Xterra USA 2011 Race Report

The trail from Pineview - a great day for racing
Photo - Nick Thelen
 Another perfect Utah day provided the backdrop for the racing action at Xterra USA. The new bike course lent to speedy times despite the climb, while the technical run course kept racers on their toes. Spectators lining the course, hoping for a glimpse of Lance Armstrong, were treated to a battle royal on the men's side and a commanding performance by Melanie on the women's side. She laid it down on the bike and finished in 2:43:00. Lesie Patterson made a last minute charge on the run, but took second in 2:45:59. Danelle Kabush had a strong performance to finish third in 2:47:43, with Kelly Cullen (2:49:20) and Emma G (2:52:01) rounding out the top five. I had strong swim, a decent bike (but well off the pace off the rest of the women) and a really solid run to finish 13th pro and 17th overall. I had hoped for a top ten finish this year, but it was not to be. But I still had a solid race and a good springboard towards the next season.

And this would be another reason to take the bus! Moose
do not make great spectators
Photo - Nick Thelen
 As usual, I dropped off my bike in the pre dawn gloom at Pine View Reservoir before heading up to T2. Yes, the day would be easier if I rode my bike down from Snowbasin, but I'm a wimp. It's still a little cold and dark in the morning and I don't feel like dealing with that before racing. Set up T2 - - did my mental inventory to make sure I didn't forget anything and had no unexpected issues this year. Then to the bus to ride down to the swim start. Nick was planning on riding down somewhere on course to get some photos and wished me luck as I got on the bus. By the time I got back down to T1, there was a crowd gathered on the other end of the pro racks. More of a mob really, just standing around, taking pictures and waving photos and pens. Relived that I was not in the middle of the mayhem, I headed out for an short warm up. Coming back from my ride, that was probably the closest I will ever get to Lance Armstrong. And no, no photos or autographs. I was there to race!

Swim - Because of the numbers this year, the pro field had a 30 second head start on the rest of race. My plan was to stay on Mel's feet for at least the first lap. I got a good start, but lost the draft of the group and could not get back on. So much for the plan. Swimming straight into the sun for that first lap was not easy and the little group I was in got off course - we were all sighting off one of the "no wake" buoys, not the large, yellow xterra buoy. Oops. I was still in a good group, with Sara, Kelly, Suzy and Emma. There was an unexpected dynamic this year - because the age group athletes started behind us, there were faster men swimming up along side us. A few of the pros were able to catch the drafts and moved up the field. I tried a few times, but was starting to fall off the pace. It was happening a little earlier and a little faster then I wanted. I didn't feel as settled in my wetsuit as normal either, which was a little disconcerting. Onto the second lap and I slid a little further down the group. I got out of the water with Louisa. My transition was quick - had no issues with the wetsuit and got everything done in an organized manner this time. I headed out on the bike, 8th pro woman and just behind Emma.

Bike -  I tried keeping Emma in sight along the highway leading to Wheeler Canyon, know that she would have a really good time. But as usual (and getting frustratingly common) she sped away down the road. Louisa and I passed each other a few times up the double track climb, but she got a gap before East Fork and I wasn't able bring it back. I felt okay on the bike, but just not on fire like I needed for the race. A steady tempo climb was about all I could manage at that point and the bike had just started. As we entered the single track, I was down to 12th pro, with Danelle, Jess, Shonny and Louisa all now in front of me. The trail was buttery smooth and buffed free of rocks so I set my mind to the climb. When Carina W caught me halfway through East Fork, I did my best to stay on her wheel. I was able to hold on until the steepest section of that trail, then fell back. Up to the junction with the Middle Fork and the first fun downhill section. I seemed to be pretty solidly in 13th, and there weren't that many guys around.

Heading for Snowbasin - working hard on the bike
Photo - Nick Thelen
 Onto the descent back down into the canyon. Nick was waiting about halfway down to the road crossing, taking photos. I flew down middle creek, riding the berms, using the trail and just enjoying the flow of descent. I actually passed a number of men and made up all the time I'd lost to Carina on the climb. I got back on her wheel, only to have her take off like a scalded cat. So much for trying to stay with here until the final descent! I continued with the rolling climb, crossing the bridges and down the stairs. At this point, some of the age group women were starting to catch me. It seemed like no matter how hard I worked, I just watched them climb away from me. Very frustrating. I felt like Beaver Creek was happening all over again, but without the full molasses feeling on the bike. Just sluggish and slow - not comfortable in any gear or sitting or standing on the climb. Just before the top of Sardine Peak, another pro woman caught me. This time, I managed to keep it close and didn't let her get to far away.

Heading out for the run - six miles left
Photo - Nick Thelen
 We hit the last descent and I let go. Dust clouds flying off my wheels (and everyone else's - the trail was loose in the section) and floating around the switchbacks. Awesome fun. I might not have been riding fast compared to some of the other women, but I was able to get a little time on her. It wasn't as much as I would have liked, since she caught be back as we entered the trails of Snowbasin. But it was enough to keep her close as we approacted transition. And that was all I wanted at that point. She was grabbing her number belt as I racked my bike. Amazingly, there was a spot for my bike right over my shoes this year! I had a really good, efficient transition and was out on the run. My last chance to make up some time and get a few places back.

Run - I knew the pro woman who'd passed me on the bike was within range of me catching her. When Nick hollered "run them down" I was kinda surprised. I didn't see anyone else. So I put the thought behind me and started up the service road at a steady tempo. On the steepest slope, I stopped running and power hiked - opting to give a little time back then so I would be able to run faster on the technical single track that awaited. I could see the other pro women in her black and yellow honeystinger kit through the trees. Around the corners, dancing over the rocks, I was quickly eating into the distance between us. On one of the early switch backing down hills, I made the pass. Although I was pulling away slowly, the gap wasn't growing that fast. She was trying to hang onto the pace. I wasn't too worried since the last two miles were a really fun, technical downhill. I was moving smoothly and consistently through the men around me.

On the run - getting close to the finish
Photo - Nick Thelen
 Just after mile 3, the trail popped out onto double track for a bit. Then I saw why Nick had hollered at me. Two of the AG women who'd passed me on the bike were just up the road. Time to get moving - embrace the fatigue and ache in my legs. We turned off the road onto single track again - I kept one eye on the trail and one eye on the women in front of me. Pushing the pace, taking some chances on the rocky trail, I was  slowly bringing them back. We merged with the sport course and more racers were added to the trail - more people to try to catch. Working my way through the line, I caught the first woman. Then down onto the twisting corkscrew trail the descended across the ski slopes towards the lodge and I passed the second woman. I didn't look back, just kept moving forward, trying to put as many men between them and me as I could. With one mile left, it was time to get a little crazy. Abandoning all caution, I careened around the final few switchback, dancing through the roots and rocks.Two more turns - one onto  the road and one leading to the finish. I could see Louisa and two more AG women on that final stretch, but it was over. I ran out of trail, but crossed the finish line satisfied with my run.

The new course is fun - definitely favors the climbers, but still a good ride. I really liked the fact that the run was single track now and not as much service road. It was a lot more fun to finish on trail then on the screaming downhill road. As usual, the people and city of Ogden were supportive and enthusiastic about the event. The Lance factor brought a few more spectators out and brought the press in droves - hopefully the people there to see Armstrong will realize how cool and fun Xterra racing is and want to give it a try! For me, it was good end to a rocky season - and a good starting point for next year.


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