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The snow-capped peaks of Whistler’s famed Olympic ski slopes and mist over Alta Lake greeted athletes assembled at Rainbow Park for the start of Xterra Canada’s 2nd annual SportChek National Championship in Whistler, B.C., presented by Nita Lake Lodge.
When the gun went off at 9am, the mist had cleared and there was no sign of the cougar that had been spotted on the beach in the early morning hours before the race. The water in Alta Lake was 66 degrees, and it was a typical, beautiful blue sky Whistler day. The swim was two 750-meter laps of a triangular course with a short beach run in between, and the first out and to transition was Xterra newcomer, Aussie Ben Allen (Wollongong, NSW), followed closely by American Seth Wealing (Boulder, Colo.) and Canada’s Jean-Philippe Thibodeau (Baie-Saint Paul, QC).
Hot on their heels was Colorado’s Branden Rakita (Manitou Springs) and four-time Xterra World Champ Conrad Stoltz (Stellenbosch, South Africa). Last year’s Xterra Canada champ, Josiah Middaugh (Vail, Colo.) was two minutes off the lead pack along with Canadians Mike Vine and Melanie McQuaid.
Competitors faced two 12-kilometer laps on one of Xterra’s most technical bike courses – complete with a variety of built stunts including numerous bridges, skinny’s (little rails about three feet off the ground), and tight, twisting trails through trees and rocks. A 10km trail run followed leading athletes directly uphill and gnarly downhill sections. The technical nature and difficulty of the course was certainly reflected in the finish times.
None of this proved to be an obstacle for defending Xterra Canada champion, Josiah Middaugh, who racked up the fastest bike split and won the race today and his second consecutive Xterra Canada title in 2:38:46 – almost two minutes ahead of second placed Mike Vine. “It was one of those days – magical. It feels awesome,” said Middaugh of his win. “It’s a hard course, and tricky – all new trails and much tougher than last year. I got here Wednesday so I had time to practice, and that definitely helped.”
Canada’s Mike Vine took second. Vine, originally from Victoria, has been living and working in Edmonton for the last year, and made a rare appearance for this race. “I haven’t been training much”, he admitted “and that seems to be working. This course is good for me, so that helps. The swim is what I really let slide, so I knew I would come out pretty far down – about where I expected at 2:40 off the top guys. It took me a while to get going on the bike –but towards the end of the first loop I reeled in the swimmers, including Conrad (Stoltz) and Seth (Wealing) – and that fired me right up.” Coming into T2, he was 1:30 behind Josiah, and held second place on the run to finish in 2:40:34.
Wealing took third place finishing in 2:43:26. Wealing took the bike lead early and led for some time until he had to stop to put air in his tires after purping them on a drop off. “Josiah and Branden passed me…and then Mike caught me before the end of the first lap”. Wealing passed Rakita not too long into the run to finish third with the fastest run of the day. Rakita took 4th in 2:46:46 with new Dad, Kelly Guest of Victoria, B.C. in 5th at 2:47:44.
Of note, Stoltz – fresh off a victory at the Xterra Japan Championship last weekend – did not finish the race stating “I crashed myself out of the race yesterday”. He pulled after the bike with injuries to his knee and leg sustained in practice yesterday. Also of note, “Mr. Xterra” Will Kelsay, on his last stop on a six-week, six-country, around-the-world Xterra adventure did not start citing gastric problems and possible food poisoning.
In the women’s race three-time Xterra World Champion and defending Xterra Canada champion Melanie McQuaid (Victoria, BC) led the women out of the swim and never looked back. “This course is made for me. I felt well prepared (for this race) as riding in Victoria is quite technical, but it is very different from here – I loved it, it was so much fun,” she said. “I got more comfortable with this stuff riding BC Bike Race last year, and that helped my technical confidence going in to this race”.
McQuaid finished in 3:05:41, a good ten minutes ahead of first-time Xterra woman and mountain bike phenom, Brandi Heisterman (Brackendale, BC) who took second in 3:15:37. Heisterman, a mother of three who lives in the area, is a top five Canadian national mountain biker and was a national level runner in college. “I was expecting her to beat me on the bike” said McQuaid. “If we’d have just done the bike, she would’ve been faster than me, but having the fitness for triathlon helps. I can be steady and comfortable the whole day and still have gas at the end.”
Canada’s Danelle Kabush (Calgary, AB) took third, with American Emma Garrard (Park City, Utah) in fourth, sporting a possibly broken nose from a spill on the run course, and Canadian pro mountain biker and cyclocross rider, Mical Dyck (Victoria B.C.) in 5th. McQuaid commented “it is important for the mountain bikers to see how well these mountain bike girls did. If you are a really good biker you can do well in this sport – more mountain bikers need to know that.”
First place age groupers were Simon Pulfrey (North Vancouver, BC) taking 8th overall, and Katie Button (Stouffville, ON) placing 8th overall for the women. Race co-organizer, and 40-44 Xterra world champ Cal Zaryski finished in 10th place overall.
Race recap provided by Xterra.
1. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:38:46
2. Mike Vine (CAN) 2:40:34
3. Seth Wealing (USA) 2:43:26
4. Branden Rakita (USA) 2:46:46
5. Kelly Guest (CAN) 2:47:44
1. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 3:05:41
2. Brandi Heisterman (CAN) 3:15:37
3. Danelle Kabush (CAN) 3:17:34
4. Emma Garrard (USA) 3:24:01
5. Mical Dyck (CAN) 3:24:10