World Championship challenges athletes

The Xterra World Championship in Maui pushed triathletes to their limit.

PENTICTON'S Carl Peterson

Carl Peterson is thrilled, over the top about his 65 to 69 age group Xterra World Championship win in Kapalua, Maui on Oct. 23.

Peterson completed the challenging 1.5 kilometre swim, 32-km mountain bike and 10.5-km trail run in five hours.

“It doesn’t get any better for an old guy,” laughs Peterson.

Joined by his wife Joy and fellow Pentictonites Kirk Vandeweghe and Chris Neenan, Carl said his performance was good in difficult conditions.

“The results were good. It’s just that I didn’t have the race of my life,” he said. “I just outgunned the other old guys. This has been a two-year process for me to get to this point. I’m very happy.”

Carl qualified for the Xterra World Championship when he won in Victoria and Canmore. He didn’t need the Canmore result, but competed to make sure. Peterson joked that doing Xterra events is his job.

“I’m retired,” said Peterson. “I got lots of time to do the training and we live in such a perfect area. It doesn’t get much better than Penticton for the type of sport that we do. It’s just a playground. There’s plenty of hard hills to climb. I do a lot of running, too. It’s like having a big gym in your backyard.”

What wasn’t a playground was the Kapalua course. Joy said the conditions were the worst in 21 years of Xterra. Heavy winds created large waves and the bike course was very muddy, forcing many to get off their bikes and push. Joy said one in four athletes did not finish. Of the 839 who started, 714 finished.

“It’s an honest endurance challenge, that is for sure,” said race director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas on  “The original Maui course was brutal.  The first one was just about who could survive, really, and even the run was pure torture with a mile of slogging through soft sand. This course is not just for survivors, but for those with the skills and endurance to ride the bike well and fast, and still have enough left in their legs to climb some more and more importantly, descend some steep downhills on a really challenging trail run.”

The website provides this bit of description on the course — the signature spot on the Maui course is at the five-mile mark on the bike as riders pop out on a narrow ridge with hundred foot drop-offs on either side.  From the top you can see all around the vast West Maui Forest Reserve and over the deep blue Pacific Ocean to the neighbor islands of Moloka’i and Lana’i.

“The views are simply spectacular,” Nicholas explains. “And don’t worry, if I didn’t fall off – neither will you. In fact, when you come early to preview the course, bring your camera with you. The scenery is something that not many people get a chance to see.”

Carl said he’s a pretty good swimmer, but he needed 34:03 to finish. The heavy rain made the soil on the bike trails like clay.

“It turned into a mud pit. It’s the same for everybody,” said Carl. “It was a mud bath. It took me an hour more (3:14:20) to do the bike than it normally would.”

Yet Carl still topped the second-place finisher by 39:20. What he will remember most about the world championship is the mud.

“Honestly, it was just ridiculous,” said Carl, who qualified for the International Triathlon Union World Championship cross triathlon in Penticton in 2017. “We had to push our bikes at least six miles up and down. I couldn’t even ride down some of the stuff. You are kind of sliding along with your brakes on. Your bike locked up. Going up you had to unplug your wheels every minute.”

Joy, competing in the 45 to 49 age group, was very happy to finish in 6:46:39. The swim, which is usually her strength, took 32 minutes to finish and she said it was hard because under the large waves were rocks.

“It was a bit like a washing machine out there,” she said.

Competing this year was about getting more fit. With the amount of athletes who suffered broken bones, she was glad to not be a casualty.

“I really played it safe this year,” she said.

READ MORE: Penticton couple heading to London

Like her husband, Joy has qualified to compete in Penticton for the ITU World Championship, as did Vandeweghe and Neenan.

Vandeweghe, 50 to 54 age group, placed sixth among 54 athletes. He completed the distance in 4:11:53. He said he performed very well in the conditions and was happy with his result. His goal is to always reach the podium. It was his 10th time competing in the championship and he has always been in the top 10.

“I took a lot of my forestry and farming knowledge to pick the better places to ride which was mostly off the track in the deep grass and leaves so as to avoid the mud when possible,” said Vandeweghe. “The swim leg was not a real big challenge for me even with the big waves as I have done a lot of open water swim races and triathlons in huge waves in Australia. I overcame the muddy conditions by being positive and to always make forward progress as best you can. Having strong mountain biking experience since the early 90’s … helped a lot although there is no mud like the west Maui mud as it’s so difficult to simulate those conditions and you just have to adjust as you go.”

Vandeweghe said the World championships for Xterra is one of the coolest and hardest races there is to do.

“It also ends up being such a difficult race to get completely right,” he said. “It has so much tough climbing on the mountain bike and the run. You have to be extremely fit and be a great  hill climber to do well.”

Neenan, who placed 15th in the 50 to 54 age group, said his result wasn’t what he expected, finishing in 4:42.30. The bike course affected him because he’s a light rider.

“My bike time (2:57:35) was a lot longer than it what it would normally be,” he said. “It’s still a fun day. You’re racing in Maui. It’s the world championships.”

It was the fourth world championship for Neenan, who will also compete in Penticton next year. He said it’s an honour to qualify for the World Championships as its not a given every time.


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