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We caught up with the reigning Xterra world champion, who offered his insight on the new Maui course, going up against an Olympic champion and a cycling icon on Sunday—and 12-foot long poisonous snakes back home in South Africa.
Triathlete.com: You finished fourth at the Xterra USA Championship in Utah last month. Looking back, how do you think that race went?
Conrad Stoltz: The course there really doesn’t suit me. It’s a point-to-point race and there’s a lot of climbing—there’s not an equal amount of downhill riding. I’m just a lot bigger than most of the other athletes. I’m a good rider, but that course is really a climber’s course. It wasn’t very technical, either, and it’s at altitude. It had pretty much everything that I don’t like in a course. Also my form wasn’t there and I just wasn’t strong enough. I crashed in Canada a couple of weeks before and wasn’t able to do the quality training I needed to do. I just really wasn’t good enough to overcome the obstacles of that course.
Triathlete.com: How has your training been going since Utah?
Stoltz: Fortunately I’ve had a month of training so I could really cram in as much training as I could and have made some pretty noticeable improvements in performance. Just getting out of altitude made a big difference—I went to Kona straight from Utah, and training at sea level has really made a big difference. I was able to get much better power on the bike.
Triathlete.com: Tell me about the new Maui course.
Stoltz: It’s better than what we thought it would be from what we saw on Facebook and YouTube. It seemed like a lot of climbing and required not as much skill, but when I rode the course I realized it does require some skill—not a crazy amount, it’s not a technical course—but it’s more of a mountain biker’s course. It’s a hard course, it’s tough. It’s going to take a long time. The run is very hilly—there’s not one meter that is flat, it’s either steep up or steep down. The field is really stacked and it’s a really challenging course so it’s gonna be a good race.
Triathlete.com: Looks like you’ll be going up against former Xterra world champ Eneko Llanos once again.
Stoltz: He should be in great form because he didn’t finish Ironman [Hawaii]. He’s quite rested and physically he’ll be in great shape. But I’m not sure if his [mountain biking] skills are good enough to really make an impact on this course, because it does have a fair amount of mountain biking to it.
Triathlete.com: What about Jan Frodeno from Germany?
Stoltz: Jan is a dark horse, an Olympic champion, amazing swimmer and really fast runner. In the road triathlon scene he’s a strong cyclist, and we’ll see what kind of skills he has. I don’t really know, I’ve been riding with him once or twice and it’s hard to say. He’s also riding the Specialized 29er like me. Racing against an Olympic champion is obviously quite a big treat so I look forward to that.
Triathlete.com: Your countryman Dan Hugo had a great race in Utah, and it seems he’s really upped his game.
Stoltz: His form was really good in Utah so it will be interesting to see if he has picked up even more form. Even if he’s just maintained his form he’ll be a serious contender. He’s a good all-arounder, also riding a Specialized bike.
Triathlete.com: And then Lance Armstrong will be back, as I’m sure you’ve heard.
Stoltz: Yes! That will be interesting; I think he learned a few lessons in Utah and I’m sure he’s been training a lot more seriously than how he trained for Utah—it sounds like it wasn’t that specific or all that focused—and I think for this race, even though the bike course is a bit more technical than Utah I think he’s gonna come a lot better prepared. It’s a huge honor to race an athlete of that caliber—just the focus and attention he brings to the sport is great.
Triathlete.com: We asked people to send us questions for your over Twitter, and Lance—well Juan Pelota—asked if you would play nice on Sunday. Will you?
Stoltz: [Laughing] That’s the thing with Xterra—everyone is laid back, including the pros. No one is aggressive, no one has attitudes, we just get together, race hard and have fun before and after. There are no big egos—that’s gotta be refreshing.
Triathlete.com: Another question from a fan: How much will you plan for bike mechanicals—flat tires, a broken chain—when you race Sunday?
Stoltz: There’s a lot less lava on this course than the old one, so flat tires won’t be as much of an issue like before. On the old course, mechanicals were really an issue because of all the thorns and the rocks and the fact that you couldn’t see the course. Now we can pre-ride and it doesn’t have nearly as much lava and any thorns so the chances of getting a mechanical are a lot smaller. I will still take a spare tube and a tire plug and be prepared for whatever is going to happen.
Triathlete.com: What pressure will you be running in the front and rear?
Stoltz: I’m riding a 2.2-inch wide tire, which is wider than a normal tire because of the loose terrain. I’ll run 24 psi in the front and 29 in the back. If it rains, it’s going to get extremely muddy and the race is really going to get upside down. It’s the wet side of Maui so it does get a fair bit of rain and it’s possible that it will be quite slick.
Triathlete.com: How’s the swim course?
Stoltz: There have been surfers out there for the past four days straight. There’s a fair amount of swell coming in and it’s really bumpy and has some beach breaks. People who are not used to swimming in the ocean will get a big surprise—it’s a real ocean swim. I love that. Coming from South Africa, we grew up in the ocean and it’s pretty rough.
Triathlete.com: What’s your game plan between now and race day?
Stoltz: I’ve trained really hard the last few weeks and have taken this week really easy to make sure I recover properly from all the training I did. But I’m very happy—my power is higher on the bike than it was last year this time. I’m just going to take it easy the rest of the week. I’ll go look at the course—it opens Wednesday and make sure I know it as well as I can and just get ready for the race.
Triathlete.com: Okay, this is unrelated, but another question from a Twitter follower: Did you see that video circulating on YouTube of the mountain biker in South Africa that was literally tackled by what looked like a gazelle? Anything like that ever happen to you back home?
Stoltz: I’ve had a couple of close calls—nothing like that, though! I ran into three black mambas, which was quite scary—one of the most poisonous snakes in the world; they get up to 12 feet.
Follow Triathlete editor-in-chief Julia Polloreno (@JuliaPolloreno) on Twitter for updates from the Xterra World Championship this Sunday.