’s victory Sunday. Should she win the Mountain Championship next month (and remember McQuaid is not racing there) she’d end up with 470 points, 11 more than McQuaid. Thus, Vanlandingham could defend her Pro Series title even if McQuaid won in Utah and she finished second. Still a lot of ‘ifs’, and thank goodness it’s all decided in the dirt.
Next stop: Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado for the XTERRA Mountain Championship on July 16.