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XTERRA New Zealand on Saturday

XTERRA West Championship on Sunday in Nevada.

XTERRA New Zealand Championship Preview

Race goes Saturday April 9

2009 XTERRA New Zealand Champion and World Adventure Racing Champion, Richard Ussher leads a strong men’s field at this year’s Paymark XTERRA Rotorua Festival on April 9, 2011.

The XTERRA Rotorua Festival takes place on the shores of the Blue Lake in Rotorua, a stunning setting for the 2000-strong field of entrants.

Event options include an 11km or 21km walk or run, a 29km mountain bike or an individual or team triathlon.

XTERRA New Zealand is considered the world’s largest single day XTERRA off-road triathlon festival and has seen close to 20,000 people take part over its nine year history.

It is not only the qualification for the World XTERRA World Championships in Maui this year that attracts Ussher back to this event, as he explains.

“I just love coming back to this race, the whole event just has a great feeling about it, great course, great people involved and its very laid back. Plus some good racing, it always seems to be close at the front which is great for racers and spectators alike.”

And this year won’t be any different when it comes to close, fast racing.

Hoping to upset this powerhouse of multisport racing will be defending champion Scott Thorne as well as multiple podium place getter, Mark Leishman and Australian triathlete, Ben Allen.

Thorne comes to the race with a full complement of medals and will be looking for nothing less than another gold to add to that collection.

Leishman and Thorne will start with the most experience over the course having been racing here since 2005. In contrast Ben Allen (Australia) will be on the start line with no course experience but with international XTERRA credentials. Allen placed 5th at XTERRA Switzerland in 2010 and this year wants to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships.

The women’s field will also have an Australian influence with Melissa Vandewater, who comes to the race in great form and in five year history of impressive results in the sport of triathlon including a 2011 win at the prestigious Gatorade Triathlon Series in Melbourne.

She will be taking on the Kiwi girls, who between just two of them have nine XTERRA Rotorua podium medals between them.

Sonia Foote is XTERRA Rotorua’s most frequent visitor to the dais, having won six medals over the events nine year history. While Susan Wood will be aiming for an illusive gold medal to add to her two silver and one bronze medal already won.

The scene is set for some great racing at an incredibly stunning venue, check out images and results at www.xterranz.com.

XTERRA West Championship Preview

Race goes Sunday April 10

At the XTERRA West Champs in 2009 Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz and Josiah Middaugh traded paint Nascar-style for most of the run before the World Champ pulled away and took the tape by 32 seconds. It was some of the best back-and-forth spectator friendly racing XTERRA has ever seen.

Last year, same spot in the southern Nevada desert, Stoltz heads out on the run with a 2:15 advantage over Middaugh but energized with a fresh set of legs (Middaugh had fixed an IT band issue in the off-season) the American nearly chases Stoltz down and the margin of victory for the Caveman narrowed to just 39 seconds.

With all due respect to the other 20 guys on the pro start list, the desert seems to be a ring reserved for Stoltz and Middaugh. Both are animals in the off-season and are sure to come in to this one in fine shape.

Stoltz has the advantage. He’s won the last four XTERRA West Championship races to start the season. The Caveman spent his off-season in his hometown of Stellenbosch, South Africa – won a 94.7 mountain bike race (where he upset MTB legend Burry Stander), finished fourth at the South Africa Time Trials, and won XTERRA Buffelspoort. He was sick at the XTERRA SA Champs and did not finish, but that had nothing to do with conditioning.

Middaugh (pictured below) did all his “off-season” training in the cold temps he feels right at home in having grown up in northern Michigan. Among his winter achievements, he won the USAT Winter Triathlon National Championship, the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon and the North American Snowshoe Championship (for about the eighth time).

Should make for an electric match-up and certainly a great early season showdown taking into consideration that in addition to those two heavyweights, nine of the top 10 men in last year’s XTERRA U.S. Pro Series will be on the start line – minus only Dan Hugo who meets up with the tour starting in May.

Former World Champ Nico Lebrun from France, former XTERRA Italy champion David Henestrosa from Spain, and top 10 Maui finisher Jim Thijs from Belgium add some European flair to the event.

The Colorado crew will be in full force with former USA Champ Seth Wealing, plus Cody Waite, Branden Rakita, Will Kelsay and Brian Smith (who was third here last year). Plus, the Centennial State collection of pros got even bigger in the off-season as two-time amateur USA Champ Jason Michalak, USA amateur runner-up Shiloh Mielke, and super swimmer Patrick Valentine all turned pro and will be making their debuts on April 10.

XTERRA World Champ Shonny Vanlandingham already has two titles to her credit in 2011, as she won the inaugural XTERRA Philippines Championship then the XTERRA Saipan Championship a week later in March.

In Saipan, Shonny V stole the title from Renata Bucher who had won that race in each of the previous six years.  Both races were in hot temps, which figures to play to Vanlandingham’s favour if the temps rise on April 10 in the desert.  Last year Shonny V won in 2:24:14, more than four minutes ahead of runner-up McQuaid.

While Vanlandingham may be XTERRA ready, McQuaid will certainly come in at a high-level of fitness due to the training she put in for Abu Dhabi. The three-time World Champ also raced at the XTERRA REAL off-road tri in California on March 27 and won handily.

Emma Garrard, like Middaugh, won the USAT Winter Tri Nationals during the off-season and represented the USA at Winter Worlds where she place 7th. Suzie Snyder, who won the amateur title at this race last year, is now a bona-fide pro following her 5th place finish at XTERRA Worlds last year.

Other notables include Colorado’s Sara Tarkington, Tracy Thelen, and Kelley Cullen, and Canadians Danelle Kabush and Rosemarie Gerspacher (5th here last year). Cullen, a pro mountain biker since 2006, will be making her XTERRA debut.

With more than 30 pros on the start list for the season opener at Lake Las Vegas and the mysteries about everyone’s race shape floating around you can count on some eye-opening excitement come April 10.

More event information here.