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XTERRA Mountain Championships

Lebrun and Vanlandingham win.

France’s Nico Lebrun and the USA’s Shonny Vanlandingham won the XTERRA Mountain Championship off-road triathlon on a beautiful, blue sky day at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado yesterday afternoon.

It’s the second straight year Lebrun has won the title, and the third in a row for Vanlandingham.

The day started with a mile swim in the 68-degree waters of Nottingham Lake but was decided on the 15.5-mile mountain bike section that included more than 3,000 feet of climbing from 7,400 to 9,500 feet elevation. That’s where Lebrun used the climbing skills he developed while growing up in the French Alps to make up a two-minute deficit on the swim leaders. By mile nine Lebrun was in front, and despite a tight chase pack that consisted of Seth Wealing, Josiah Middaugh, and Branden Rakita, he was able to hold off all chargers and win his second XTERRA championship race in seven days (he won XTERRA France last Saturday).

“This race is so hard because of the altitude. You can’t breathe and you feel terrible so you just have to judge how you are doing by where you are against the others. So when I passed Josiah, and then I saw Dan and Seth I thought I must be doing o.k.,” said Lebrun, the 2005 XTERRA World Champ.

Rakita, one of the 15 pros from Colorado in this race (out of 24), was Lebrun’s last hurdle (pictured).  Rakita had the best swim (17:57), was the first rider up the big climb that gained 2,000 feet in five miles straight out of the swim, and held the lead until about mile nine before Lebrun made his move. Where the other riders had a chance was on the downhill, as Lebrun was riding an incredibly light bike (19lbs) that was meant for climbing, but not so much for descending.

“I pushed on the uphills because my bike is great for climbing but I was cautious on the downhills because the lighter tires are slippery, and I didn’t want to risk a crash. I knew that if I could get out on the run close then I would be in good position.”

Indeed he was, heading out on the run in first but not by much. As Lebrun left transition he could hear the announcers calling in Middaugh, Wealing, and Rakita.

“When I heard they were all right behind me I thought ‘oh no’ because Seth and Josiah are really fast runners, so I went as hard as I could on the first climb (600 feet) so I could be out of sight of those two and hopefully take away some of their motivation. I was running like it was a 5k and not a 10k and so I really suffered on the last climb (also 600 feet) but luckily was able to hold on,” said Lebrun.

Wealing, who is on a racing path that could lead to representing Team USA at the London Olympics, showed that his training is in prime form. Despite going off-course and missing a buoy during the swim that cost him maybe a minute he recovered nicely and was strong all day. Considering he had the fastest run and finished just 23 seconds behind Lebrun one can only wonder how the race might have played out without the miscue.

Middaugh, meanwhile, who lives just a few minutes down the road from this course and was favored by many to win because he’s had such a strong season (fastest run split and 2nd place finishes in three of the last four races) just didn’t have the power today.

“I really don’t know what happened,” said Middaugh after the race as his two-month old daughter Larsen took a nap on his chest. “It was just one of those days, and I kept pushing and waiting for my legs to kick in and feel strong but it just never happened.”

The results were similar to last year when Lebrun won, Mike Vine (who did not race today) was second, Middaugh third, Waite fourth and Rakita fifth.

Shonny Vanlandingham had the body markers put a “41” on her calf before the race, and it was a number (her age) that super strong women nearly half her age barely got a glimpse of all day.

The two-time XTERRA National Champ was more than two minutes behind the swim leader Suzie Snyder but absolutely crushed the bike course and finished more than seven minutes ahead of eventual runner-up Sara Tarkington. Vanlandingham’s bike split was 1:22:51. The second best women’s split was 1:28:18, posted by XTERRA Amazon champ Jenny Smith who came in third today.

“I love high mountain riding,” smiled Vanlandingham after the race as she stood next to her proud father who rode his motorcycle all the way from Texas to take in the event. “I’ve spent the last 12 years in Durango, and the last four weeks riding up in the mountains so I just felt really good.”

While “Shonny V” rode away from the field Tarkington – who holds down a full-time job as a social worker in Boulder – was busy having her best day in XTERRA, topping only her third place finish at this race last year. Emma Garrard finished fourth for the third time this season on the same day her 61-year-old dad completed his first-ever triathlon (and won his age group!) at the XTERRA Hammerman off-road triathlon in Alaska. In fifth place was Snyder, a former amateur XTERRA National Champ in her first big race as a pro.

Top 5 Pro Men

1. Nico Lebrun (FRA)  2:13:51

2. Seth Wealing (USA)  2:14:14

3. Josiah Middaugh (USA)  2:16:34

4. Branden Rakita (USA)  2:17:08

5. Cody Waite (USA)  2:21:09

Top 5 Pro Women

1. Shonny Vanlandingham (USA)  2:31:58

2. Sara Tarkington (USA)  2:39:34

3. Jenny Smith (USA)  2:42:33

4. Emma Garrard (USA)  2:45:32

5. Suzie Snyder (USA)  2:46:02