Strong mountain bikers dominate Xterra Half Moon Bay

Ned Overend  Credit: Robert Oliver
An "epic" Xterra course at Half Moon Bay produced a new Xterra champion Sunday, reigning US mountain bike champ Steve Larsen, competing in his first XTERRA race since 1997.

Larsen, 30, of Jacksonville, Ore., had been hoping for a position on the 2000 US Olympic Mountain Biking team and was in peak physical condition. Larsen set a pace that showcased all his Olympic training - as no one could catch him once he hit the bike.

The Xterra America Tour returned to Half Moon Bay for its second year, with a sold-out field of close to 600 athletes, the largest Xterra field to date. While the site was familiar, the course was radically different, and played to strong mountain bikers. So it was no surprise that Larsen, accompanied by former world and U.S. mountain biking champion Ned Overend, 45, of Durango, Colo., and Canadian pro Mike Vine, 27, of Victoria, dusted their competitors on one of the most challenging Xterra courses to date.

The course consisted of a 1.5-kilometer open ocean swim, 27-kilometer mountain bike, and 10-kilometer trail run.

The sunny 88-degree weather was a welcome surprise as the swimmers approached the chilly 61-degree water at Pillar Point Harbor for the 1.5k swim. True to form, ex-Navy SEAL and 2000 Nissan Xterra Points Series leader Kerry Classen 28, of San Clemente, Calif., had the best swim of the day in 19:39. Wes Hobson, 33, of Boulder, Colo., Kelly Guest, 23, of Victoria, BC, and Vine trailed Classen as they raced to the bike transition from the swim.

Overend exited the water 32nd, about four minutes behind, followed by Larsen in 45th, almost six minutes behind leader Classen. All that was about to change.

By far the most technical Xterra bike course, Half Moon Bay featured 4,000 vertical feet of climbing. With obstacles like "The Chute", a 1/10-mile drop on a narrow track dusted with eucalyptus trees, "Suzie's Switchback", a new trail consisting of one half-mile of crazy curves in soft dirt, and concluding with an underground ride though a drainage pipe, Xterra Half Moon Bay proved to be a mountain biker's dream.

Even with his vast lead over Larsen and Overend, swim leader Classen was a fish out of water. Vine overtook Classen at about the midpoint of the first loop. Hot on Vine's heels were Hobson, Tobin, 36, of Boise, Idaho, Guest and Overend.

Overend recovered from his poor swim performance and started his assault on the course early - making up lost time. Four minutes back, Larsen was blazing past the pampas grass about to make his move on the lead pack.

At the end of the first lap, less than two minutes separated the top five: Vine, Tobin, Larsen, Overend, and Classen. Overend and Larsen were neck-and-neck, but Larsen took Overend on the ascent of the second lap. Then, like a runaway train, Larsen kicked it into high gear and on the second lap of "Rhonda's Ridge", met and passed leaders Vine and Tobin.

Even after an altercation on the final, beach-front stretch of the bike with a non-participant who tried to wrestle him off his bike, Larsen, with the fastest bike time of the day at 1:38:37, had set a blistering pace and left some casualties behind.

Tobin, battling stomach flu, dropped from the race. Overend passed Vine when he flatted, but even with a mechanical, Vine was still able to secure the third best bike time with 1:48:49. Screaming into the second transition area, Larsen dumped his bike and ran out onto the beach and along Shoreline Trail past Mavericks surf break - securing his victory in 2:39:49. Hot on his heels was Overend, delivering the second fastest run time for the day at 33:02 and shaving three minutes off Larsen's lead. Overend placed second about one minute behind at 2:40:33 and thereby jumped from 6th to 4th place in the 2000 Nissan Xterra Point Series standings.

Three minutes behind Overend, Vine grinded out the fastest run time of the day at 32:44 to cross the line in third place in 2:42:59. Larsen credited his Xterra win to his heavy Olympic training. "My season was set to peak at this time of year, as I could win this race without heavy swim and run training. I was disappointed not to be in Sydney, but it got me very motivated and the last eight weeks of my career have been the best. Sometimes things work out for a reason - I won the NORBA Series and Xterra."

In the women's race, Kerstin Weule, 33, of Evergreen, Colo., took her 17th Xterra win and maintained her lead in the 2000 Nissan Xterra Point Series.

Local amateur Erin McCarthy, 30, from San Jose, Calif., was the first woman out of the water a minute ahead of Jody Purcell, 29, of Sydney, and Weule.

Early into the bike, Weule took the lead and charged up the first climb, trailed by Purcell. Purcell, winner of last weekend's Xterra Japan, didn't seem to have it in her today, and dropped from the race suffering jet lag.

Charging up the climb not far behind was Candy Angle, 31, of Weymouth, Mass., and Cherri Touchette, 37, of Encinitas, Calif. Touchette passed Angle on the second climb and began a cat-and-mouse game with Weule. Pushing each other throughout the trail, Touchette would lead on the climbs and Weule would take her on the downhills.

Weule set out on the run 40 seconds ahead of Touchette, and increased her lead to almost three minutes, crossing the line in first place in 3:17:20. Touchette, not a strong runner, finished in second place and moved up from 10th to 8th place in the 2000 Nissan Xterra Point Series standings. Three minutes behind Touchette was Angle in third place at 3:23:45.

When asked how she rated this year's Xterra Half Moon Bay course against last year's, second-place Touchette remarked, "During the bike all I kept thinking was 'how the hell am I going to run after this?'"

The XTERRA America Tour travels next to San Dimas, Calif., for the 10th and final race of the series on September 24th.

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