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By Kirsten Le Roux
Special to The SUN
After a very damp Saturday spent setting up a transition and start/finish area, team GECKO organizers were pleasantly surprised by a glorious dry day on Sunday for the inaugural XTERRA Pagosa Springs off-road triathlon.
Ninety-two athletes registered for the event, including four relay teams and a number of XTERRA Pro athletes looking for points towards the America series.
With only two locals in the full triathlon, the rest of the field hailed mostly from New Mexico and the Front Range with a smattering from Utah, Arizona and California. Three internationals were among the starters, representing Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
PLPOA personnel measured the water temperature at 67 degrees at the start of the race at 9 a.m., which meant it was wetsuit legal for all swimmers (including pros) and only one brave soul swam without a suit, saying that she, “didn’t feel cold at all.” Despite the rain in the lead-up to the race, the trails were relatively dry and, in fact, with the moisture settling the dust they were in optimal condition for a fast race.
In the end, the pros, as expected, dominated with the top spot a dual between Jason Michalak of Crested Butte and Joshua Merrick of Alamosa — Michalak taking it out the win five minutes ahead of Merrick with a combined time of 2 hours, 11 minutes. Pete Mech and a teammate, both from Durango, took out the top team spot in 2 hours 25 minutes and Shonny Vanlandingham, who divides her time between Texas and Durango, crushed the women’s field in 2 hours 27 minutes.
Athletes were complimentary of the course and the trail system, with many already wanting to sign up to next year’s event. Pro Vanlandingham, who spoke at the awards presentation, said she was delighted to be back in Pagosa Springs where she first started her mountain biking career 20 years ago, and to meet up again with her first coach, Pagosa’s Scott Anderson. She added that she was blown away by the new trails network established only in the last few years here, since she left the area, and said these rivaled trails the world over.
Race director Mike Le Roux said, “We couldn’t be happier with how the event went, and we are so grateful to the volunteers and sponsors who helped us. So many Pagosans came out to cheer the athletes and we have had dozens of e-mails and Facebook messages from triathletes complimenting the race organization, course and the town. This is going to be a very successful event on the annual calendar for Pagosa and we’d love to see more locals training and signing up for the full solo tri or to be in a relay team. Next year, we’d like to organize some practice swims, so that everyone can feel comfortable for what to expect in an open water swim.”