Competition tough for XTERRA

As families across the county load up their car today to leave for the lake or beach, professional and amateur triathletes are taking one last run through the course for Saturday’s XTERRA Southeast Cup race at Oak Mountain State Park.

The XTERRA event returns to Oak Mountain for the fourth year and is one of eight events this year as the tour grows throughout the nation.

“We’re very happy their back, and hopefully they’ll come back for a long time,” said Chris Hershey, events coordinator for Shelby County’s tourism department. “I think they’ve hit a good niche. The pro athletes know how good it is and keep coming back.”

Some of those repeat pros are three-time world champion Melanie McQuiad of British Columbia, Canada and Conrad Stoltz of South Africa, who won the Southeast Cup the previous two years.

Stoltz’s Twitter message Tuesday morning expressed his love for the state, “Sweet Home Alabama,” it read, as Stoltz says he always enjoys coming here the scenery, hospitality and the food. One other thing that keeps the pros coming back is the challenge of the course.

“This course is going to bring out the best technical rider and runner, because it’s such a hilly run. You have to be very good coming off the bike,” Stoltz said.

A new visitor to the park this weekend for the men is Nicholas Laburn of France, who Stoltz said the 10K run is tailor made for Oak Mountain. Laburn blew out the first race this year with a flat tire in Vegas and finished fifth in Michigan last week.

“This course is much more technical than we have in Europe. It’s another kind of technical. It’s very twisty with lots of loops. Focus on your balance,” Laburn said.

McQuaid has struggled the past two years.

“This race is going to be a good test for me,” she said. “This one course doesn’t suit me so well. If I ride the way I can and swim the way I can I’m going to be out on this run course alone with people chasing me.”

That’s the plan at least for the woman who has won the only other XTERRA U.S. races this year in Las Vegas and Battle Creek, Mich.

Competing against her this weekend is second-year XTERRA athlete and defending Southeast champion Shonny Vanlandingham of Durango, Colo.

“I think this race is going to be very competitive. Melanie’s really on top of her game right now. Renata (Bucher) from Switzerland. Everyone’s going to be gunning for the win, so it’s going to be a tough day,” Vanlandingham said.

Stoltz enters the race as the favorite for the men after winning the last two events at Oak Mountain, but he knows others are closing in on him, as there was less than a two minute difference between him and Laburn in fifth place last week.

“I always seem to have a lot of pressure. People always look at me when it comes to putting targets on other people’s back, which makes it hard,” Stoltz said. “I’d like to compete for the enjoyment of it. I find sometimes I compete to not lose.”

Stoltz is also competing for something else Saturday, as he is dedicating his race to the memory of former XTERRA athlete Steve Larsen, who died Tuesday night of a heat attack while training. He was 39.

“I was shocked. Not in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine someone in his condition passing way. I’ll dedicate my race this weekend to Steve,” Stoltz said.

The Southeast Cup begins at 7:30 a.m. at Double Oak Lake next to the park office. There is a 1.5K swim, 29K mountain bike and 10K trail run.

McQuaid suggests viewing the race from Blood Rock on the mountain bike trail or some of the paths near the Wildlife Center would be a good place to watch the races.

XTERRA SOUTHEAST CUP SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Friday, May 22

12:00-6:00pm Packet pickup at Oak Mountain State Park

5:00-6:00pm XTERRA University, presented by Paul Mitchell

Saturday, May 23

6 a.m. – Packet pickup for Cup/Sport/Du – NO RACE DAY REGISTRATION

6 a.m. – Sunrise Service with Team 413 GraceRunner Ministries

6 a.m. – Transition open for set-up and body marking

7:30 a.m. – XTERRA Southeast Cup Start (1.5K swim, 29K MTB, 10K trail run)

8 a.m. – XTERRA Sport & Duathlon Start

(750m swim, 29K MTB, 5K trail run/3K run, 29K MTB, 5K run)

9 a.m. – XTERRA Expo Open – Exhibits, Food Booths

9 a.m. – XTERRA Trail Run packet pickup

9:30/9:45am – XTERRA Southeast Cup male/female Winner expected

9:30/9:45am – XTERRA Sport male/female winner expected

9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (tent) Paul Mitchell Cut-a-thon, a benefit for the Challenged Athletes Foundation

11:30 a.m. – Cutoff time at T2 for Cup and Sport races

Noon – XTERRA Southeast Cup and XTERRA Sport Awards Ceremony

1 p.m. – XTERRA Expo Closed

7 p.m. – After Party – Margarita Grill, Pelham

Sunday May 24

6 a.m. – Sunrise Service with Team 413 GraceRunner Ministries

6-7 a.m. – XTERRA Xduro 21K/10K/5K Trail Runs and 5K Walk Packet Pickup

7 a.m. – XTERRA Xduro 21K Start

7:10 a.m. XTERRA 5K/10K Trail Runs and 5K Walk Start, benefit for Children’s Hospital

7:30 a.m.-11 a.m. XTERRA Expo Open – Exhibits, Food Booths

7:45 a.m. 5K winner expected

8 a.m. 10K winner expected

8 a.m. 21K Xduro winner expected

10 a.m. XTERRA Trail Run Awards Ceremony

11 a.m. XTERRA Expo Closed

Note: Park entry fee for adults: $3 weekends, $2 weekdays.