Cycling legend’s return to triathlon a huge success
Lance Armstrong finished fifth at Saturday’s XTERRA USA Championship near Ogden, Utah in his first triathlon in more than 22 years, and came away with a respect for the sport and an appreciation for the beauty of Utah.
“You know what it is, it’s a challenge,” Armstrong said at the awards ceremony at Snowbasin Resort when asked what he thought about his first XTERRA. “I think all of us out here, whether you’re competing to win the race or just competing to finish, in life we always look for those challenges and I’m no different than that. At 40 years old, I guess I could have gone home and drank beer and played golf all day long, but it’s cool to come out here and test yourself with these young guys, and also just support a sport that I think is really cool.”
Thousands of spectators showed up at the swim, on the trails, around the transitions and at the finish line to show their support of Armstong and XTERRA, and along the way were treated to an epic fall day in Northern Utah.
“I think Utah is amazing. You could spend your summers here and your winter’s up on the hill skiing, seems pretty good to me,” said Armstrong.
There was a lot of hype entering the 2011 XTERRA USA Championship, and Nicolas Lebrun didn’t receive much of it. But when it was all said and done, the top off-road triathlete from France proved that the XTERRA USA Championship is a bit different from a Tour de France.
Lebrun rallied from a slow swim with the fastest bike split of the day, and then finished with a strong run to run off with top honors at the XTERRA USA Championship. It was his second USA title in the last three years.
“This is a very good race to win,” said Lebrun, 38. “I think a lot of athletes knew that with more media, more people around, it would be a very big victory. So I am really happy to have my best race of the year here.”
Melanie McQuaid of Canada also had a very good race, and took top honors among the women. It was McQuaid’s fourth consecutive women’s USA Championship, and her fifth overall. Obviously, this race is good for me,” said McQuaid, 38.
It was one of the most anticipated events in XTERRA history, mostly because of the XTERRA debut of American cycling legend Lance Armstrong – the seven-time Tour de France winner.
Armstrong, 40, was in third place for most of the race, but finished in fifth overall.
Lebrun was as far back as fifth place midway through the bike, and did not take the lead until the final two miles of the run. To his own surprise, he passed Armstrong on the bike.
“I caught Lance on the bike,” Lebrun said. “I said ‘I’m passing Lance on the bike, is this a dream?’ That was my first victory of the day.”
Lebrun’s bike time of 1:21:59 was 49 seconds faster than any of the other pros. He used the momentum to pass South Africans Conrad Stoltz and Dan Hugo in the run. Stoltz is the 2010 USA and world champion, and Hugo led the field by nearly a minute after the bike.
“I felt really strong on the run,” he said. “I saw really quick that I was coming back on Conrad (Stoltz) and Dan (Hugo), so I can pace myself. With the altitude, if you push the pace too much sometimes you can crash.”
Hugo said he was surprised with the lead he built during the bike, but was even more disappointed to lose it late in the run.
“I had a great swim; got out of the water and Armstrong was right there with us — that was phenomenal,” Hugo said. “From there, I decided to bike super hard and try to take charge. I took the lead, which was a little unexpected. Everything was going great until about one-third of the way through the run and I was really struggling. Maybe I over-biked a little bit.”
Hugo, who had never finished higher than fourth at the USA Championship, said he was especially frustrated because of the grand stage that the 2011 USA Championship offered.
“I was pretty crushed,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion on the line. We might never get an opportunity like this again. The world finally took notice of our sport, and I wanted to step up. I had a lot of want on the line today, and it was almost there.”
Josiah Middaugh of Vail, Colo., placed third despite a mishap on his bike. He blew out a tire and ran with his bike for the last mile. Even after that, he was able to pass Stoltz and Armstrong on the run.
Stoltz placed fourth and Armstrong fifth. A large crowd gathered at Snowbasin Resort, and Armstrong received the loudest cheers when crossing the finish line.
“I was nervous,” Armstrong said of his first triathlon in more than 20 years. “I was trying to stay focused on what I had to do today, just because I was so freaked out that it had been so long.”
One of the key reasons for the success of the XTERRA in Utah is the amazing volunteer support provided by the Ogden community and the Greater Ogden Athletic Legacy (GOAL Foundation) in particular, and that was not lost on Armstrong.
