Ben Allen and Renata Bucher made it a clean sweep of the western Pacific by capturing their third XTERRA titles in as many weeks on a blue-sky, cool breeze day at the XTERRA Saipan Championship in the Northern Marianas.
Allen was pushed hard by Olivier Marceau, a three-time Olympian for Switzerland who has won in Saipan four times. Marceau steadily erased the minute-20 gap Allen had coming out of the water by the top of the climb on the bike, then forged into the lead at the notorious cave section just passed the halfway point on the run.
"On that technical downhill section in the ravine I've never seen anyone run so fast. Olivier was flying and I was just trying to stay with him, pushing myself beyond my ability just to try and keep up," said Allen.
Allen never let the lead slip by more than 10-or-15 seconds and when the course hit the flat road section before the beach, he pulled away, ultimately finishing with a winning time of 2:31:05, just 41 seconds ahead of Marceau. It marked the fastest winning time since Marceau's 2:27:16 back in 2007.
"In the jungle I tried to break away but Ben stayed close and on the road he was faster than me," said Marceau, who finished runner-up to Allen for the third weekend in a row.
"I was right behind him, and I did my best to catch him but he was stronger than me today. In Guam I was four minutes back, in Cebu I was two minutes back, and today I was under a minute so I'm coming along in a good way. The season is very long, and my first big race is at XTERRA Italy in late May, so I still have time to build up my speed and race pace."
The wild card in this one was Cedric Lassonde, who despite coming out of the water three minutes behind Allen and almost two behind Marceau, worked his way into the lead pack on the bike and exitedT2 within a minute of the pair. A missed left turn early on the run derailed his plans of an upset, but the promise of a bright XTERRA racing future for the professional DJ by trade remains.
"I had a strong bike, and went hard, so I probably wouldn't have been able to catch them anyway," said the humble Lassonde, whose 1:24:26 set the standard by more than a minute. It marked the third straight week Lassonde posted the fastest bike split, and any suggestions that he's not a technical rider were dismissed today - as the Saipan course is very challenging. "It was a fun race. On the bike I was loving it, and it wasn't as hot as I thought it would be, it was very nice."
Japan national mountain bike team rider/manager Takahiro Ogasawara had his best showing in the series, placing fourth ahead of Graham Wadsworth (5th), Jens Buder (6th), Branden Rakita (7th), and Will Kelsay (8th).
"Ben is on fire. Biggest thing I've seen is the improvement in his bike, from the times I've raced him in Europe last year and then at Nationals in the U.S. his bike handling skills have gotten so much better, said Kelsay. "He was always a phenomenal swimmer and a solid runner but this year he really stepped up his game, so whatever he was doing in the off-season, I want a piece of that."
"I never expected this race to be so adventurous. It was similar to the Brazil race in the Amazon in that respect," said Allen. "The course is just phenomenal, world-class. It's so much fun, the whole event is unreal and one of the toughest, for sure. The bike is grueling, the swim is tough with the current, and the run was phenomenal, one of the hardest I've ever done. I couldn't enjoy the cave because I was too busy trying to keep up with Olivier, though. Full credit to Olivier, he's a world-class athlete. I'm just stoked. Stoked I did, coming away with three wins. I'm on top of the world at the moment."
2012 XTERRA Saipan Championship Results:
Saipan, Northern Marianas - March 24, 2012
|Pro Men Results||Time||
|Pro Women Results||Time|
|Ben Allen (AUS)||2:31:05||
|Renata Bucher (SUI)||2:54:56|
|Olivier Marceau (SUI)||2:31:44||
|Jacqui Slack (GBR)||3:04:46|
|Cedric Lassonde (FRA)||2:34:58||
|Carina Wasle (AUT)||3:05:53|
|Takahiro Ogasawara (JPN)||2:45:00||
|Mieko Carey (JPN)||3:13:41|
|Graham Wadsworth (GBR)||2:46:28||
|Jens Buder (GER)||2:49:12||
|Branden Rakita (USA)||2:52:36||
|Will Kelsay (USA)||2:58:40||
|Butch Sublemente (USA)||3:30:19||
Renata Bucher is all about Saipan. There's just something about the island terrain, turquoise water, and tropical heat that works for the "Swiss Miss" of XTERRA.
"This is the place where I really started my career as an XTERRA athlete," explained Bucher, who has collected 24 XTERRA titles since her first one here in Saipan back in 2005. "I fell in love with the island the first time I came, and as long as I do XTERRA I will come here."
Today Bucher was playing catch-up from the beginning, as British pro Jacqui Slack put more than two-minutes on her in the swim and then rolled with the lead for the next hour or so until the peak of the climb up Mt. Tapochao.
"Jacqui swam really well, and so did Mieko. I tried to push hard but I couldn't catch Jacqui until the top of the climb," said Bucher, who has now won seven of the last eight here in Saipan. "I never looked back the rest of the way, until I was on the beach just before the finish. That's when I realized I could win again. It's a wonderful feeling. Ever since last year when I finished third I looked forward to coming back and doing better."
The local favorite Mieko Carey had a strong swim, just a minute behind Slack, and was fast on the bike on her home course until a pair of flats left her playing catch-up. The tough luck spread to Austrian Carina Wasle as well, who found herself in a pile-up on the bike. Despite the setback Wasle had a blistering run and caught Slack to move into second just before the finish, only to fall apart due to exhaustion just 50 yards from the tape.
Next Saturday here in Saipan all four female pros that raced today will compete in the Tagaman road triathlon, the longest-standing tri in the western Pacific.
Guam's Peter Lombard and former Saipan, now Missoula, Montana resident Dawn Hammermeister won the overall amateur crowns today. It's the sixth Saipan title for Hammermeister, who won four in a row from '03-to'06.
XTERRA Asia Pacific Triple Crown participants: The first-ever three-stop XTERRA tour to the exotic stops of Guam, Philippines, and Saipan attracted 16 adventurous professional and amateur athletes from eight countries. Among them were Ben Allen (AUS), Olivier Marceau (SUI), Cedric Lassonde (FRA), Graham Wadsworth (GBR), Branden Rakita (USA), Will Kelsay (USA), Takahiro Ogasawara (JPN), Renata Bucher (SUI), Jacqui Slack (GBR), Carina Wasle (AUT), Yoshimi Yasui (JPN), Chuck Fortier (CAN), and Guam natives Gabe Lombard, Mark Cruz, Tobias Theisen and Rick Leone.
The XTERRA Saipan Championship was the fourth world tour event, and last of three in the XTERRA Triple Crown of the Asia Pacific series. XTERRA New Zealand is up next, and Aussie Ben Allen will be there to go for four in a row...
• Allen, Bucher Capture XTERRA Philippines Championship
• Allen, Bucher Win XTERRA Guam Championship
• Stoltz & Van Huyssteen Win XTERRA South Africa Championship
• 2012 XTERRA World Tour Schedule