Disaster at XTERRA Richmond 08

Xterra Richmond 2008 swim start
photo by Nils Nilsen, see Xterra gallery for more

With 2 XTERRA USA Series victories so far, I was eager to beat the rush and wrap up the USA points series early. (best 3 out of 4 Series race to count towards Series. Plus compulsory Tahoe Nationals)

Richmond’s intense and technical course is notorious to be my favorite stomping grounds.* With 3 weeks of much needed quality training at altitude in the bag since Temecula, I was ready for my 5 week, 5 race quest to win the XTERRA USA and XTERRA Europe titles.

As usual, the James River swim was quite an adventure- we ran across an island, dealt with currents, crawled across some shallow rocks and zig zagged in the “deep end” to make up about 1000m of “swimming.”

Dan Hugo, Craig Evans and myself came out the water together. Once on the bike, I put it in the biggest gear and poured on the power.

This bike course is known for its amazing single track. In fact, I guess about 24k of the 30k bike is 1st class single track. To sort out the riders and give the race time to spread out, the 1st few miles has quite a bit of open gravel road, with 2 sections of tight, twisty stuff. Knowing the guys behind me would probably team up and work together, I tried to get a gauge of my progress after the 1st section through Belle Isle. I kept looking back expecting to see them in the open, but by the time I turned into the 2nd twisty section by the old Civil War prison, I still couldn’t see them. It was barely 5 minutes into the bike leg? Maybe someone went down in the forest and they tangled with each other?

I had obviously recovered well from previous week’s huge effort and dehydration at XTERRA Alabama. My legs felt great, my back felt great, (Amber poked it with her elbow a couple of times last week) and I knew today I was going to blow the barn doors off.

I got to the 3 flights of stairs over the rail road, shouldered my bike and started bounding. Every time I ran a level I expected to see riders approach, hear brakes squeal and cleats clacking up the stairs, but nothing.

The real single track beckoned. This is where the game really starts. I dove into the lush green tunnel and everything became a blur.

I know this course inside out. Over the past 7 years I have made a study of this course. Pre riding it over and over (4 or 5 times before each race) memorizing fast lines, brake points etc. In places I remember noisy crowds and I had glimpses of people taking splits- faces stark, watches at the ready. (Another thing that really sucks about leading on the course is you don’t get splits**)

At about 12k I did “this thing” I always do in “that place” and unbelievably- that familiar fffft ffft fft. I was dumbstruck. I tried to fix it but the fixing went really bad. (Later I noticed the Big Air had what looked like red bits of plastic obstructing the small little hole the air was supposed to go through. In the struggle (and mystery) of the air not really wanting to come out of the canister*** I managed to break the valve core out of the valve stem. By then I was minutes back. (A lot more than the 3, from which I came back to win last week)

My fellow competitors were awesome. Many pros offered spares, even though the single track was tight a couple tried to drop a CO2. Rom Akerson from Costa Rica unselfishly jettisoned his whole spare kit and still finished 7th. Gracias Rom.

Usually I would finish no matter what, but I have 3 races in Europe in the next 3 weeks, and with XTERRA Ogden in August another chance to score points, I decided to pull the plug.

I was bummed. Was going so well. Just about had the series tied up. Such a fun and unique race. Zero prize money, and bonuses. Also, I was on a 9 race, 18 month winning streak.

So I taught the forest some Afrikaans. Got it over with and put it behind me, rode around on the run course supporting Amber, watching Melanie take them to the cleaners on her new dual suspension bike. (Mel, I told you. Once you go dual, you never go back!) Also exciting was watching Jenny Smith and Shonny Vanlandingham sprint for 2nd from about 1km out.

Josiah Middaugh won Teva Games last week, and in Richmond he put it all together, running Dan Hugo down in the last km. Exciting racing.

The puncture issue. Everyone wants to talk about it. I really dont, but I should. Just to clear the air.

– No, despite speculation, I dont ride like a Caveman. Sure, I can push 400-500 watts**** with my 182lbs behind it, through the tight, twisty forest trails, while holding the bike upright, and balancing myself on top of it. BUT, its probably not a great idea on 500g tires with paper thin sidewalls meant for skinny little XC racers on pretty XC courses.

