July 2001 – Keystone, Colorado
By Adam Hodges
ISSUE #12, August/September 2001 – High and dry in the Rockies, athletes meted out strong doses of competition and suffered at the hands of arguably the most challenging XTERRA course on the circuit. One might expect the altitude to lessen its grip on the locals, but Colorado athletes hurt just as much as the lowlanders at the XTERRA Central Championship in Keystone on July 29.
“That was one hard race,” said an exasperated Wes Hobson after finishing. Hobson started off the day by posting the fastest swim split, 12:38, on the two-lap course around Keystone Lake.
Hobson led Kerry Classen and Scott Schumaker out of the water. A minute behind, Mike Vine of British Colombia hit land ready to rumble. And everyone’s mountain biking nemesis, Ned Overend of Durango came ashore just over two minutes back, followed shortly by France’s Nicholas LeBrun.
With thoughts of the climb up Keystone Mountain via rocky single track, swimmers made the long dash from the swim exit up to T1 to put their knobby tires to the test.
Colorado’s favorite pair of lungs, Ned Overend, wasted no time in exerting his dominance on the bike. At the summit, Overend owned the lead and rode it back down the mountain into T2, clocking 1:09:29 for the fastest split by nearly a minute.
“I got some time on the climb,” said Overend. “Then Vine took some back on the downhill.”
Vine let it all hang out while chasing Overend down the mountain. After successfully staying in his pedals through Wild Thing, Vine entered T2 with the third fastest bike split of the day, nineteen seconds behind Overend.
Meanwhile, LeBrun was on a mission as he rode the second fastest bike split to take back ground on the leaders. Down 1:42 when he entered T2, LeBrun headed out on the run struggling to make his lungs draw in enough oxygen in the altitude air to match the strength of his legs.
With Overend, Vine and LeBrun securely onto the run course, Conrad Stoltz and Michael Tobin were next to arrive into T2.
Vine, whose strength usually consists of biking, brought his running legs to Keystone. Adequately recovered from the oxygen debt he suffered during the opening swim, Vine quickly erased Overend’s lead during the first two miles of the run.
By the last two miles, a hard charging LeBrun had caught Overend and had his sights on Vine.
“I just tried to hold a steady pace for the run,” said Vine. “Nicholas was bearing down on me at the end.”
Fortunately for Vine, the end soon came and he wrapped up the Central Championship in Keystone the same way he did the Eastern Championship a month ago in Richmond, VA. His 2:04:41 victory put him atop the 2001 XTERRA points series with a perfect score.
Second overall, LeBrun finished the day with the fastest run split, 39:45, and also climbed to second in the series standings.
Overend held off Stoltz and Tobin for third to claim a podium spot for his home state.
“I came here hoping to win,” said Overend. “But I’m not disappointed. These guys are good. I thought Nicholas might catch Mike the way he was running. I had a fast bike, but not fast enough.”
Seth Wealing, Dave Harrison, Pat Brown, Wes Hobson and Justin Thomas rounded out the top ten in the race where the winning time was nearly four minutes faster than last year’s, making Vine’s 2:04:41 the new mark to beat on the Keystone XTERRA course.
Meanwhile, the women were engaged in their own battle on the trails, gunning for a new course record of their own.
Former world champion Cameron Randolph blasted the swim with the lead men and exited the water in 13:39. Raleigh Tennant of Australia and Brigitte Lacy of Colorado Springs conceded less than twenty seconds to Randolph and quickly followed her up the 200-meter path into T1.
A minute later, Colorado favorite Kerstin Weule of Evergreen came ashore looking for a fourth victory at Keystone. South Africa’s Anke Erlank left the water two minutes down, but eager to ride. Further back, Colorado’s Monique Merrill and pro mountain biker Melissa Thomas of Denver shed wetsuits for mountain bikes and got to work on the climb to the 11,640-foot summit of Keystone Mountain.
Buoyed by her lead out of the water, Randolph worked to keep at bay the slew of pursuers hammering up the single track behind her. At the summit, Erlank, Weule and pro mountain biker Melanie McQuaid from Canada were all ready to pounce like mountain lions on Randolph’s tenuous lead.
On the wild descent, the mountain bike specialists took control and rearranged the ordering. Erlank, taking advantage of her recent training in Boulder, moved securely into first. A few minutes later, a relentless Thomas, riding the fastest bike split of the day, 1:23:44, entered T2 followed by Merrill, Randolph and Weule.
After waking up feeling horrible, a struggling Weule continued to battle on the run whose difficulty only added to her misery. Still, Weule gave chase and ran down all but Erlank with her 47:38 run split, second fastest behind Jenny Tobin’s 46:01.
Erlank claimed victory and a new course record in 2:28:08. Weule, last year’s XTERRA world champion, took second only a few minutes off Erlank’s finish and well under her old Keystone course record of 2:36:55 set in 1999.
Randolph rounded out third followed by Merrill, Thomas, Cheri Touchette, Tobin, Kerry Barnholt, Jodi Mielke and Lesley Tomlinson in the top ten.
Weule’s performance was enough to secure her position at the top of the points series while Erlank moved to second in the standings. Weule will be gunning for yet another world championship in Maui on October 14.
In the amateur competition, Josiah Middaugh of Vail posted a 2:17:24 to claim first in the race.
“It was a tough course,” said Middaugh. But despite the challenging terrain, he improved upon last year’s performance by twenty minutes.
Middaugh is hoping to make the trip to Maui to experience the world championships first-hand.
Kelly Schalk ran to the fastest overall time for the amateur women and Jari Kirkland from Breckenridge followed next as the first Coloradoan.
Kirkland will compete in Maui for the second year in a row. And she’ll be even more prepared for the technical mountain biking this year. Kirkland has spent the summer racing for a local mountain bike team to hone her skills and will attempt Montezuma’s Revenge, a 24-hour mountain bike race the week after XTERRA Keystone in the same neck of the woods.
The 2001 Nissan XTERRA USA Championship Race Series continues with the West Championship in Half Moon Bay, CA on August 19 and the USA Championship in Lake Tahoe on September 23. The XTERRA World Championship will take place in Maui on October 14. Look for a legion of Colorado athletes led by Kerstin Weule and Ned Overend to take on the race in Hawaii.