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XTERRA East Championship Preview

This Sunday in Richmond, Virginia.

As the saying goes in XTERRA, Mother Nature is your toughest competitor – but you’ve got to watch out for Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz too.

Not this Sunday, however, as the four-time XTERRA World Champ – winner of seven of the last eight XTERRA East Championships in Richmond, including four in a row, will not be able to race due to a lingering calf injury.

“I wasn’t able to finish in Alabama a few weeks ago and since then I’ve been here and getting good treatment but have done just two tiny little runs to see if it’s OK,” explained Stoltz. “To me it’s not worth taking the risk of injuring it even further this weekend. It’ll be the first time since 2002 I won’t be able to race here and it’s very disappointing, I’d love to compete. I’ve been riding on the road quite a bit and can see my power is great on the bike and my fitness is really good so I’m tempted to go out there and just knock it, but it’s probably not the smart decision to make.”

On the bright side for XTERRA fans, Stoltz volunteered instead to be the race announcer for the live coverage Luck Stone is providing on Sunday, providing rare insight into the city, the sport and its competitors.

Also of note, XTERRA U.S. Pro Series leader Josiah Middaugh – the only man to steal a Richmond crown from Stoltz since 2005 – will stay at home in Vail, Colorado this weekend to defend his ultimate mountain challenge title, an event he’s won six years in a row. Since pros can drop one of their scores from the four regional races – and with two wins and the XTERRA Mountain Championship in Vail up next, he’ll still have the opportunity to post a perfect 300 score prior to Nationals.

That leaves Dan Hugo as the man to beat in Richmond and while he can appreciate the spotlight it’s not the manner in which he’d like to be the favourite.

“I’m bitterly sad Conrad is not racing this weekend,” said Hugo, who has been the runner-up in Richmond three times. “I’ve had prime seats many a time to see him ride, especially on a course like this. Those are footsteps none of us can follow.”

In an interesting role reversal it is now 24-year-old Brad Weiss -five years the junior to Hugo – playing the “South African youngster” tasked with stealing one from his elder countryman.

“I think what Conrad was to Dan as he started his XTERRA career, Dan has been to me. You need those role models to keep it going,” said Weiss, who has watched Stoltz career in awe as he amassed his unprecedented 46 XTERRA championship wins through the years.

“It’s difficult to realize how big of an impact Conrad has had on XTERRA back home. Until he leaves the sport people won’t realize just how much he has achieved and how hard that will be to replicate when he’s done. I would love to think I have the ability to do so, but until I’m 40 years old and still racing I can’t say the same. Just to get one XTERRA victory would be massive for me.”

For the record, Stoltz has no intention of fading into the sunset just yet, as his passion for racing still burns bright.

“My fitness is still picking up and there are things you can do to get faster and faster every year which is very encouraging,” said Stoltz. “I really enjoy being able to represent companies like Specialized and ride the best bikes around. As long as I enjoy it and as long as the fitness keeps going I’m going to keep racing. I love racing.”

There are several other XTERRA men in the pro field anxious to seize the opportunity to capture their first major XTERRA U.S. Pro Series win in Richmond. The bike course suits Craig Evans, who is only a year removed from a brilliant runner-up performance at the ITU Cross Tri Worlds, and the Colorado contingent of Branden Rakita, Ryan Ignatz, and Will Kelsay are all capable of putting it together Sunday.

Pro Men

Rank – Men – Age, Hometown

2t – Craig Evans – 35, Hendersonville, Tennessee

2t – Branden Rakita – 32, Colorado Springs, Colorado

4 – Will  Kelsay – 31, Boulder, Colorado

5t – Nick Fisher – 27, Ogden, Utah

8t – Conrad Stoltz – 39, Stellenbosch, South Africa

8t – Dan Hugo – 27, Stellenbosch, South Africa

10t – Bradley Weiss – 24, Cape Town, South Africa

10t – Ryan Ignatz – 34, Boulder, Colorado

15 – Cody Waite – 34, Lakewood, Colorado

17 – Will Ross – 23, Anchorage, Alaska

18 – Andy Lee – 41, Lakeway, Texas

21 - Tim Snow – 37, Brockton, Massachussetts

NR – Ryan DeCook – 32, Rochester Hills, Michigan

NR – Brad Zoller – 36, Cincinnati, Ohio

The women’s race, despite Lesley Paterson’s recent dominance, seems just as wide open as the men.

Melanie McQuaid has been on the podium in Richmond 12 straight years and won four times, including last year.

“This bike course, historically, has determined a lot of the finishing places where really good handling skills allow you to hold more speed. This course is relatively flat and requires a lot of power and I’m a bigger triathlete so it plays to my strength because it comes down to pure power rather than power-to-weight ratio,” explained McQuaid. “That said I’m certainly not going to rest on previous seasons. Shonny is stronger this year, Lesley is going really fast right now and the overall level in the women’s race is quite high, not just for XTERRA but all the girls in XTERRA are showing they are strong no matter what kind of triathlon it is.”

Vanlandingham has also won in Richmond (2011) and her run is starting to get back to where it was when she was winning all the time after a tough couple years recovering from a knee injury.

Brandi Heisterman is also an accomplished mountain biker and it’ll be interesting to see how fast she goes – especially with the rain coming down in Richmond creating some slippery conditions similar to what she rides on regularly.

“When it’s rainy here in Richmond the course gets technical, it’s actually quite slippery and the clay is gnarly,” said McQuaid, who said the “wetter the better” – a sentiment that would be shared by Heisterman and Vanlandingham.

There is also Suzie Snyder and Danelle Kabush, both of whom have proven they could come out on top should things fall into place.

Still, Paterson is the target. Since finishing third here last year the two-time XTERRA World Champ has won every XTERRA she’s entered, her bike handling skills have improved, and her run speed is unmatched.

Pro Women

Rank – Women – Age, Hometown

1 – Lesley Paterson – 32, San Diego, California

2 – Melanie McQuaid – 39, Victoria, B.C., Canada

3 – Suzie Snyder – 31, Fredericksburg, Virginia

4 – Shonny Vanlandingham – 44, Durango, Colorado

5 – Danelle Kabush – 37, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

6 – Brandi Heisterman – 37, Squamish, B.C., Canada

8 - Christine Jeffrey – 40, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

9 – Caroline Colonna – 48, Taos, New Mexico

13 – Katie Button – 28, Victoria, B.C., Canada

NR - Catherine Sterling – 36, West Boylston, Mass.

NR – Chantell Widney – 32, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

All-in-all the 15th edition of #xterraRVA promises to be an epic race and add to the legend of XTERRA’s finest urban adventure.

“It’s my favorite course, and probably globally my favorite experience,” said Hugo, who has been in town for nearly two weeks and written about its virtues on his blog. “The skyscrapers, great river and forest make for a ridiculously perfect XTERRA set-up that offers as much as any other. And you don’t need to explain XTERRA to anyone here. The history & legacy of XTERRA in Richmond is at a very high level.”