– Yes, I always ride a tubeless set-up. Like I always ride it: 1.5 cups of Stans per tire, 30psi front and rear- checked just before the swim start to allow for temp (and psi) change. Suspension super plush, racing tires never older than about 10 hrs of hard riding.

– And finally. No, there is nothing wrong with Specialized tires. In fact, I wouldn’t ride anything else. BUT, because of “logistical” issues, I only had S-works tires to choose from. ( I rode The Captain S-Works in the front (corners great in the loose stuff) and Fast Trak LK in the rear.(Its the only tire I had left, but usually I choose the Fast Trak LK if the course is hard pack)

How to chose tires:

Tread pattern: I switch between 2 Specialized dry condition tires: The Fast Trak LK (Low Knob) is a fast rolling tire for hard pack courses and The Captain for looser terrain. It rolls a bit slower, but it has chunky cornering knobs which makes leaning in loose corners a lot more comforting. (see links below)

Casing: Specialized makes 4 kinds of tire casings to cater for terrain.

– S-Works. Its light, (about 510g for the Fast Trak LK S-works) its supple, its the fastest casing. Christoph Sauser loves this one. (In fact Susi loves everything light) BUT, this tire on the back wheel is not for “Caveman Style”.

– Control. Its only 20g more, but the casing is stronger, (lower tpi count) and obviously less flexible. Fast Trak LK Control. This is the tire I would ride in the rear at most races.

Armadillo Elite. Its very robust, but the weight is still quite reasonable. Its 670g. I ride this in Maui- infamous for the huge thorns and lava rock.

– Armadillo. This thing is bomb proof. 760g. The tire stands upright by itself. Ride it through a 6 inch nail factory.

If you really want to read about the incidents:

The puncture at XTERRA South Africa was on a 29er- at the time no “Control” or “Armadillo Elite” tires were available for the big rollers. I took a calculated risk at a “warm-up” race. I repaired and finished 6th.

The puncture in Bama last week was an S-works tire (the only casing choice I had at the time) and judging that the foreign object cut right through the knob and the casing on an easy part of the course, I’ll go with Mike Vines’ verdict- there is something sharp embedded in the trail there. He flatted in the same spot last year. I repaired and won.

The puncture in Richmond this weekend was also on an S-works tire, as the much awaited shipment of tires failed to show up. I thought I rode within the limits of the tire, and I didn’t take chances through the technical as I obviously had the horsepower to do the job on the open sections, but apparently I’m just too much Monkey for that particular casing.

The upcoming races I will have the right tires. The horsepower will be there and I can promise you, the hunger is banging the door down…

*XTERRA Richmond 2001 was also my 1st XTERRA experience.- I fell in love right away.

** Other things that suck about leading on the course are: (not referring to any person or any type of triathlon in particular)

– Water point volunteers sitting in the truck, listening to the radio.

– Water point volunteers chatting to the chicks on the sidelines.

– Water point dudes watching the rock climbing and then having to sprint me to the aid station. (Actual event)

– The photographer still in the press truck as you fly through the “money shot spot”.

*** In hind sight, the CO2 being blocked is what happened at Worlds in 03.

**** Averaged 425 Watts for 20km last time lab tested.

Read the www.xterraplanet.com race report…


patrickdegoede 19-06-2008, 09:49


I found an old press clipping of you winning the Mariental Triathlon in Namibia in the early nineties. You look as fast then as you are now. I’ll scan it and mail it if you like. Good luck for the next few races:mrgreen:

chilantro 16-06-2008, 23:27

Don’t you use tubeless tires? I’m confused. Other than that, it’s impossible to find fault with your game.

Question: what are the pros and cons of YOU riding the new Stumpy vs. the Epic and also the 26 vs. the 29ers? Thanks.

I love your sense of humor and attitude and I’m certainly in awe of your gifts. Thanks for being such a cool dude.

brian hinman 16-06-2008, 20:07

I once read an interview of a top Xterra pro who suggested that flats might prompt one to review one’s technique. What was his name…? Tough break. Hope you get that gremlin of your bike quickly. We’ll be eagerly following your journey across the pond.


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