Pros competing in the women's division of the 2011 XTERRA Saipan Championship believe this Saturday's off-road triathlon is anybody's race.
“You'll never know who is going to win. It's a tough field,” six-time and defending XTERRA Saipan champion Renata Bucher said in an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Bucher will be defending her title and gunning for an unprecedented seventh title in a row against U.S. pros Shonny Vanlandingham and Suzie Snyder, Austria's Carina Wasle, United Kingdom's Daz Parker, and Saipan's very own Mieko Carey.
“I know it will be hard to defend my title this time, as the season has just started, but I will do my best,” said Bucher, who competed in the inaugural XTERRA Philippines last Sunday in Cebu City for her first race of the year.
Bucher, who failed to complete last year's XTERRA World after a bike crash, finished second behind Vanlandingham in XTERRA Philippines, with less than two minutes separating the two pros.
“It was so hot there unlike here where there's a breeze. I hope I warmed up enough in the Philippines to get ready for XTERRA Saipan. I am also keeping my fingers crossed that I will not have a crash,” added Bucher, who in the last six years in XTERRA Saipan had never suffered a bad crash.
“The Saipan course has been very good to me,” the Swiss said.
Elusive first win
“I hope this is my year,” Vanlandingham said when asked about her chances in the race.
Vanlandingham finished second to Bucher in last year's XTERRA, falling behind the Swiss bet by about nine minutes. In 2009, during her debut in XTERRA's Crown Jewel, the U.S. pro finished third behind Bucher and U.K. pro Julie Dibens.
“Though it's still early in the season, I believe I am fitter this year than last and the race in the Philippines boosted my confidence a bit. However, I should not be overconfident and take anybody for granted. Each competitor has her own strengths. Renata is super strong, as she is getting faster in the swim race and steady in the run leg. I have the advantage in the bike race so I will try to gain momentum in this part,” Vanlandingham said.
The defending XTERRA World champion was a mountain bike champion first before switching to triathlon three years ago.
“Then there is Carina, who has been in good condition and a very good runner and uphill biker. Another U.S. pro [Snyder) is also here and did a great job in XTERRA World and you have Mieko [Carey] who knows her way here,” Vanlandingham said.
“Obviously, it's an open race. I may have beaten Renata and Carina in XTERRA Philippines, but Saipan is a different course and you'll never know what's going to happen out there,” the former collegiate basketball player added.
Wasle will be debuting in XTERRA Saipan and she is setting her sights on no less than a first place finish in the women's division.
“I want to win, but it will not be easy going up against Renata, Shonny, and Suzie. I hope my experience in uphill running and biking will give me the edge,” said Wasle, who also does cross country skiing and mountain running.
“The weather will be a great challenge, as I am not used to running in heat. But, I had been to XTERRA Philippines and sort of had a feeling how to race in this tough weather,” added Wasle, who will be the most conditioned among the women's pros, as she also joined XTERRA South Africa last month.
The Austrian finished first in XTERRA South Africa, beating four other South African pros. Wasle timed in at 2:41:47 and won by more than three minutes over Michelle Lombardi (2:44:59). It was her second XTERRA South Africa win in three years, having topped the event in 2009. The victory in South Africa gave the Austrian her seventh XTERRA win, as she ruled XTERRA Germany three times and XTERRA Czech Republic twice. In XTERRA Philippines, Wasle placed third, less than three minutes behind Vanlandingham.
Wasle, who joined local triathletes in a practice swim at the “Tanks” in Susupe yesterday and checked on bike course on Tuesday, said despite doing two long races in less than a month, she still has enough juice left to have a winning debut in XTERRA Saipan.