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XTERRA Pacific Championship Preview

Santa Cruz, California this Sunday.

The stars of XTERRA, featuring some of the world’s finest triathletes and mountain bikers, are headed to Santa Cruz, California for the inaugural XTERRA Pacific Championship at Wilder Ranch State Park on May 15, 2011.

Victoria’s Melanie McQuaid, Shonny Vanlandingham (USA), and Guelph’s Christine Jeffrey have finished 1-2-3, respectively, at each of the first two XTERRA Pro Series races.

Lesley Paterson – who has been in the top three in seven of her last eight big XTERRA races – is looking to break up that routine in Santa Cruz.  The former Scottish rugby player turned film writer/producer and XTERRA star is competing in her first event of the season due to injury, and will have her work cut out for her if she is to bust-up the status-quo (as she’s done regularly since joining the sport in 2008).

Also jumping into the mix in the U.S. for the first time is four-time XTERRA European Tour Champion Renata Bucher from Switzerland, who won the XTERRA East and South Central Championship titles last year.

Paterson and Bucher will be up against a well-conditioned and determined 3x XTERRA World Champ and newly crowned ITU Cross Tri World Champ (McQuaid), a ferocious mountain biker and the reigning XTERRA World Champ (Vanlandingham); and a constantly improving “Big Fish” (Jeffrey) who is likely to have a minute-plus lead on the women’s field coming out of the water.

A trio of 29-year-olds – Suzie Snyder, Emma Garrard (third at ITU Worlds last weekend), and Jessica Noyola – ranked 4th-thru-6th in Pro Series – comprise the chase pack. Meanwhile Kelley Cullen, a mountain bike pro who competed in her first XTERRA at Las Vegas last month where she placed 4th, is hoping the more technical mountain bike course at Wilder Ranch State Park will play to her strength.

XTERRA Pacific Championship Women’s Pro Start List

Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1 – Melanie McQuaid – 37, Victoria, B.C., Canada
2 – Shonny Vanlandingham – 41, Durango, Colorado
3 – Christine Jeffrey – 38, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
4 – Suzie Snyder – 29, Fredericksburg, Virginia
5 – Emma Garrard – 29, Park City, Utah
6 – Jessica Noyola – 29, San Diego, California
8 – Kelley Cullen – 30, New Castle, Colorado
10 – Caroline Colonna – 46, Taos, New Mexico
NR – Renata Bucher – 33, Lucerne, Switzerland
NR – Stella Carey – 39, Felton, California
NR – Lesley Paterson – 30, San Diego, California (Scotland)

Leading the men is two-time Olympian and four-time XTERRA World Champion Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz of South Africa.  At 37-years-old Stoltz is as good-as-they-come in the sport of off-road triathlon, and holds the XTERRA record for most championship race wins at 38.  He also just won the ITU Cross Triathlon World Title on Saturday in Spain.

Interestingly, Stoltz picked up his first XTERRA win a decade ago at the 2002 West Championship that was held nearby at Half Moon Bay (which is the last time XTERRA was in NorCal for a major event).

Stoltz chief rival is American Josiah Middaugh of Vail, Colorado – a mountain man of all seasons. Over the winter Middaugh won the USA Winter Triathlon National Championship and the North American Snowshoe Championship, and then he came out of the snow to upset Stoltz at the first championship race of the year in the Las Vegas desert on April 10.  A week later, Middaugh missed winning his second-in-a-row in Waco, Texas by a mere eight seconds to Stoltz.

Among them are Branden Rakita (3rd in Vegas) and Seth Wealing (second overall and top American at ITU Worlds last weekend) from Colorado – both super fast in the water, skilled on the bike, and dangerous on the run. Nico Lebrun, the 2005 XTERRA World Champ, finished fourth at both the first two races and has always gotten stronger and faster as the season progressed. Dan Hugo, who won the XTERRA South Africa Championship to open the 2011 World Tour back in February, is making his XTERRA U.S. season debut in Santa Cruz. Trevor Glavin and Craig Evans sit in sixth and seventh position in the pro series, respectively, and are always in the mix.   ody Waite is a great climber, and this course is said to have plenty of that.  If it comes down to the run watch out for Shiloh Mielke, a trail runner by trade who makes a habit out of striding by competitors on the run.  Also of note is Chris Stehula, last year’s collegiate triathlon national champion, who was impressive in Vegas finishing 5th overall against a stacked field.

XTERRA Pacific Championship Men’s Pro Start List

Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1t – Conrad Stoltz – 37, Stellenbosch, South Africa
1t – Josiah Middaugh – 32, Vail, Colorado
3 – Branden Rakita – 30, Manitou Springs, Colorado
4 – Nicolas Lebrun -38, Digne, France
5 – Seth Wealing – 32, Boulder, Colorado
6 – Trevor Glavin – 31, San Diego, California
7 – Craig Evans – 33, Hendersonville, Tennessee
8 – Cody Waite – 32, Lakewood, Colorado
9 – Shiloh Mielke – 31, Durango, Colorado
10 – Adam Wirth – 32, Boise, Idaho
11 – Chris Stehula – 26, San Luis Obispo, California
16 – Will Kelsay – 29, Boulder, Colorado
17 – Damian Gonzalez – 34, Stockton, California
NR – Matt Boobar – 38, Stratton Mountain, Vermont
NR – Dan Hugo – 25, Stellenbosch, South Africa
NR – Chris Jackson – 22, Burbank, California
NR – Barry Wicks – 29, Corvallis, Oregon
NR – Tommy Zaferes – 24, Soquel, California

Note: Rank is their current rank in the 2011 XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Standings (after two of six events) NR = Not ranked

Find out more at XTERRA at www.xterrasantacruz.com.