Xterra USA Championship Race Report

After celebrating my daughter Zoe’s 5th birthday last Wednesday, the following day J-F and I left the kiddies at home with my wonderful parents and flew down to Salt Lake City. We then drove 45 minutes north to Odgen, Utah for a 4-day “race-cation” for the Xterra USA Championship and the final race in the Pro points series. I felt lucky to have escaped catching the nasty cold both my kids had the week before as I would need all the oxygen I could get with this Saturday morning race being at altitude. The swim starts at 4900 feet (1494 meters), and the bike course peaks out at 7300 feet (2225 meters) with 3400 feet of total climbing!

View from top of the bike course looking back at Pineview Resevoir

With a lot on the line, Suzie, Shonny and I were excited to have our Luna team mechanic, Chris Mathis come for the race and get our Orbea Alma 29ers in perfect working order, a definite boost to the pre-race confidence!! This was very true when I picked up a thorn in my tire in the parking area before the race, I might have freaked out just a little but with Chris on hand to seal it asap and reassure me it was fine, I was good to go!

Luna team mechanic, Chris Mathis, working hard on our bikes!

With the Pineview Reservoir lower than ever this year, the swim started a long ways down the usual boat ramp start. It was a wetsuit swim but the perfect temperature. The Pros had a 30 second head start for the 2-lap swim without the usual beach run in between. We headed straight into the morning sun which made sighting the first buoy challenging. I’d had a good warmup but still felt weird and a little weak, the usual beginning of swim panicky feeling, especially as the green capped age groupers starting to engulf me! Just keep swimming, this will pass…and it did. I found myself around Renata the whole swim, and tried to catch on to a few amateurs throughout the swim as they surged by. I was feeling better on the second lap, but dang it was a long swim. Everyone’s times were at least 4 minutes give or take slower than usual, so I finally exited the water after more than 28 minutes!

Renata and I left transition together and I kept her in sight on the road stretch leading to the first section of dirt, and up through Wheeler Canyon as we made our way up to the top of Snowbasin. It was rocky double track climbing that narrowed down to single track as we neared the halfway point right before the first of two long sustained descents. The climbing was never too steep, with some rolling downhills and flats to break it up. At the halfway point I was about 3 minutes down from the leaders. Lesley, Melanie, Suzie, Christine, and Jacqui Slack were all still ahead. By the very top of the course, I had passed Jacqui and Christine, with Renata still just ahead of me. After a fun, slalom like long descent and a few more short climbs we entered T2. I went out onto the run in 5th. When J-F told me I was about 2:30+ back of Mel and Suzie, I knew some catching was definitely possible!

The run starts with about 5 minutes of straight steep uphill running under the chairlift. It is brutal but it is just about putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible. Then it is fast, mainly rolling downhill single track with lot’s of baby head rocks to look out for for a few miles. By the halfway point of the run I’d over taken Renata and had Melanie in sight back out on some double track. At about the 4 mile mark I puffed past Melanie and knew I only had a limited amount of climbing to my advantage to close on Suzie before the last mile of more of trail which was all downhill to the finish! With the altitude nothing feels fast on this course but I kept pushing hoping to see Suzie in sight. When I finally did near the end of the descending I put on the gas with gravity to help as best I could. With one small hill before the finish I went as hard as I could but it wasn’t enough and I had to settle for third by a margin of 13 seconds! Ouch. I was definitely gunning for a top two finish but if it had to be third, it might as well be to a Luna teammate, so I’m super happy for Suzie who had the race of her life to date as a Pro!

Last ditched effort to close the gap on last little climb before downhill finish shoot

It was an incredibly exciting overall series this year for the overall as well. That 13 seconds would have been the difference of finishing 2nd versus 4th overall in the Pro series as well, so it is a hard pill to swallow and not keep thinking about where I could have found 13 more seconds out there on course over 2 hours and 52 minutes of racing! That said, I am as motivated as ever to get back to work for Worlds in Maui 5 weeks from now. Congrats to Lesley Paterson who took the win on Saturday as well as the overall series title. As the reigning Xterra and ITU off-road World Champ, she is THE woman to watch out for on October 28th!

Podium (L-R): Melanie McQuaid (4th), Suzie Synder (2nd), Lesley Paterson (1st), me (3rd), Renata Bucher (5th)

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