The Stars of XTERRA Head to Santa Cruz

Northern California, get ready for the inaugural XTERRA Pacific Championship at Wilder Ranch State Park May 15, 2011.

Courtesy XTERRA

The stars of XTERRA, featuring some of the world’s finest triathletes and mountain bikers, are headed to Santa Cruz, California for the inaugural XTERRA Pacific Championship at Wilder Ranch State Park on May 15, 2011.

It’s NorCal’s best chance to meet, greet, mingle, learn, and race right alongside some of the coolest characters in the endurance world.  Long-time event sponsor Paul Mitchell will host a free XTERRA University session on Saturday, May 14, along with some fun and scenic 5k/10k and 20k trail runs for those up for experiencing the off-road racing scene themselves.  Then, on Sunday the main event kicks off at Cowell’s Beach right next to the pier as pros battle for $10,500 in prize money and amateurs race for qualifying spots into the XTERRA World Championship.

Leading the elite-side of the “XTERRA Tribe” is two-time Olympian and four-time XTERRA World Champion Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz of South Africa.  At 37-years-old Stoltz is as good-as-they-come in the sport of off-road triathlon, and holds the XTERRA record for most championship race wins at 38.

Interestingly, Stoltz picked up his first XTERRA win a decade ago at the 2002 West Championship that was held nearby at Half Moon Bay (which is the last time XTERRA was in NorCal for a major event).

Stoltz chief rival is American Josiah Middaugh of Vail, Colorado – a mountain man of all seasons. Over the winter Middaugh won the USA Winter Triathlon National Championship and the North American Snowshoe Championship, and then he came out of the snow to upset Stoltz at the first championship race of the year in the Las Vegas desert on April 10.  A week later, Middaugh missed winning his second-in-a-row in Waco, Texas by a mere eight seconds to Stoltz.

The two have and are sure to create some more exciting racing action in 2011, and you can expect another tight battle in Santa Cruz – which as a brand new racing venue serves as neutral ground for almost everyone in the field.  Everyone, that is, except 24-year-old Santa Cruz native Tommy Zaferes and 29-year-old mountain bike pro Barry “Wicknasty” Wicks who spent four years on the trails around this hip surf town.

Zaferes is in just his second-year as a triathlon pro but has shown great promise and will likely be among the first swimmers out of the cold Pacific Ocean where he has surfed and swam competitively for the last 16 years.  The mountain bike portion could be quite interesting; however, as Tommy’s first time on a knobby tire bike was in March (read his account on his blog at tommyzaferes.com).

The mountain bike will most certainly not be a problem for Wicks, an accomplished World Cup and cyclocross racer who won an XTERRA points series race last season in his first year dabbling in off-road tri.  This will be Wicks first go at a championship XTERRA race against the heavies, but with 65% of the race spent on the mountain bike, Wicks could be a factor at the front of the pack.

While local course knowledge will certainly help Zaferes and Wicks, they’ll still be up against the top 11 racers in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series – a hardy collection of seasoned veterans that have proven themselves at courses across the country.

Among them are Branden Rakita (3rd in Vegas) and Seth Wealing (3rd in Waco) from Colorado – both super fast in the water, skilled on the bike, and dangerous on the run.

Nico Lebrun, the 2005 XTERRA World Champ, finished fourth at both the first two races and has always gotten stronger and faster as the season progressed.

Dan Hugo, who won the XTERRA South Africa Championship to open the 2011 World Tour back in February, is making his XTERRA U.S. season debut in Santa Cruz.

Trevor Glavin and Craig Evans sit in sixth and seventh position in the pro series, respectively, and are always in the mix.   Cody Waite is a great climber, and this course is said to have plenty of that.  If it comes down to the run watch out for Shiloh Mielke, a trail runner by trade who makes a habit out of striding by competitors on the run.  Also of note is Chris Stehula, last year’s collegiate triathlon national champion, who was impressive in Vegas finishing 5th overall against a stacked field.

It’s always exciting to race on a course for the first-time as the mystery of who it will favor lingers.  One thing is for certain, you can count on seeing some amazing displays of mountain biking skill, pure toughness, and a ton of endurance from this finely tuned collection of XTERRA specialists.

Courtesy XTERRA

XTERRA Pacific Championship Men’s Pro Start List
Rank – Name – Age, Hometown

1t- Conrad Stoltz – 37, Stellenbosch, South Africa

1t – Josiah Middaugh – 32, Vail, Colorado

3- Branden Rakita – 30, Manitou Springs, Colorado

4 – Nicolas Lebrun -38, Digne, France

5 – Seth Wealing – 32, Boulder, Colorado

6 – Trevor Glavin – 31, San Diego, California

7 – Craig Evans – 33, Hendersonville, Tennessee

8 – Cody Waite – 32, Lakewood, Colorado

9 - Shiloh Mielke – 31, Durango, Colorado

10 – Adam Wirth – 32, Boise, Idaho

11 – Chris Stehula – 26, San Luis Obispo, California

16 – Will Kelsay – 29, Boulder, Colorado

Courtesy XTERRA

17 – Damian Gonzalez – 34, Stockton, California

NR – Matt Boobar – 38, Stratton Mountain, Vermont

NR - JP Donovan – 24, Orinda, California

NR - Dan Hugo – 25, Stellenbosch, South Africa

NR - Chris Jackson – 22, Burbank, California

NR - Barry Wicks – 29, Corvallis, Oregon

NR - Tommy Zaferes – 24, Soquel, California

Note: Rank is their current rank in the 2011 XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Standings (after two of six events)
NR = Not ranked