XTERRA Pan American Championship Elite Race Preview
More than 500 professional and amateur triathletes are on the start list for the XTERRA Pan American / USA Championship races at Snowbasin Resort just up the mountain from the adventure sports hub of Ogden, Utah on Saturday, September 7, 2019.
As the culmination of a 10-stop series of off-road triathlons spanning South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and the U.S., the contenders are coming from near and far, and with $80,000 in prize money at stake for elites and cameramen capturing all the action for an internationally broadcast television show, the stage is set for XTERRA’s best to show what they can do.
In the men’s elite race, Sam Osborne from New Zealand is the clear-cut favorite. He won XTERRA Brazil, XTERRA Oak Mountain in Alabama and XTERRA Victoria in Canada to start the tour. His only blemish was a second-place showing to 2015 XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh on his home course at XTERRA Beaver Creek, which he quickly answered with a win at XTERRA Mexico in August. Osborne enters the event with 465 tour points and needs only to finish in the top 15 to secure the Tour title.
“Pressure around any race is only what you put on yourself, but Utah is a championship race and naturally I would like to perform well on Saturday,” said Osborne, who finished third at XTERRA Worlds last year. “I’ve got through some good training back in Boulder in the build-up to this race, and the group I’m training with is prepping for Kona and Maui, so everyone is very focused.”
With his chief nemesis, Middaugh, off racing in the Eco-Challenge Fiji that starts today, Osborne’s focus turns to Canadian Karsten Madsen, who with 375 tour points is the only other man with a mathematical shot at the title (he’d have to finish 2nd or better and Osborne would have to finish outside of the top 15).
“Karsten’s going well, and Branden Rakita seems to be getting stronger & faster by the race as well,” said Osborne. “Much like Mexico, everyone here swims fast so there could be a good bunch of guys going at each other from the start.”
The elevation at Port Ramp Marina for the 1.5K swim start is 4,900-feet, the 29K bike course climbs to 7,300-feet where the Sardine Peak Trail meets the ridgeline, then the 10K trail run goes right back up the mountain, so altitude + 4,000+ feet of total climbing make this race one of the toughest challenges on Tour.
“Utah is similar to Beaver Creek in terms of how the course is,” explained Osborne, noting that it’s a point-to-point race with the swim at the bottom and a bike that climbs up to T2. “It’s another altitude race, and I’ve definitely learned a ton racing on the Pan Am Tour on how to deal with it. But Utah is a bit lower than the last couple rounds, as the top of the bike course is essentially the altitude we were swimming at in Mexico & Beaver Creek. That lends itself to some more aggressive racing, as you’re able to dip over the limit & not pay for it dearly later on.”
Madsen proved he can handle altitude by posting the fastest run split at XTERRA Beaver Creek (where he finished third) and the fastest bike split at XTERRA Mexico (where he was second) and is full of confidence fresh off a win at XTERRA Dominican Republic on Sunday.
“I feel really good about where I’m at from where I started back from mid-June,” said Madsen. “In a very short window of time I found myself on podiums with guys that are the best the sport has seen. I’m elated to just be able to finish the year with a full score and a good score. I had some hollowing moments back in April (with heart conditions) so to be back and swinging going into these races is just a dream. I’m excited to express my fitness and believe my perfect day is enough to win, as I’ve showed signs of it in every race prior.”
Branden Rakita, an XTERRA veteran, sits third in the standings and was just second to Madsen in the Dominican Republic.
“The biggest focus for me is getting recovered between the races and not doing too much, so I will keep things pretty light this week, especially with the travel,” said Rakita. “I am really looking forward to getting back to Utah to race, things have been going very well and I have had some nice confidence boosts from good performances this season.”
In additional to perpetual contenders like Brian Smith, Ryan Ignatz, Will Ross, Brad Zoller, and Andy Lee, there is a wealth of new faces racing on Saturday looking to make their mark on the XTERRA scene. Chief among them is Mike Meehan, who went tire-to-tire with Osborne in his first-ever XTERRA at Beaver Creek in July where he ended up finishing fourth.
“What I learned at Beaver Creek was that XTERRA is a ton of fun and extraordinarily challenging which makes it so alluring, hence the reason I am excited for more,” exclaimed Meehan, who hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the collegiate triathlon national champ when he raced for Penn State in 2016.
“My game plan for Utah is to be a bit more aggressive in all aspects of the event. XTERRA is quite different from standard non-draft or ITU events in the sense that hills provide moments of intense effort on the ups but also moments of reprieve (cardiovascularly) on the downs. I think the first time around, I didn't attack these ups as much as I should have. If all goes well, I think I have a shot at taking top three in the event and I am feeling healthy and excited to get after it.”
