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This year’s Xterra U.S. Championship race, a 1.5K swim, 28K bike and 10K run in Ogden, Utah, featured perhaps the deepest pro field in event history, which was topped by ITU racer Leonardo Chacon from Costa Rica and Scottish-born Lesley Paterson, the defending champ. At the finish line Chacon beamed with pride for his homeland, and Paterson admitted to fighting through a nasty cough/cold this past week.
First out of the wetsuit-legal swim in Pineview Reservoir was Aussie Ben Allen, followed just a few seconds by Chacon, American Branden Rakita, Dan Hugo of South Africa and super-swimmer Christine Jeffrey of Canada. By mile 4 of the bike, Chacon had asserted a small lead, with Ben Allen only 100 yards back, followed moments later by Hugo, Rakita, South African Conrad Stoltz, defending champion Josiah Middaugh of Colorado and South African Bradley Weiss. By mile 8, though, a hard-charging Stoltz was closing in, just 40 seconds back. Stoltz nabbed the lead position in the final miles of the bike, and had about a minute lead over Chacon, Middaugh and Ruben Rufaza of Spain coming into T2. But by mile 1 of the run, Chacon had overtaken Stoltz, with Rufaza and Middaugh in close pursuit. Chacon, who has been training at altitude in Costa Rica with Olympian Manny Huerta, ran with Middaugh for much of the hilly 10K, but surged in the final mile to capture the title. Middaugh finished in second place about a minute later, and Rufaza rounded out the podium, crossing in third place 30 seconds later.
“This is for my family, my coach and my country—pura vida!” said Chacon moments after stretching out on the ground in exhaustion at the finish line. “I’m a rookie in Xterras but when I took the chance last year in Maui [site of the Xterra World Championship, where he finished fourth] I started thinking of improving my riding techniques to see if I can be with those guys out there—Josiah, Conrad, Rufaza. The swim was awesome, I kept some good distance on the bike, and I got to transition and it was good because I knew I could run a bit faster. I was running shoulder-to-shoulder with Josiah [Middaugh] and in the last mile I attacked and took 30 seconds. Coming from Costa Rica, winning this kind of race is amazing for us.”
Stoltz, who seemed to be in control of the race on the bike, said he had a tough week leading into race day. “I started the week with a spasm in my shoulder and a spasm in my hip—we moved last week in Boulder—and I struggled to get rid of it,” he said. “I did almost nothing the whole week, trying to come back. I didn’t know how I was going to feel this morning, and fortunately I felt good. I lost a little time in the swim and got on the bike and was happy to feel pretty good. I rode quite hard but on a course like this, it’s a power-to-weight ratio game and I knew [Chacon] would be tough. It took me a long time to catch him, and on the little downhill I picked up a minute over just 5 minutes. It’s really hard for me to do well on this course because it’s got so much climbing and so little downhill. I did what I could on the run, but it’s hard for a guy that’s 190 pounds to compete with athletes that are as fit as this and small. That’s the nature of the game.”
On the women’s side, Christine Jeffrey was the first out of the swim, trailed by Chilean ITU standout Barbara Riveros, Catherine Sterling and Jacqui Slack. Paterson was fifth out of water, about 4 minutes off the lead. Onto the bike up Wheeler Canyon and around the Snowbasin Resort, Jeffrey was the first to reach the 4-mile mark, but 30 seconds behind her was a fast-advancing Riveros. Canadian Chantell Widney trailed Riveros, then Melanie McQuaid, Brit Jacqui Slack, Emma Garrard of the U.S., Paterson and Suzie Snyder. Riveros made her pass on Jeffrey before the 8-mile mark, and McQuaid rode into second position, followed by Garrard in third. Paterson gradually made her way up the field, and was the first woman into transition. She never relinquished the lead on the run, putting to work her running strength. Riveros held onto second position through the finish, and Widney hung on for third.
“I caught something last Saturday and felt really terrible for a couple days and got over it, and I had some friends come in and one of them had it, and then last night I felt terrible again,” said Paterson. “I went as hard as I could and think I have some good fitness, but yeah, there was some green snot! The swim is always a challenge, but I kept it smooth and was around some good people. I was really pleased with that. Then I got on the bike and went around the first corner and [fell off]. I always do that—I feel like I’m dizzy and am not quite in it. I got back on the bike and going along the lake and the flats I just felt horrible. We hit Wheeler Canyon and everyone was passing me—and I’m a climber. I thought, ‘what is going on?” and it took me a good first half of the race to get into it. And then I got onto Sardine Peak, got a rhythm and caught Barb [Riveros] and knew I had to try and put some time into her. I knew I had to run hard the whole time because Barb would be on my heels and really gunning for it.”
Next focus for both champion—and much of today’s field—is the Xterra World Championship, held in Maui on October 27.
Xterra USA Championships
Ogden, Utah – Sept. 21, 2013
1.5K swim, 28K bike, 10K run
1. Leonardo Chacon (CRA) 2:32:31
2. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:33:26
3. Ruben Rufaza (ESP) 2:33:55
4. Conrad Stoltz (RSA) 2:35:45
5. Dan Hugo (RSA) 2:37:17
6. Ben Allen (AUS) 2:39:53
7. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 2:42:13
8. Nicolas Lebrun (FRA) 2:44:30
9. Branden Rakita (USA) 2:44:38
10. Ryan Ignatz (USA) 2:44:41
1. Lesley Paterson (GBR) 2:53:21
2. Barbara Riveros (CHI) 2:54:04
3. Chantell Widney (CAN) 2:56:41
4. Emma Garrard (USA) 2:59:07
5. Danelle Kabush (CAN) 3:00:29
6. Carina Wasle (AUT) 3:01:44
7. Suzie Snyder (USA) 3:01:59
8. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 3:02:48
9. Shonny Vanlandingham (USA) 3:04:43
10. Christine Jeffrey (CAN) 3:05:38