After Xterra Guam, we had a week to recover before we were on the start line at Xterra Saipan. Saipan was an hour flight north of Guam and is a smaller island, with a population slightly smaller then Rotorua. I had heard a few things about this race, one obviously being the heat, but also how long and steep the climbs are on both the bike and run.
We were able to check these out in the days leading into the race and we got what we expected. The climbs were brutal. Both steep and long, and in some places technical, they were going to be a challenge during the race. I liked it though, the bike and run were more technical and hillier then Guam so I was hoping that this would help me a bit more compared to the rest of the pro guys. Along with a harder course, a few more pros turned up to race including tow time defending champ Ben Allen and OIympian Olivier Marceau making a stacked field.
Race week went quickly like usual and on Saturday we were up at 4am as the race starts at 7, so that we aren't racing in the heat of the day. We started with an awesome two lap 1500m swim, where we were able to dolphin dive for most of it (there is a huge reef around Saipan and it was low tide). This was pretty entertaining...I was passing people dolphin diving and then would start swimming to recover from that effort. I had a good swim and was out in a group from 4th-8th.
Onto the bike and quickly we were onto the first climb where the group whittled down to just three including myself, Nico Sterk and Olivier Marceau. I wasn't feeling that great but we were keeping a good pace so I was just hoping I would be able to stay with them and make a move on the descent. Sure enoughw e stayed as a trio for over half, taking turns sharing the work on the climbs and flat bits. This worked well for me and once we were near the top of the big climb I made a decision to attack and get a gap, hoping to extend it on the big descent back to transition. This worked and by T2 I had over two minutes to Nico and Olivier, and was only 30 seconds down on Bradley Weiss in 3rd.
I was quick through transition and was out onto the run chasing Brad. I was pulling him back for the first few k's, before we hit the singletrack climb. It starts gradual but gets steeper and steeper as it goes. Brad was quick up the hill and pulled away from me. I was giving it everything but just wasn't able to hold him. I tried to conserve energy though and pushed through the very technical and rocky descent along a dry stream bed, and into some World War Two caves. I was making up time but by the end of the descent he had about 45 seconds. The last three k's were flat, along a few roads and a beach to finish. I kept pushing but wasn't able to pull Brad in, having to settle for 4th in a tight race.
I loved the racing over there, against those top guys and know the gap between them and myself is getting smaller so with a bit more hard work I know I can be up there with the winners some time soon. It's time to head back to NZ though and get ready to race Xterra NZ in my hometown, on my course. Conrad Stoltz and Ben are coming (along with several more pros) so it is going to be huge!