Triathlon up next for Oak Mountain

Professional tri-athletes return to Oak Mountain State Park this weekend for the second annual XTERRA Southeast Championship after enjoying the inaugural regional event last season.

&8220;I think this is the best race venue ever,&8221; XTERRA Pro Jamie Whitmore said in a release after last year&8217;s race. &8220;It mixes East Coast mountain biking with tight turns, roots and rocks with a fast descent and rock garden area that&8217;s totally West Coast.

It&8217;s just a blast!&8221;

Whitmore, a four-time U.S. Pro Points series champion, arrived a week early to compete in and win the Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedlars&8217; BUMP and Grind this past Sunday, and so did this year&8217;s points leader and defending Southeast Champion, Melanie McQuaid.

&8220;Usually with first you have a little bit of pressure, but I like it like that,&8221; McQuaid said. &8220;I think Jamie&8217;s an awesome athlete. She&8217;s been mountain biking really well this year and I&8217;m sure she doesn&8217;t want to be second. So I wouldn&8217;t be surprised if she&8217;s looking for first (this weekend), but she won&8217;t get it easily.&8221;

Whitmore, a native of California, trails McQuaid, of British Columbia, Canada, in points this season after finishing second to her at the XTERRA West Championship on May 20.

The race begins with a swim of two 750-meter laps, divided by a beach shuffle in Double Oak Lake before athletes take off for the mountain bike course. The bike portion of the race will be one loop around the 17-mile course followed by a &8220;simply punishing&8221; run, according to participants, that consists of four major climbs.

&8220;There&8217;s not a lot of places to rest on this course (bike or run),&8221; McQuaid said. &8220;Even though it&8217;s one of the shorter races on the circuit, it&8217;s probably one of the hardest.&8221;

The championship weekend will begin on Friday with the Oak Mountain Trail Run, featuring a 5K and 10K race, beginning at 6 p.m.

Events will continue Saturday with the Buster Britton Memorial road triathlon and XTERRA Kids Zone. The day&8217;s events will also include the GU &8220;Cruise for Cause&8221; mountain bike ride.

For more information on the XTERRA weekend, visit www.xterraplanet.com