There are always many story lines going in to USA Champs each year and this year was no different,. For the guys would Conrad dominate like last year, was Nico peaking perfectly, was Dan going to take the top step, would Josiah bring the US title home. For the ladies, would anybody be able to challenge Melanie, would Shonny’s will and faith overcome her injury, would Leslie speed back? Though all the headlines and stories are more than justified at being the headline going in, there is one that topped all; Lance Armstrong was going to race XTERRA USA Champs. That news changed the race, the feel, the tactics, the scope and the amount of interest. It was impossible to ignore as much as much as someone might try to and focus on what they needed to but when Lance attends things change.
My main focus was singular, I wanted to move up in the over US Series, I had only one option in which to do that, I needed to beat Nico and have at least one person in between us. Now not impossible it was a very tough task indeed. I have only taken Nico down once at the West Champs in Vegas, otherwise he ran me down in Waco, Alabama, and Richmond, and caught me on the bike in Beaver Creek but I was getting closer and closer to him. The course played into his favor with a lot of climbing, minimal descending and minimal technical.
As expected it was a wetsuit swim, and with no wind the only chop we would be dealing with would be from the boats towing the photojournalists around. The swim was interesting in that it the field really split in two there was a group massed to the left and the there was group massed 50 yards to the right, then a bit further right was Ben Allen. When the gun went Ben was gone and the two groups merged a the first buoy and I aligned myself on Seth’s feet and on Lance’s side through the first lap. After turning at he first buoy on the second lap through, Seth lost sight of the next buoy and Lance was leading and was veering way right. I elected to take a chance and take the straighter line and see if I could end up in front. When we hit the final turn buoy, I had managed to gain a body length and was pulling the pack back home. As we headed for home there was a kayak in the direct line and knowing I didn’t want to veer left or right just yelled as I sighted for him to move and drag the amateur racer that was holding on to the kayak with him. Thankfully he did, as we got closer we were mixing in with the slower age group swimmers finishing their first lap and I tried to use them to knock the guys behind me off my feet by noticing the ones the were drifting one direction or another and just making my way past. Unfortunately Seth went left and took the group with him and avoid the chaos and we exited the water in a group.
|The sprint for the bikes.|
I knew that time would be precious and shot quickly straight through T1 and was off on the bike only to bumble getting into my shoes on the bike. I settled into my pace and Dan went flying by. I was a judgement call I had to make early but I knew what lie ahead, and chasing Dan was not the best plan. Within a mile of starting the ascent of Wheeler Canyon, Ben was now and after thought and complete focus was on trying to keep myself in second. It was short lived as I heard wheels roll up from behind, Lance had caught up and was sitting on my wheel. It remained that way for about a half mile before he passed, then noticed that Conrad was sitting on his wheel. That was a first and all I could think was where was the photographer and camera man to have proof that they sat on my wheel for a while. I managed to stick with them for about a mile before deciding that it was best to let them go and stick to my pace. As we continued on to some true single track I focused on my goal of staying ahead of Nico.
After Josiah passed I knew that Nico was likely not far behind and sure enough just before hitting the middle descent he did just that. I stuck with him but after we hit the start of the second climb he got away and I knew the only way I was going to catch him was a flat or a major blow up. It was very different climbing up to Snowbasin, normally there are a few people at the road crossings and and at connecting trails that are close to parking lots, this year the number of people tripled out on the course. There was one reason, everyone wanted a picture of Lance, in the middle of the race I was very tempted to say to people that they could cheer for people other than Lance when they remained silent as we rode by. Conrad echoed this at the finish saying it was very weird not getting cheered for everything was for Lance.
As I continued up the climb getting time splits I figured that I was pacing myself as best as possible and the others had gone to hard in the beginning as the gaps were slower to open and I was managing well as we hit T2.
In the end I crossed the line 42 seconds behind finishing in 6th, after starting the run 2min 30 seconds down. I was closer than any second place finisher in the Tour de France had ever been. As for my primary goal, well it was unobtainable today, Nico won so there was no chance to jump over him in the series but I had my best season to date finishing in 4th in the series. Now there is just one race remaining, Xterra World Championships in Kapalua, Maui, T-2 days to go.