Emotion and excitement ruled the day at the XTERRA West Championship in Lake Las Vegas, Nevada as XTERRA icon Conrad 'the Caveman' Stoltz rode a wave of adrenaline to victory in honor of his father Gert who passed away on Monday, while Renata Bucher somehow out-stretched the defending XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson at the tape in the closest women's finish in the sports history.
"I thought about my Dad a lot, and Liezel, and our faith that has carried us through this," said Stoltz, who pointed to the heavens as he crossed the finish line. "This one is for my Dad. Tomorrow, we'll go home for his funeral."
A cold, rainy, overcast day greeted athletes from around the U.S. for the 9am start in 57-degree Lake Las Vegas. Three-time Aquathon World Champ Richard Stannard from the United Kingdom led the charge as expected, posting the fastest 1.5K swim in 18:11, followed by Dan Hugo (-24), Branden Rakita (-35), Craig Evans (-44), and Stoltz (-58 seconds).
"I lost a bit of time on the swim but it wasn't too cold and I felt good on the bike and made it up," said Stoltz, who reeled in all four early and started to build his lead from there. "My bike was set-up really well thanks to Specialized being out here. Last night I made a last minute tire change and my set-up was perfect for this course. I was happy to make three minutes on Dan and more than four on Josiah (Middaugh). You need at least four because Josiah makes a minute up on each hill."
Middaugh indeed had the fastest run of the day and caught Hugo, but couldn't reel in the Caveman whose winning time of 2:08:22 was nearly two minutes faster. It's the fourth straight year Stoltz and Middaugh have finished first and second at this race, with Stoltz now leading the rivalry 3-to-1.
"This is one of the hardest runs on the tour, with really steep hills, and rough terrain. The AVIA trail running shoes really handled this moon-like, lunar surface well though."
Hugo held on for third while Aussie Chris Legh ran his way past Branden Rakita and Craig Evans to finish fourth.
Rakita placed fifth, and David Henestrosa from Spain put together his best performance in years to finish 6th. Evans was 7th, the UK's Doug Hall placed eighth in his first-ever XTERRA, and Lewis Elliot ran his way up to 9th despite some troubles on the bike in his return to the off-road format.
2012 XTERRA West Championship Results:
Lake Las Vegas, Nevada - April 14, 2012
|Pro Men Results||Time||
|Pro Women Results||Time|
After nearly three hours of racing the women's pro race came down to a never-before seen photo finish with Bucher going stride-for-stride with Paterson all the way to the tape.
Bucher finished in 2:58:24.18 and Paterson came in at 2:58:24.50, just 3/10ths of a second later. It was the closest finish in XTERRA's 17-year history. Watch the finish.
What makes it even more remarkable was the comeback of Paterson, who was two minutes and 43 seconds behind heading out on to the run.
"We ran the last 200 yards like that together. I tried to pass real quickly but she held on and sat on my tail," explained an exhausted Paterson. "My thighs were burning and I was dying, then I went for the sprint and it was downhill - and I'm really good at that and thought I had it - but ..."
As they sprinted dangerously fast down the last dirt hill and through the finish chute it's a miracle neither went face first, and it wasn't until just before the tape that Paterson stumbled and Bucher broke the tape. The two embraced immediately after in a truly memorable sports moment celebrating pure guts and character on both racers part.
"It was so hard, oh my goodness," said Bucher. "I left everything I had on that course, and I ran my heart out. What a great race. Lesley made me work so hard. I wish we hadn't sprinted like that, though, it really hurt."
For Bucher it was her fourth straight XTERRA championship win, having swept back-to-back-to-back races at XTERRA Guam, Philippines and Saipan in March.
"Renata is incredible, she's going really well right now," said Paterson. "I thought I might just get her at the end but she held on like a trooper. If anybody should've won it's her."
Emma Garrard had a great race as well, matching her career-best finish by coming in third. Danelle Kabush passed Melanie McQuaid, who came into the race sick, to finish fourth. McQuaid held on for fifth.
Several stand-out road triathletes and XTERRA newcomers added to the depth of the women's field. Kate Major took on just her second XTERRA and finished a respectable 7th, Beth Walsh was 8th in her debut, Kathryn Ross posted the fastest swim and finished 10th, and Tamara Donelson celebrated an 11th place finish in her pro debut after winning the overall XTERRA Worlds amateur title last year.
"It's a lot of fun to come out to a race like this where the atmosphere is so laid back and friendly," said Major, echoing a common-theme drawn from the camaraderie displayed between XTERRA participants.
More than 400 racers from 25 states and several countries took part in today's championship or sport races, which were held at Lake Las Vegas for the fourth consecutive year. Ryan Petry from Tempe, Arizona won the overall amateur race, finished an amazing 8th overall and 38 seconds ahead of Bryce Phinney from Tucson. In the women's race 16-year-old Hannah Rae Finchamp continues to impress, winning the amateur title and placing 9th overall ahead of five pros. To make it even sweeter, it was her 100th career triathlon.
• Allen, Bucher Win 3rd Consecutive XTERRA Championship
• 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