From the managing director of the XTERRA World Tour, "Kahuna Dave" Nicholas...*The XTERRA Pro year is starting out with a bang. You pick the Continent and we've got something happening. New Zealand, South Africa and Saipan are all on the same day (this Saturday, April 18).
Saipan has quite a world class field with Great Britain World Champion Julie Dibens coming back to challenge 4-time Saipan champion Renata Bucher. Dibens only losses have come at the hands of the little Swiss Miss. Bucher beat Julie in France in 2007 and Saipan in 2008.
Coming to challenge both is 2008 USA champion Shonny Vanlanginham. Saipan is heavily weighted towards the bike and Shonny, as a 15-time NORBA Champ, is a bike specialist. Second year pro Mieko Carey lives in Saipan and has the advantage of racing at home and knowing the course.
On the men's side we have Mike Vine, the 2002 Saipan Champ coming back to see if his magic still applies in the tropics. He'll have some stiff competition from last years champ Aussie Andrew Noble. Noble won the double last year by winning both XTERRA and Tagaman. England's Sam Gardner and Jimmy McConnel will return to try and unseat Noble and stay in front of Vine. Gardner won last weeks Guam race and XTERRA Japan in 2008.
Germany's Euro Tour racer Sasha Wingenfeld is making his first attempt at Saipan along with Philippine Champion Arland Macasieb, now living in New Jersey. Long time XTERRA competitor and friend, Taro Shirato will compete along with Takahiro Ogasawara who has finished 2nd twice in Japan.
It's early in the year and much will depend on how fit Noble and Vine are after a long winter. Dibens, Bucher, Gardner and McConnel have been in the Pacific for a few weeks and all raced in Guam on April 4. We know they are acclimated to the weather, but Vine and Noble are fast.
The Championship? Renata has it and Julie wants it. Noble is the incumbent and Vine is there to recapture the throne. Throw in the European men and the American Champ woman and we’ve got one heck of a race in the making.
South Africa has the German duo of Felix Schumann and Nico Pfitzenmaier way down under to go after Dan Hugo and try to become the first non-South African to win in Grabouw. Hugo, Lieuwe Boonstra and Kent Horner are all there to defend their native turf.
A huge entry waits in New Zealand where 08 champ Terenzo Bozzone is the favorite, but Tim Wilding is back and has a big win from 07 behind him. Sonia Foote is not entered so this opens the door for Susie Wood and Nicola Leary.
In less than a week we'll have Champions from three different races -- invites to Maui and bragging rights for a year. Don't you wish you were at one of these?