Conrad Stoltz of South Africa and Renata Bucher of Switzerland captured the inaugural Xterra South Central Championship pro titles on a hot and humid day deep in the heart of Texas at Cameron Park in Waco this afternoon.
Men’s Race Recap
Nobody on the Xterra Planet knows how to “Cowboy Up” like Stoltz, and he proved it by crushing the twisty-turny-tree-lined bike course, and walking tall across the finish line with a cowboy hat on in 2:02:21, more than three-minutes ahead of runner-up Josiah Middaugh from Vail, Colorado.
“I had fresh legs today and was just killing it on the bike. I love this course, and when I came off the bike and someone said I had a four-minute lead I thought to myself maybe we should move the Xterra World Championship to Waco,” laughed Stoltz to an appreciative local crowd at the finish line. He posted a 1:05:26 split on the 15-mile bike course, nearly two minutes quicker than Middaugh.
The race started with Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey leading all racers (men and women) out of the 1.5-kilometer warm water swim in the Brazos River, followed by Branden Rakita, Craig Evans, then Stoltz.
It wasn’t long, however, until Stoltz jumped into the lead on the bike, and then started building on it. Middaugh and Nico Lebrun, who finished the swim two minutes behind Stoltz, caught Rakita at about the halfway point but didn’t get Evans in their sights until the bike-to-run transition.
“Nico and I stayed together on the bike and I thought we were doing well and making time but Conrad was actually putting time on us,” said Middaugh, the proud father of a 10-day old daughter that he and his wife Ingrid named Larsen (they also have two boys).
When asked how far he was behind Stoltz heading out onto the run, Middaugh replied, “I don’t know, half a day? Seriously though, someone said it was four minutes, just ridiculous. I guess if he would’ve stopped and had some barbeque maybe I’d have had a chance.”
Lebrun and Middaugh played cat-and-mouse on the run for a bit, before Middaugh (who had the fastest run split for the second straight race) started working the climbs harder.
“Josiah was just too fast for me, he was really strong,” said Lebrun. “I sat on his legs during the swim, rode behind him most of the bike, and then he dropped me on the run. He’s really strong, but in this kind of race nobody can beat Conrad. He’s on another planet on this kind of bike course.”
Stoltz said that a lot of the credit goes to the locals, whose homestay put him up in an airstream “like a rockstar” while Ian Moore of Bicycles Outback in Waco fine tuned his ride on Saturday night before the race. “Ian has worked with some of the best riders and innovative equipment mountain biking has ever seen and I think he’s probably just one of a handful of guys in the world that could’ve dialed in my bike like he did.”
Evans held on for fourth-place (in nothing but a Speedo!), his best result since finishing 3rd in Alabama two years ago, and the young-gun Ryan DeCook made the podium in the fifth spot for the first time in his career.
Women’s Race Recap
Renata Bucher, the Swiss Miss of Xterra, caught Melanie McQuaid at the end of the bike and pulled away on the run, winning in 2:17:59, a little more than two minutes ahead of Arlington, Texas native Shonny Vanlandingham.
“It was just a perfect day,” said Bucher. It’s just the second of 22 career wins that have come in the U.S. for the four-time Xterra European Tour Champ.
Bucher came out of the water four minutes behind Jeffrey, and two-minutes, 20 seconds after Melanie McQuaid, but still about a minute-thirty ahead of Shonny Vanlandingham – who would prove to be the fastest female on today’s bike course.
Still, McQuaid caught and passed Jeffrey early on and led through most of the bike until just before the newly crafted 50-foot long wooden bridge that connected a culvert tunnel over a muddy creek and onto single track that the Waco Bicycle club built last week for the benefit of this race.
“This course was so much fun. It’s like a long dance, up-and-down and up-and-down. You need both hands all the time because there are so many turns, and there is never a long flat section where you can catch your breath, so there’s no time to rest,” said Bucher. “I expected Shonny to catch me on the bike and we’d battle on the run, but I didn’t look back. I couldn’t look back. So, it was nice to come to the finish line and see that nobody was there.”
“She rode really well,” said Vanlandingham of Bucher. “Her power to weight ratio is amazing, and this bike is just incredible. It’s like a rollercoaster – really fun.”
McQuaid held on for third despite a hard charging Emma Garrard who posted the fastest run split and finished a career-best fourth, followed by Jeffrey in fifth. Austin, Texas native Shae Rainer finished 6th, and in her first Xterra race ever, Christie Sym of Australia finished seventh.
After the race Sym came up to Vanlandingham and said, “can you teach me how to ride like that!” To which Shonny replied, “sure, if you can teach me how to swim like that.”
Race recap provided by Xterra.