“Everyone needs to remember to thank the volunteers, because these races don’t happen without them.”
XTERRA Trail Run Nationals Recap
The following day, on Sunday, September 25, XTERRA hosted its annual Trail Running National Championship, where Max King capped an amazing weekend of racing by winning his fourth consecutive XTERRA National Championship.
King completed the 21-kilometer trail course in 1 hour, 17 minutes, 59 seconds. King once again dominated the field, beating the other runners by nearly four minutes.
“This was a great course with a lot of climbing and was very tough,” said King, 31. Making it even tougher, King was running on tired legs. Less than 24 hours before the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship, King was competing in even longer state – and in a different time zone.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, King won the USA 50K Trail Championship in Bend, Ore. In essence, the XTERRA Trail Run victory gave him two national titles in less than 24 hours in two different states.
“You always have to think positive when you’re an athlete, so I was thinking positive that I could do it,” King said. “It was a matter of how your body holds up and how you feel after the first (race).”
Fellow Oregon runner Mario Mendoza and Salt Lake City runner B.J. Christenson pushed King for the first half of the race.
King and Christenson were side-by-side for the first 10 kilometers, but King pulled ahead on the rugged uphill climb to “Sardine Peak,” which tops out at an elevation of 7,300 feet.
“We let B.J. get a lead on us and I was getting a little nervous so I had to make sure we caught up,” King said. “We caught him at the bottom of the hill, and then going up I was able to get ahead and then pull away.”
Mendoza also passed Christenson on the climb to claim second place with a time of 1:21:51. Christenson took third with a time of 1:22:25.
Mendoza said he twisted an ankle early in the race, and it took him a few miles to recover. “I wish that wouldn’t have happened because I lost contact with Max and (Christenson). But I really felt strong (running) up, so that’s how I was able to catch up and get back in contention.”
Mendoza, who placed third at last year’s XTERRA Trail Run National Championship, trains with King in Oregon. “I didn’t think I was going to beat Max, but I was hoping to get a little bit closer,” said Mendoza, 25. “He’s built for the trails. He’s an incredible downhill runner…he’s definitely shown he’s the best trail runner in the U.S. and in the world, too.”
In the women’s division, Olympic cross country skiers Morgan Arritola and Liz Stephen showed that they are just as fast in trail running shoes.
Arritola, who is from Ketchum, Idaho, captured first place, finishing with a time of 1:29:09. She took the lead early in the course and maintained it the rest of the way.
“I kind of figured that climbing is my strength, and not so much the foot speed so I thought that I’d kind of make some people hurt right off the bat on the (first) uphill and see what happened,” said Arritola, 25. “But I still had no idea.”
It was the first XTERRA Trail Run for Arritola, but not her first experience with trail running. She won another national title this summer in Oregon.
Stephen, who is from East Montepelier, Vermont, made a late surge and finished second with a time of 1:30:54. “It was awesome,” said Stephen, 24. “I kept looking up at the peaks and saying we’re still going up.”
Arritola and Stephen were teammates for the United States cross country ski team at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Rachael Cuellar of New Mexico placed third with a time of 1:32:50, and Lesley Paterson (pictured) was fourth in 1:33:48. Paterson placed second in the XTERRA USA Championship off-road triathlon on Saturday, Sept. 24, also at Snowbasin.
This was the first year that XTERRA held its national championship triathlon and trail run in the same city, and on the same weekend. Both events were filmed for nationally broadcast television shows. The XTERRA TV crew will produce a one-hour show on the triathlon and the trail run will be part of a half-hour XTERRA Adventures show that will be broadcast on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX affiliates across the country. The two shows will be seen by more than eight million viewers in the coming months, providing tremendous exposure to Utah.
About TEAM Unlimited/XTERRA
TEAM Unlimited is a Hawaii-based television events and marketing company, founded in 1988. It owns and produces XTERRA and in 2011 will produce nearly 200 XTERRA off-road triathlon and trail running races in 15 countries worldwide. There are 40,000+ competitors from all 50 states and more than 40 countries competing in XTERRA. In addition, TEAM TV has produced more than 300 adventure television shows resulting in three Emmy’s and 42 Telly Awards for production excellence. View samples at www.xterra.tv, and learn more at xterraplanet.com.