Another newcomer excited to get after it is long-time road triathlon star Trevor Wurtele, who along with his wife Heather, is looking forward to the fun of racing on trails.
“Mainly we just needed a change,” said Wurtele, who won XTERRA Portland last month. “Heather accomplished her goals this year and had an all-around amazing year with a couple nice wins. From there, the thought of slogging out the training required to be competitive through the fall was too much. We're both ready to move on and do some of the things we've missed over the years of Ironman focus.”
While Trevor is new to XTERRA, he’s not new to mountain biking and has proven he’s got the endurance to race up front.
“I've definitely done a bunch of mountain biking in my life and raced a fair bit when I was younger,” he said. “I love it. Heather is new to it, so her technical skills are still a work in progress but she's a beast and can suffer like nobody I've seen before. On the training/fitness front, we haven't been super focused on training hard for the last month. Mainly just enjoying it. Swimming way less, riding off-road a ton, running if we feel like it. We're still very fit, but definitely not the best we could be.”
Evan Pardi, who is also in his first season racing XTERRA, just faced off against Wurtele and can attest that he is indeed still fit.
“I raced a really close race in the pro field at XTERRA Portland and finished 2nd after leading the entire race until the last mile when Ironman superstar Trevor Wurtele ran me down for the win, but finishing on my first pro podium after just my 4th XTERRA was great,” said Pardi, who is ranked 11th in the Tour standings. “I’m really excited for the race in Ogden and hopefully a top 10 is in the books for the race and the overall Pan Am Tour. I came into the season hoping for that top 10 finish and it’s been eye opening how hard these races are on the body for me, especially after racing flat 70.3 events!”
The men’s elite field also features two youngsters with 19-year-old Benny Smith from Colorado, and 20-year-old Dean Cane from Australia.
“The world of off-road has been something I’ve been a part of from a young age with trail running and mountain bike racing, so this was a natural progression to combine the sports I love,” said Cane. “The trails are super exciting cause they’re always different and challenging you in different ways giving athletes the ability to make the most of their strengths on certain courses. As for this race, I would love to execute the plan well and mix it up with the big dogs of the sport!”
Chad Hall, the younger brother of two-time Olympian Ryan Hall, is also on the start list. Chad finished third at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship half-marathon in 2016, so you know he can run, and he’s also a USAC mountain bike elite who recently finished in the top 10 at the Leadville 100.
XTERRA Pan American Championship
Elite Men’s Start List, as of 9.3.19
Pan Am Tour Rank – Name, NAT
1 – Sam Osborne, NZL
2 – Karsten Madsen, CAN
3 – Branden Rakita, USA
5 – Will Ross, USA
11 – Evan Pardi, USA
12 – Brian Smith, USA
14 – Ryan Ignatz, USA
23 – Brad Zoller, USA
32 – Barret Fishner, USA
38 – Alex Willis, USA
NR – Dean Cane, AUS
NR – Chad Hall, USA
NR – Nelson Hegg, USA
NR – Andy Lee, GBR
NR – Mike Meehan, USA
NR – Benny Smith, USA
NR – Trevor Wurtele, CAN
In the women’s elite race reigning and three-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson is looking to make it three-in-a-row in Utah.
“Bring it on is all I’m saying,” exclaimed Paterson, who has won this race four times, finished second twice, third twice, and was fourth in her first try way back in 2008. “I’ve got so many great memories from Ogden and I just love this course - the beauty, the climbing, and the community too.”
Paterson didn’t take much of a break after winning XTERRA Worlds last year, instead going straight into a build for the ITU Cross Tri World Championship which was held in April in Spain. She finished fifth there, won XTERRA Greece, and was second to Suzie Snyder at XTERRA Oak Mountain before taking a much-needed break to refresh both the body and the mind.
“Yeah, feeling awesome, had a great block of training in Boulder and just loved every minute,” said Paterson. “I’m ready to get on the start line again and give ‘em grief. My body feels so much better than it did in the beginning of the year, thank goodness.”
While Paterson has her sights set on the win, Samantha Kingsford and Suzie Snyder are looking for both that, and to secure the XTERRA Pan Am Tour title. Kingsford holds the advantage by 16 points, 432 to Snyder’s 416 points. To put that in perspective, the difference between first place (100pts) and third place (82pts) is 18 points. The difference between 2nd (90pts) and 4th (75pts) is 15.
