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Conrad Stoltz and Shonny Vanlandingham broke out their 29’er mountain bikes and won the Xterra Southeast Championship at Oak Mountain State Park on a smoking hot day in Pelham, Alabama this afternoon.
It was the hottest weekend of the year here in the South with temps in the mid-90’s and humidity that made it feel even hotter. It was so warm that Stoltz, who won his third straight on the 2010 Xterra America Tour and fourth in a row here in Shelby County, put ice cubes under his swim cap before the race got started.
“And they melted before I got to the first buoy,” he explained. The real story of the day, however, was about the mountain bikes with big wheels.
“I’m real proud of my 29’er,” said Stoltz. “It’s the first time I’ve used it in an Xterra and it worked brilliantly. On a bumpy course like this the bigger tires ride better. They have a bigger contact patch with the ground that gives you better traction. You don’t have to brake as much so you can keep your momentum rolling. It’s like an extra suspension, and because it’s so smooth you don’t get as tired.”
Stoltz’ success isn’t all about the bike, however, as all of the top five men were riding 29’ers. It’s more about the rider, and the mad skills the “Caveman” has to handle technical mountain bike courses like this epic trail created by BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers).
“I really have to thank BUMP for designing such an excellent bike course. This course suits me better than any course ever made,” said Stoltz.
The day started out, as it has for the past several years, with Craig Evans getting an early jump on the bike and holding off Stoltz until somewhere around the 9-mile mark.
“I was having a hard time concentrating and couldn’t focus in the beginning, just thinking about all the wrong things, and didn’t catch Craig until the top of the big climb,” said Stoltz.
When the course started going down, it was all over. Josiah Middaugh, who was in third place behind Evans, said he was riding well and about two minutes behind Stoltz before the start of the downhill near the famous “Blood Rock” section. By the time Stoltz got to the bike-to-run transition, he was three minutes up on Evans and four minutes ahead of Middaugh. His 1:21:18 bike split was more than two-and-a-half minutes faster than the second-best time, Middaugh’s 1:23:52.
“He’s a great technical rider, and can go really fast in the twisty stuff,” said Middaugh. To make things worse for everyone else, BUMP rolled out a new three-mile section of tree-lined switchbacks to this year’s course, giving Stoltz’ even more time in his element. That said, there was still a run to deal with, a grueling, hilly “death march” type of run that Middaugh excels at.
“The run is probably the hardest I’ve ever done,” said Stoltz. “I think I had a four minute lead on Josiah, and in the beginning I thought it’ll be pretty easy, I’ll just keep going and take it, but by halfway through I was thinking ‘I don’t care if Josiah catches me, I just don’t want to die.”
Middaugh did make up about a minute-thirty on Stoltz with the fastest run of the day (40:02), and was able to catch Evans to move into 3rd by about mile three, but ultimately fell two-minutes 27 seconds behind the winning time of Stoltz (2:21:27).
Evans stayed strong for 3rd, duplicating his best career finish had here in ‘Bama in 2008 (not bad for a guy with two kids who spends 50-to-60 hours a week in a “real world” job).
Seth Wealing was solid all around for fourth, and Cody Waite posted his best performance of the season to finish fifth. Also of note, Will Kelsay came in 6th, his best championship race result in eight years with Xterra, plus Scott Gall was 7th, Kevin Carter 8th, and Damian Gonzalez 9th – also personal bests.
A week ago Shonny Vanlandingham won the BUMPnGrind mountain bike pro race on these same trails. Today, she added a swim and run, but the result was the same – victory.
In 2008 Vanlandingham won her first-ever Xterra on this course. Two years later her bike riding is just as good, but now she can run with the best of them, and isn’t losing as much time on the swim.
“The swim is still a work in progress, but hey I came out under three minutes behind Melanie which is good for me,” said Vanlandingham, who was the 10th woman and 32nd racer out of the water but passed all but the top five men to finish an unprecedented 6th overall today.
Christine Jeffrey was once again first out of the water, and pulled men’s swim leader Craig Evans for about the final seven minutes, “I was taking a nice bubble bath,” said Evans after the race.
Melanie McQuaid, the defending and two-time champ on this course and recent winner of the Xterra European Championship in Italy, was two minutes behind Jeffrey out of the water but took the lead on the bike early on, and maintained until near the halfway point when Vanlandingham arrived.
“I caught Melanie on the long climb, and thought if I could keep the pace it’d be a good day,” said Vanlandingham. Indeed she did, posting a 1:28:50 on her brand new 29’er. McQuaid had the second best split, a 1:32:55, on her 26-inch bike.
“Just two weeks ago Orbea launched their 29’er and this is my first Xterra race with it and I love it,” said Vanlandingham. “It’s got such good traction, let’s you carry your speed and momentum and it weighs the same as my 26” hardtail.”
Vanlandingham took a good lead into the run, and then built on it, posting the second best split in 45:02, just 49 seconds off Emma Garrard’s time. She strolled across the finish line in 2:38:02, more than four-minutes ahead of McQuaid, for her second Xterra America Tour win this year (She also won the West Champs).
“I’m getting shelled on the bike,” said McQuaid, who won the first five races in the Xterra America Tour last year, but hasn’t notched a victory in the U.S. yet in 2010. “I don’t have any excuses though. Shonny is riding strong and these courses are all about the bike. But, I’d like to make an adjustment and mix in a 29’er for Richmond.”
Lesley Paterson finished third and in the top three for the sixth straight race, with 4-time Xterra European Tour champ Renata Bucher in 4th, and Emma Garrard in 5th.
Note: The race consisted of a warm-water swim in the 80+ degree water at Double Oak Lake, a 20-mile single loop mountain bike course on the BUMP trails, and a punishing six-mile up-and-down forest run. “Hats off to everyone who completed this course, this is definitely the hardest course all year. It’s very demanding because of the temperatures and humidity and technicality of it,” said Conrad Stoltz at the award ceremony. “It’s a wonderful venue though, and we love the South, love Alabama.”
1 Conrad Stoltz 36 Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:21:27 100 $1,800
2 Josiah Middaugh 31 Vail, Colorado 2:23:54 90 $1,250
3 Craig Evans 32 Hendersonville, Tennessee 2:26:55 82 $800
4 Seth Wealing 31 Boulder, Colorado 2:31:20 75 $500
5 Cody Waite 31 Lakewood, Colorado 2:33:53 69 $400
6 Will Kelsay 28 Boulder, Colorado 2:40:05 63 $300
7 Scott Gall 35 Cedar Falls, Iowa 2:40:24 58 $200
8 Kevin Carter 36 College Park, Maryland 2:40:46 53
9 Damian Gonzalez 34 Stockton, California 2:47:26 49
10 Ryan DeCook 30 Rochester, MI 2:43:18 45
1 Shonny Vanlandingham 40 Durango, Colorado 2:38:02 100 $1,800
2 Melanie McQuaid 36 Victoria, B.C., Canada 2:42:05 90 $1,250
3 Lesley Paterson 29 Sterling, Scotland (San Diego) 2:46:28 82 $800
4 Renata Bucher 32 Lucerne, Switzerland 2:49:41 75 $500
5 Emma Garrard 28 Truckee, California 2:49:57 69 $400
6 Christine Jeffrey 37 Guelph, Ontario, Canada 2:55:06 63 $300
7 Fabiola Corona 30 Mexico City, Mexico 3:00:02 58 $200
8 Tracy Thelen 31 Colorado Springs, Colorado 3:02:19 53