This Saturday the XTERRA Saipan Championship, aka the “Crown Jewel of XTERRA”, will take participants on a wild-ride filled with adventure for the 12th straight year.
Saipan is located in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean – 1,300 miles south of Tokyo, 1,400 miles east of Manila, 3,200 miles west of Honolulu, and 2,900 miles north of Sydney – and is beyond beautiful.
It offers up azure colored water, a powder blue sky, light island breezes, and tropical 85-degree days prevail year-round providing the perfect venue for XTERRA. The race consists of a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, a 30km mountain bike that climbs 1,500 feet to the highest point on the island, and an epic 12km trail run that weaves through heavy jungle and into caves used during World War II.
Both defending champions Ben Allen and Renata Bucher have returned to defend their crowns, but will face steep challenges from both the course and the competition.
In the men’s race Allen will be up against two past Saipan Champions – Olivier Marceau, who won four straight from 2004-07, and Sam Gardner, who won three-in-a-row from 2009-11.
Other contenders include Dan Hugo, who finished 2nd just 51-seconds behind Allen at the XTERRA Philippines Championship last weekend, his South Africa countryman Bradley Weiss, reigning XTERRA Japan Champion Takahiro Ogasawara, and Scottish XTERRA newcomer Rory Downie.
“Hugo is hungry, but Ben doesn’t break easy,” said XTERRA’s managing director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas who was in the Philippines for the showdown between those two last weekend.
“I think those two will go neck-and-neck all day. You may have to give the edge to Allen because he’s been there and knows what the day holds.”
In the women’s race Bucher, who’s love for Saipan is well-documented and understandable considering she’s won this race seven of the last eight years, will take on Great Britain’ Jacqui Slack (who won XTERRA Italy, New Zealand, and was 5th at Worlds last year), Daz Parker, Austria’s Carina Wasle, Japan’s Yasuko Miyazaki, and local girl Mieko Carey.
“While Saipan is certainly a laid-back place, when it comes race time Renata is dead serious about winning this one. She loves the island, the locals, the weather, and is always on a mission to finish first here,” said Nicholas.
XTERRA Saipan is the second stop for XTERRA’s “Triple Crown” in the Western Pacific, which wraps up at XTERRA Guam on March 23. In between the two races is the Tagaman road tri on Saipan on March 16, which provides extra incentive for pros with the Pacific Islands Club Double award that goes to the man and woman with the fastest combined times in XTERRA and Tagaman. Allen and Bucher won the PIC Double award last year.