“This race is going to be close between Suzie and myself for the overall tour win,” said Kingsford. “We have been neck-and-neck all season which has made for some good racing between us and I think it’s fitting that the tour title will be decided in this race.”
In their four head-to-head matchups this year Kingsford has won two races, XTERRA Victoria and XTERRA Mexico, and Snyder has won two, XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Beaver Creek.
“I would be absolutely stoked to take the tour win as this is what I have been working towards all season, but a lot can happen on race day so we will have to wait and see,” said Kingsford, who also won XTERRA Brazil earlier this year. “I think everyone will be going into this race wanting to have a good hit out and to see where they are at heading into the World Champs in Maui, and I’m sure everyone on the start line, including myself, is gunning for the Pan Am Championship title.”
Snyder, the reigning XTERRA U.S. Champion and two-time XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champ (2016-2017), finished second to Fabiola Corona at the XTERRA Dominican Republic on Sunday, but may have saved her legs in the process and put her in a good position for Saturday’s race.
“At DR on Sunday Fabiola and I were riding together on the second lap when my saddle began sliding backwards,” she explained. “I ignored it for a bit and just rode the best I could, but it continued to get worse and I was afraid of losing the saddle completely, so I stopped to tighten it back on. I figured taking the time to fix it would likely result in me taking 2nd place on the day, but that would be better for my legs at Pan Am Champs.”
Snyder finished second behind Paterson last year at this race, and just ahead of Corona who was third.
Meanwhile Corona, who won the XTERRA Pan Am Tour title last year and this year is trying to win the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour, just made a last-minute itinerary change so she could compete in Utah.
“XTERRA is addictive, what can I say,” laughed Corona, who is 7th in the Pan Am Tour standings and can move as high as fourth with a win on Saturday. “After winning XTERRA Dominican Republic on Sunday I just wanted to come fight for this title too and give it my best.”
That means Corona will compete in four races in four weeks, as after Utah she’ll head to XTERRA Japan for that race on September 15, then to the inaugural XTERRA Kunming in China on September 22.
“I love to travel, to race in new places, and go to exotic and important events,” said Corona. “Last year my goal was the Pan Am Tour, and I loved all the venues, and the experience. This year my plan was to go for the APAC Tour for more adventures, to Live More!”
Beyond Paterson, Snyder, and Corona – who finished 1,2,3 here last year – and Kingsford – who has three wins under her belt this season – there is a strong and deep field of contenders.
Julie Baker, Maia Ignatz, and Kara LaPoint have all finished in the top five at this race in recent years. Baker finished 2nd to only Paterson at XTERRA Beaver Creek in July, and Ignatz was third. And LaPoint, who finished 2nd on the Pan Am Tour last year, is just now getting back into fighting shape.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be heading back to Utah for Pan-Am Champs this week,” she said. “After working through a lot of challenges both personally and professionally this year, my race opportunities have been extremely limited, and I honestly thought at many points that I might just have to throw in the towel on this whole race season. But I’ve been working hard to salvage the season and building my way back to race form — and that feels so good. Most of all I feel like I’ve got my fire back again and am rediscovering the joy of racing, and I couldn’t be more grateful. So, as cliché as it may sound, I truly am happy just to be here and have this opportunity, and my primary goals on Saturday will be to celebrate that and honor the privilege to be racing again by giving it all I’ve got.”
Then there’s the wildcards, like Italian XTERRA standout Marta Menditto and road triathlon great Heather Wurtele, who has been on the podium at IM 70.3 Worlds three times, won six full distance Ironman races, and 25 Half Iron/70.3 distance races including 70.3 Campeche, Mexico for the third time this March.
Also of note are XTERRA veterans Katie Button, who won XTERRA Quebec this year, and Jen Smith who finished fourth at XTERRA Beaver Creek and was in the top five in Utah for five straight years from 2006 to 2010, including a pair of runner-up performances in ’06 and ’07.
With so many great athletes across both the men’s and women’s elite fields the XTERRA Pan American Championship is certain to deliver on excitement, and whomever comes out on top will have truly earned their place in XTERRA Utah history.
XTERRA Pan American Championship
Elite Women’s Start List, as of 9.3.19
1 – Samantha Kingsford, NZL
2 – Suzie Snyder, USA
5 – Julie Baker, USA
6 – Kelli Montgomery, USA
7 – Fabiola Corona, MEX
8 – Maia Ignatz, USA
9 – Katie Button, CAN
12 – Lesley Paterson, GBR
22 – Nicole Valentine, USA
25 – Kara LaPoint, USA
NR – Marta Menditto, ITA
NR – Jennifer Smith, NZL
NR – Heather Wurtele, CAN