Photo Credit: Jimmy Archer.
The view above the XTERRA Crested Butte swim start..Over it's five years of existence the Crested Butte Bank Crested Butte XTERRA has become a favorite and somewhat exclusive (entry is capped at 200 athletes) destination of the XTERRA faithful. With an absolutely amazing course nestled in the heart of Colorado's most spectacular scenery the race is without a doubt one of the World's truly great off road triathlon events.
Crested Butte's challenging course, prize purse, and vicinity never fail to attract a strong pro field consisting of many of XTERRA's strongest athletes, this year including '06 World Champion Melanie McQuaid and '06 National Champion and World Championship third place, Seth Wealing. However, the story in Crested Butte would be of challenges to the throne as high altitude locals Jenny Smith and Josiah Middaugh would usurp the pre race favorites in two of this year's best head to head XTERRA battles.
Women's Race: A new contender? Jenny Smith's strong bike brought her to the lead, her strong run brought her the win.For several years the women's XTERRA scene has been dominated by two names, McQuaid and Whitmore. Canadian Melanie McQuaid and Californian Jaime Whitmore have had a back and forth tug-o-war for XTERRA supremacy that has rarely seen another woman crack their strangle hold on the top two positions. When in the rare event of another name appearing within the top two it was usually due to extenuating circumstances of an injury or mechanical failure. However, don't be too quick to write off the lack of depth in the women's XTERRA field, with four World Championships and five series Championships between them these two are a formidable pair which fate happens to have thrust together at precisely the right moment creating an epic rivalry equal to any in sport which has entertained us for years. As with any rivalry while the rivals aggressively push each other to new heights contenders not only have to physically climb to new levels but also break through psychological and public pressures that would not normally exist if not for the two champions established dominance.
2007 has seen the women's XTERRA field temporarily reduced due the pregnancy of over one third of the regular pros and the Crested Butte field reflected this as only four pro women towed the line. Melanie McQuaid was the odds on favorite to win with a potential challenge coming from nearly home town favorite, Jenny Smith of Gunnison, CO (located only 30 miles down the road from Crested Butte). Pro mountain biker Smith has been steadily climbing the XTERRA ranks frequently producing top bike splits but needing to improve her overall performance as a triathlete, translation: she needs a better swim. Melanie McQuaid may not have been on her best form.As the racers exited the 1200m swim Smith showed improvement but still lost 2 minutes 36 seconds on the leading McQuaid. However, onto the bike Smith showed she would be someone to deal with on the day as she produced not only the fastest bike split but a ride comparable to some of the top men. Putting 2 minutes 35 seconds into McQuaid Smith all but made up her deficit out of the water. As the two started the run virtually side by side it was obvious this day would come down to a runner's race.
In the early stages of the run McQuaid held strong and looked to be forcing the pace. However, as the course climbed into the mountains of Crested Butte Smith would pull away, eventually outrunning McQuaid by 7 minutes and claiming her first major XTERRA win.
As McQuaid limped across the line it would turn out that she had bruised her foot in the previous week due to a new orthotic insert. However, McQuaid did not claim this as an excuse and insisted that she raced hard but was beat fair and square on the day. McQuaid was gracious in defeat saying "I am beginning an altitude training block and only arrived in Colorado this week. Today was a tough day at altitude for me but Jenny was really strong."
The Crested Butte XTERRA does not represent a changing of the guard but could signal the addition of a new contender at the upper echelon of women's field. With the XTERRA season at just over the halfway point this is defiantly an interesting development.
Men's Race: Leave it to the Mountian Man.
Seth Wealing dug deep to stay close to Middaugh on the bike.With defending XTERRA National Champion Seth Wealing in the field it would seem he was the obvious choice for pre-race favorite. However, Vail Colorado's Josiah Middaugh is and altitude strong man. Middaugh regularly dominates the Colorado snowshoe racing scene often held at over 10,000 feet. He won the old XTERRA Keystone whose course topped out at 12,000 feet. And he lives at over 9000 feet. With Crested Butte's elevation at only 8700 feet Middaugh was the only competitor actually descending for Sunday's race. Middaugh was second in Crested Butte in '05 and could not race in '06 due to a broken knee-cap and was looking to solidify his mountain dominance in 2007. However, Middaugh had his work cut out for him as several fellow Coloradans also chose to make the trip to Crested Butte. In addition to Wealing were XTERRA World Championship 7th place Greg Krause, and 9th place Ryan Ignatz, as well as '06 XTERRA Milwaukee Champion (and women's champion, Jenny Smith's husband) Brian Smith.
As expected Seth Wealing led out the 1200m swim with Middaugh and Krause over a minute back and Ignatz over 2 minutes 30 seconds off the lead. Onto the technical and climbing first section of the bike Middaugh and Ignatz quickly made up ground on Krause and Wealing with Middaugh passing Krause to move into second. Middaugh continue his strong ride toward the fastest split of the day and would catch Wealing as they began the long climb over Strand hill on the courses second loop. Wealing would match Middaugh until an untimely crash allowed a minute gap to open up which Middaugh was able to maintain into T2. Ignatz would produce the second fastest split of the day on the bike moving himself into third by T2 and less than one minute behind Wealing and only two minutes off Middaugh in the lead.
Josiah Middaugh runs to victory. Onto the run the rugged terrain would come into play as Wealing would run hard on the flats but was unable to catch the powerful Middaugh in the hills while Krause would re-take his third place from a cramping Ignatz.
Across the line Middaugh held off a closing Wealing by just 45 seconds while Krause solidified his third place with Ignatz coming home fourth.
With a sold out race and a beautiful day the Crested Butte Bank Crested Butte XTERRA was once again an overwhelming success. However, if you are thinking of trying to do this race next year you had better plan ahead as each year the wait list gets longer and I have never heard anyone say they don't want to come back.
Brian finished in 8th. He'd built up his bike from scratch on Saturday night, as his new replacement frame arrived on Saturday afternoon. A broken chain in the race took him out of contention but a chain tool in his pouch salvaged the race. His anger fueled run saw him post the 2nd fastest run split of the day behind Seth Wealing.