Written by: Dan Hugo
Picking winners isn’t easy, and in a sport as unpredictable as Xterra – with Mother Nature lurking around every corner in the form of kiawe thorns, lava rocks, soft sand, and the hot sun – its downright impossible.
For a mission that daunting Xterra turned to its own version of Ethan Hunt, 24-year-old Xterra sensation Dan Hugo.
The South African is perhaps the most qualified human on the planet to make such predictions. His credentials:
– Has gone head-to-head with just about everyone in the field
– Finished eighth in Maui last year in his first attempt
– Finished in the top five of every Xterra Championship race in the U.S. this year, including a victory at the Northwest Cup.
– He’s the prodigy of three-time Xterra World Champ Conrad Stoltz, and hails from the same hometown of Stellenbosch.
Hugo’s season was cut short after suffering through weeks of a severe flu and instead of rushing back in subpar form, he painstakingly decided to build an 8-month-base of training so he could tackle 2010 with a vengeance.
Armed with unmatched insider knowledge and a remarkable gift with words, Hugo gives us his take on how the 2009 XTERRA World Championship pro races will shake out…
Men’s Feel – A tight top five podium spread across 90 seconds, including Batelier, Stoltz, Lebrun, Ruzafa and Ussher.
With the one-two mountain biking dominance in 2008, both riding more than three minutes faster at 1:30:25 best split for Ruzafa, the swim pressure has mounted across the divide. In this context of precious seconds, I think the swim and its 50-meter dash between two laps in front of Maluaka beach will be faster than ever up front, and imagine a similar sizeable 20 pax front group at swim exit to last year.
As tarmac swings right and visibly upward in Haleakala Volcano summit baring after two minutes of riding, Stoltz, Batelier and Marceau will ride away as the early trio. Batelier had not seen the course last year, and was caught off guard at the first steep rocky wall that breaks hearts – it’s where Stoltz managed to stay clipped and edge 20 seconds that become significant daylight before puncture misery sidelined his charge last year. Batelier can only ride smarter on his 2nd attempt this Sunday. Behind – Lebrun (pictured) may have started less than a minute down with an improving swim this season. He may not bridge, but hold instead.
Defending Ruzafa has really found climbing form in the last two months, closing out UCI XC World Cups with three top tens, and the season closer with a 2nd. Thereafter a brilliant 3rd at Roc d”Azur XC two weeks ago. With such form, I suspect the lightweight hardtail riding Spaniard will be in visual contact of Stoltz and Batelier after roughly 3000-feet elevation gain before The Plunge, with Marceau fading.
Baring any misfortune to any, I can see Stoltz, Batelier, Ruzafa, and a lurking Lebrun dismounting in sweltering Maui oppression just before 11 a.m., for an 11-kilometer soul search on foot. Kiwi multisport legend Richard Ussher will make an impression on the run for a notable debut, but the race glory belongs up front in the blow by blow four man duel.
Lebrun may be scripting a fairytale career end (my personal assumption), and I’ll go the outside chance of his current run form making the tiny difference, carrying him across the mile beach of soft sand, with just that notch extra experience and determination, to claim his second XTERRA World title. Batelier and countryman to Lebrun will hold strong on the run for 2nd, and (so hoping to be proved wrong) Stoltz holding 3rd after an injury plagued later season. Ruzafa may be close, but specific prep costing his bike brilliance to finish 4th. Ussher I’ll tip for 5th, but in the mix will be Marceau’s consistency, Middaugh’s solid season, Vine’s tenacity, Schumann’s youth, and a break through year for Akerson.
Nico Lebrun, Frank Batelier, Conrad Stoltz, Ruben Ruzafa, Richard Ussher, Josiah Middaugh, Olivier Marceau, Felix Schumann, Rom Akerson, Mike Vine
Of interest will be the Ironman form of Llanos and McKenzie, but I feel the top ten will be out of reach with the class racing in ’09 in the men’s pro field.
In all, I personally believe this year to be up a notch, thrilling racing awaits, and seconds will tell the front tale.
Woman’s Feel – Ms. Dibens will become the first to win three consecutive Xterra World titles – leading as she has done in the previous two years, from start to finish. Her form is on the up, and I believe she’s got the event figured, and will be too classy to match.
Dave Nicholas mentioned a smoother course than previous years, and this too pushes the scale toward Dibens record setting. Dibens would have to surrender 4min30 on the bike to allow McQuaid into contention, and although I cant foresee it, the unpredictability of sport is a magical attribute.
2nd to McQuaid then, who has put together an astounding season, but perhaps too perfect, and too much form already shown. I would enjoy seeing her become the first 4th title holder though.
Maui being such a biker’s weighted game – compounded by a ‘blind’ course of technical climbing and gutsy descending, I’ll put wild card Premont in 3rd, after real reliable form in the UCI XC Series, where she ended 6th overall a month ago. Perhaps locking into a duel with McQuaid.
But all this I see being tight, but less so than the men’s mashup. Vanlandingham might enjoy her personal coffee from the islands before race start and get close with a solid bike in 4th, and Renata Bucher taking 5th after so much successful race travel this season.
It would be exciting to see how close McQuaid can get on the bike, and what run form Kabush can repeat after 08’s brilliance.
Julie Dibens, Melanie McQuaid, Marie-Helen Premont, Shonny Vanlandingham, Renata Bucher, Lesley Paterson, Danelle Kabush, Carina Wasle, Jenny Smith, Christine Jeffrey
Closing Feel – Both pro fields are more compressed than ever – an exciting chapter in the XTERRA evolution. It’ll be down to mere seconds, that’s a definite.
The Xterra World Championship has become the melting pot of triathlon, with ITU, 70.3, Ironman and Xterra specialists rolling the dice between lava rock, kiawe thorns, and blistering heat on a board of season ending form. Thrilling close racing, monumental moments of deep will power, and Halloween dress up – wish I were there…
Provided by Xterra.