Dan Hugo and Lesley Paterson won the XTERRA East Championship pro race on a beautiful day at James River Park in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday.
In contrast, tropical storm Andrea on Friday and another storm front
that came in Saturday morning dumped two inches or more of rain on
Richmond and combined to create fast currents and flood level river
heights in the James forcing the cancellation of the swim. Fortunately,
several hours of bright sunshine starting Saturday afternoon and into
Sunday morning dried up the trails and the full, epic Richmond bike
course was still a go.
The swim was replaced with a 1.6 mile run, followed by the 20-mile bike
and final 6-mile run (which was also re-routed to replace the “dry way”
section that was under water).
The change in format from a triathlon to a run-bike-run duathlon changed
the dynamic of the race, stealing the advantage from the strong swimmers
and handing it over to the fleet of foot. It’s the second time in the
15-year history of the event the swim was cancelled, last time was 2003.
Regardless of the format, the day seemed destined to belong to Hugo, who
captured his first XTERRA Championship since winning the South Africa
title in 2011. The 27-year-old from Stellenbosch was the first out of T1
and posted the fastest bike split by more than six minutes to fellow
South African Brad Weiss.
“It’s much easier to win when the sports icon is commentating, or
staying home in Vail, so a big respect to Conrad (Stoltz) and Josiah
(Middaugh),” Hugo told the crowd moments after breaking the tape. “I
really love this course and it’s gotten better. There was a nutty bunch
on two of the rock sections going crazy. I thought the cannon was loud,
but then when I got through to those boys the cannon seemed OK.”
Hugo is referring to a raucous bunch of bike and trail fanatics known as
“Foghorn Leghorn Productions” who annually throw a trail party at the
trickiest section in Buttermilk Heights known as “Rock Face.” They blast
music, BBQ, dress in costumes, scream, shout encouragement, and blast on vuvuzela’s to the delight of riders all day long.
Hugo’s victory was cause for celebration for his friends, family, and
XTERRA fans worldwide as it broke a noteworthy string of 13 runner-up
finishes in his previous 14 XTERRA races. It’s fitting the win came here
in Richmond as well. He had a broken wrist and couldn’t race his first
year here (following a crash in Alabama). He posted three runner-ups in
Richmond (twice to Stoltz, once to Middaugh) and last year at this time
he was in a sling, “a total mess,” he said, after crashing on the road
earlier in the season.
“So many friends and family have said to me over the last three years
‘today is your day’, and it just hadn’t wanted to be, but today was my
day. Not just for myself, but for everybody who has shared in the long,
slow journey, thank you so much for your support over the years,” said
Hugo at the awards ceremony in front of some of his best friends and
even a grade-school buddy from South Africa he hadn’t seen in years.
“I’d also like to thank Luck Stone. It’s
incredible to see on their truck the motto “Ignite Human Potential,” and
I couldn’t think of a better phrase to take home from today. They’ve
pioneered a new frontier, and it’s great to be a part of that and I look
forward to seeing what they have up their sleeve next year.”
Luck Stone covered the race with live streaming video, GPS trackers on
the pros, and a social media map of the course while Conrad Stoltz’
provided the play-by-play and color for the day in what is assuredly the
best live coverage the sport has ever seen.
The coverage must have created some anxious moments for the fans of Brad Weiss, Ryan Ignatz, and Nick Fisher as those three battled nearly all
day long on the bike and run. Ultimately, Ignatz broke free from the
group at the famous “Mayan Ruins” section of the run and finished second
– his best result in a major XTERRA.
“I was getting blown-up on that ride, and was lucky to be able to hang
with those guys,” said Ignatz.”Then on the run Brad pushed really hard
in the beginning and it wasn’t until the stairs when I starting pulling
away. It’s pretty exciting, best result in a national series race and to
be able to work all week and show up for the weekend like this…it
Ignatz is a full-time bike fitter back home in Boulder and of note, his
wife Maia (a full-time massage therapist) won the women’s age group
Weiss pulled past Fisher for third, his best result in a U.S.
race. Fisher took 4th, his second top 5 in this his first year racing
pro. Will Kelsay passed four guys to get into 5th place, the second
year-in-a-row for him on the podium in Richmond.
Craig Evans was in that trio of guys on the bike before taking a spill
just before the tunnels coming out of Forest Hill Park on the second
lap. The crash was captured by a couple of photographers.
When he went down, Weiss, Fisher, and Ignatz rode by but Evans shook-it
off and got back in the mix. Andy Lee, who won the age group race in
Richmond last year, passed Evans in the end to take 6th — his best
finish as a pro.
Evans came across in 7th, followed by 21-year-old Karsten Madsen from
Canada who raced with a hyperextended elbow, then Branden Rakita and
“Who says I’m not a mountain biker,” Paterson exclaimed moments after
crossing the finish line.
That may have been the wrap on Paterson two years ago, but not
anymore. She proved once again today her XTERRA success is about more
than just fitness. Today she hung with arguably the best mountain biker
in the sport — Shonny Vanlandingham — on a slippery, technical course
and posted the second-best split of the day while riding behind
Vanlandingham for much of the race.
“My goal was to really go out there and enjoy it and try to keep my
focus,” said Paterson, who has now won six straight XTERRA
championships.” Shonny passed me going into the second lap so I was
really pleased to have fended off the other people. I rode with her for
most of the lap and to be honest it was really fun, we chatted around
the lap and she was giving me encouragement all the way, which is XTERRA
Style. Yeah, she’s my favorite athlete by far.”
Paterson continued to praise Vanlandingham at the awards ceremony where
she thanked the 2010 World Champion for “giving me her lines.”
“It was a tough course, really was gnarly, and I only came off once,”
Vanlandingham crushed the bike, and headed out on the run with the lead,
albeit short-lived as the “Scottish Rocket” flew by about a mile into it.
“I was trying to emulate her form as she passed,” smiled Vanlandingham,
who said she feels really good with her run and is finally getting back
from the knee surgeries that slowed her down since 2011.
Brandi Heisterman posted her second straight 3rd-place finish spurred by
another great day on the mountain bike. With the trails closed the past
two days and this being her first time to Richmond, Heisterman hadn’t
ever ridden on these trails before this morning.
“Lovey, love, loved that course,” exclaimed Heisterman, who rode in
second behind Paterson for a while.” Killed me not to know it on the
first lap, wasn’t in the right gear and got caught off guard at Hodson
ramp, but I got it right the second time around. The crowd was awesome,
the cheering was amazing.”
Melanie McQuaid finished in fourth, her 13th straight year in the top 4,
and Danelle Kabush rounded out the top five.