Twenty-seven-year-old Dan Hugo from Stellenbosch, South Africa, has traveled extensively this season, logging a dozen races in nine countries, and has stellar results to show for it. He posted six straight runner-up finishes at Xterra World Tour races, starting at Xterra South Africa, followed by second place finishes in the Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Malaysia and the Southeast Championship in Alabama before winning the East Championship in Richmond. He was then third at Xterra Brazil, seventh at the Mountain Champs, second at Xterra Mexico and won Xterra Japan. In 2011 Hugo took a minute-lead into the run at the USA Championship but was caught by eventual winner Nico Lebrun on the run and finished 24 seconds back in second place. He didn’t race in 2012 due to a bike crash, and is considered among the top contenders for Saturday’s race in Ogden, Utah.
Triathlete.com: Is the body 100 percent back from your bike crash from last year?
Hugo: I’ve made a complete recovery, and can move physically without limitation. Just a scar to remind me of my good fortunes. It could have easily been a different tale. Any niggle I carry into Saturday is a new development, the regular body management struggles.
Triathlete.com: You’ve been traveling a ton this season—what are some of the rewards and challenges of life on the international Xterra circuit?
Hugo: My itinerary this year has been a direct result of the caged feelings during last year’s rehabilitation. I’ve thrived as a person through every travel, met inspired people and been challenged by the cultures I’ve been hosted by. Personally the added chaos of travel fills my tank and stimulates my motivation. I’m the sort of athlete who battles to run the same route twice. That said, time change is a stress on a deep hormonal level, and I’ve logged many time zones this year and have felt the cost. Of greatest reward has been riding through NYC’s Times Square, as well as ride through central Tokyo. Memories. Thing is, I realized during that crash last year that this wonderful liberty of full-time athlete will end at some point, and I best be accountable for the opportunities.
Triathlete.com: I know you tasted some real disappointment at the U.S. Championship in 2011 when you got second to Nico by such a close margin. What do you think it will take, strategy-wise, on this particular course to come out on top this year?
Hugo: While pre-riding yesterday here in Ogden, I had real clear flashbacks from that race in 2011. It was such a neat buzz with Armstrong’s first return to triathlon. I certainly recall my brash strategy with fondness more than disappoint. Finishing 10 seconds back from the win is a lesson for Saturday. There will be closer racing than ever. Five deep within 90 seconds at the finish is my prediction. Being a hill climb course, its honest racing. Even the run is longer with plenty elevation gain. It will take a complete race, perfect swim-bike-run along with the needed pacing and nutrition, to be at the front after two hours.
Triathlete.com: Describe your hopes for Saturday’s race in six words.
Hugo: No mechanical. No low. Outstretched arms.
Triathlete.com: What are your racing goals looking into 2014?
Hugo: For a start I’d like to defend my second in the series this weekend and then produce the best five-week block possible leading to Maui [the Xterra World Championships]. Beyond that I’ve not considered much. I’ve intensely enjoyed my travels this year and I would enjoy basing in Europe for a few months next season, racing their circuit. But ultimately next year will need to include more consistency than 2013, since I would like to position myself for a claim at a world title.