Ben Allen and Renata Bucher captured the second-annual XTERRA Philippines Championship in front of thousands on a picture-perfect day at the high-end Amara subdivision of Liloan in the Cebu Province on Sunday.
It is every performers dream to play on the biggest stage in front of an adoring, sold-out crowd. On Sunday in Cebu that dream came true for Allen, Bucher and several hundred other XTERRA athletes representing more than a dozen countries as XTERRA's version of the Tour de France unfolded in the scenic tropical paradise of the Philippines.
"It was absolutely amazing out there having thousands of people on the cliffs watching the swim and then lining both sides of the entire bike and run course, cheering the whole day," said Allen, who posted a 2:30:05 winning time that was more than two-minutes ahead of triathlon legend Olivier Marceau. "Today was one of the highlights of my career and I'm just over-the-moon, couldn't be happier."
The 7am race started under ideal, cool conditions when Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia fired the starting gun to send the mass of pros and amateurs on a 1.5km swim in the choppy waters of the Camotes Sea.
Allen, a dominant swimmer among the contenders, had company up-front with Canadian pro Mathieu O'Halloran and Australian age-grouper Daniel Neilson leading him out of the water.
Allen took over the lead before the trio left the bike-to-run transition and O'Halloran dealt with a series of flats shortly after, a common theme for many today riding the undulating, rocky route. With three-time Olympian Marceau chasing hard behind Allen, the 27-year-old from Wollongong would need a near-perfect day to stay in front.
"I felt much better than last week but I just couldn't catch him," said Marceau, who was the runner-up to Allen at XTERRA Guam last week as well despite coming out of a cold European winter with little training in his legs - a fact the classy veteran did not use as an excuse.
"At one point on the first lap of the bike Olivier was just 20-seconds back or so and that was all the motivation I needed to keep going hard," said Allen. "I look up to him and all he has done in his career. I'd like to follow in his footsteps and take the XTERRA world by storm this year."
After capturing his second championship in as many weeks on the XTERRA World Tour - with another opportunity on Saturday in Saipan and 10 more XTERRA championship chances on his ambitious schedule thereafter - Allen is clearly on his way to accomplishing that goal.
2012 XTERRA Philippines Championship Results:
Cebu, Philippines - March 18, 2012
|Pro Men Results||Time||
|Pro Women Results||Time|
Cedric Lassonde from France is also making quite a statement in this early season set of races in the western Pacific - posting the fastest bike split for the second week in a row and coming in third today, just 16 seconds behind Marceau.
"It was incredible out there, like a stage in the Tour. I've never experienced anything like it," said Lassonde, who also had the fastest run split of the day.
The UK's Graham Wadsworth used a strong run to catch and pass American Branden Rakita for fourth-place. Rakita came in 5th, followed by Austrian Thomas Vonach in his first race as a pro, Will Kelsay from the U.S., Takahiro Ogasawara from Japan, and Mathieu O'Halloran from Canada.
The overwhelming feeling from the field in today's event was of awe and amazement. They said it was "like a video game, always changing" and a "sensory riot full of vibrant color and sound."
"That was insane, like Graham said, the closest we'll get to the Tour de France." said long-time and well-traveled "Mr. XTERRA" Will Kelsay. "It was absolutely amazing. You'd ride by schools of kids and could hear them cheering from far away. We rode through a turkey farm, people's backyards, and right in front of their house doors. At one-point I was giving high-five's for a hundred yards. Then out on the run you cross a rickety bamboo bridge, through a basketball court, people's backyards, a calf-high bay, a beach...it was awesome."
The "Swiss Miss" of XTERRA Renata Bucher has been around the world, and with the win in the Philippines has collected 23 championship victories in 13 countries - but none with so many eyes upon her.
It started with a chase as Jacqui Slack from the UK took an early lead with a strong swim that was more than two-minutes faster than Bucher and Austrian Carina Wasle. Out of the water Wasle put an initial gap on Bucher during the bike before a series of disastrous flats that took her out of the race. To her credit Wasle never gave up, and despite being on the bike course for more than three-and-a-half hours, soldiered on to finish as the fourth and final female pro in 4:46:17, nearly two hours after the race had been decided.
"I just didn't want to give up," said Wasle.
With that, Bucher went to work on reeling in Slack, who held the lead on the bike until the end of the first 17K lap. "I was nervous, because I know Jacqui is a very strong runner," said Bucher, who had the fastest bike split at 1:42:43 to take a solid lead heading into the run.
Slack did indeed post the fastest run of the day, but it wasn't enough to catch Bucher - whose winning time of 2:53:33 was three minutes faster.
"It was amazing today with so many kids and spectators everywhere along the course. It was hard to concentrate with just so much going on out there. It was the perfect temperature, and it turned out to be a perfect day for me," said Bucher, who along with Allen will look for the clean sweep of the western Pacific as XTERRA heads to the Northern Marianas for the XTERRA Saipan Championship on Sat., March 24.
Darelle Parker finished in third position in her first race back from a shoulder injury sustained at the XTERRA Guam Championship at this time last year.
"I picked this race to focus for my return because I had such a great experience last year. The welcome you receive is so warm, and they treat you so well. The organization is simply the best, the weather is great, and the spectators are incredible. It's just a special place," said Parker.
Daniel Neilson from Australia and Silvia Tiezzi from Italy captured the overall amateur championship titles, leading a strong cast of 40 amateurs who qualified for the XTERRA World Championship in Kapalua, Maui on October 28th.
• Allen, Bucher Win XTERRA Guam Championship
• Stoltz & Van Huyssteen Win XTERRA South Africa Championship
• 2012 XTERRA World Tour Schedule