Take third at mountain championships
Brian and Jenny Smith each finished third at the Xterra Mountain Championships held in Ogden, Utah on Saturday, August 16.
The mountain championship is one of five regional races throughout the country leading up to the nationals in Lake Tahoe, Nevada on October 5.
Both Jenny and Brian continue their quest for the overall titles against a gaggle of seasoned professional athletes.
Just about the only thing holding each of them back is the swim portion of the three-stage race.
While they continue to improve on their swim splits, they were handed a daunting challenge in Ogden as professional athletes were denied use of wetsuits for their race. Furthermore, the event was run with a mass start of all classes, sending the pros into the water with hundreds of amateurs adorned in full wetsuits.
“It kind of caught us off guard,” says Brian. “I was getting kicked and punched.”
“It was burley,” adds Jenny.
Jenny, Shonny Vanlandingham and Melanie McQuaid have dominated the women’s pro division this summer and all three have a regional title this year.
Jenny looked to return to the top of the podium in Utah posting a faster split on the opening swim than last year. Unfortunately, with the mass start format, she soon found herself battling through a flesh mass of amateurs in the transition and on the bike section of the course.
Jenny worked her way through the crowd and by the top of the major bike climb, the three women were all within a minute of each other.
The field then tightened up again as Jenny found herself stuck behind a group of amateur men on the descent forcing her to slow down in an area that she typically excels.
“I was stuck on the single track behind a bunch of men, so I lost a minute on the descent,” says Jenny.
Once Jenny turned onto the final run section, Vanlandingham and McQuaid were embroiled in a battle up front providing extra motivation for the two competitors, while Jenny was behind in third place without anyone to reel in.
“Once you get within a minute of someone, it’s really motivating,” says Jenny. “I had a descent run but I was in no man’s land.”
Brian entered the swim with a revised strategy from his performance at the same event last year.
While Brian dominates the field on his bike, his swim is still under improvement. Last year, he pinned it during the swim, leaving him twisted as he transitioned onto the bike.
“Last year I was blown coming out of the water,” says Brian. “This year I decided not to push it.”
The strategy allowed Brian to jump on his bike and hammer from the start.
“I was on the gas right from the get-go,” says Brian.
Next thing Brian knew, he reeled in champion Josiah Middaugh on his bike and was passing him.
“I caught Josiah, who I had never even seen during the bike section in races before,” says Brian. “I’m really motivated at this point.”
As is always the case, Brian posted the fastest bike split of the day and pulled into the transition to the final run portion just two minutes off the leaders, with competitor Seth Wealing right on his heels.
Brian looked to set a furious pace from the start, hoping to drop Wealing, but Wealing matched him stride for stride.
“I was just pinning it the whole time,” explains Brian. “Every time we got to a switchback, I saw him in my periphery.”
It wasn’t until one last climb off a flat section that Brian left Wealing behind to stand alone in third place. Little did he know, the top athletes in the Xterra world were just around the corner, and when Brian crossed the finish line, he realized how close he was to winning.
“When I came in Conrad (Stoltz) and Mike (Vine) were still out of breath,” says Brian.
In the end, Brian finished nine seconds out of second place and 40 seconds out of first place.
“I’ve never been that close at a championship race,” says Brian. “I was really stoked.”
Both Brian and Jenny race mountain bikes for Trek/VW and have a couple professional mountain bike races in the next month before heading off to Nevada to compete in the Xterra national championships in October.
“That’s a big goal for me,” says Brian, “to be national champion.”