Xterra Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands,
9 March 2013
2nd behind winner Ben Allen
Brad wasn’t saying much this morning as I backed up the truck loaded with two bikes on the back, bike wheels touching in the centre like an open book ready for writing in. The start is a fifteen minute meander away, scheduled for 630am. The sun only showed moments before. Brad was saying even less.
We may have cut it a little fine, the timing of that drive. Setting up transition while it’s still inky black is a trip and didn’t aid our late arrival. There was one vehicle pulled tight to the transition netting, allowing directional light across the tiny intimate transition. I suspect a 100 entrants total, which syncs itself to the small friendly island feel of Saipan.
When Brad scrambled up alongside me on the white beach, I noted he was flustered. I said “Brad, no body marking.” He looked perplexed. A moment or two later someone said we’ll count from ten and then pretty much started counting backwards with the next breath. Brad was yet to feel the water or get his goggles together. I was a little more efficient setting up, having done a few strong strokes before being called to shore. The sunlight was still soft. Heard there was a rip tide, but sure never imaged what fun it would have with us. Ten got to one and away we charged, arms legs and little grace.
It was only truly on the final of three straights that you realised the current was extreme, holding you in position like a rat in a wheel. It was 1.2m deep most the way and with the water visibility you knew that it was slow going. Australian Ben Allen together with Scott Rory Downey again pushed the swim pace, similar to the Philippines last weekend. I held well during the first lap but tried to navigate alone during the second lap which seemed to cost me, especially on that third homeward section. Perhaps I’d lost 45sec.
The Saipan Xterra bike route has insatiable climbing totaling 950m elevation gain. I’d planned for more mind and less heart, since the latter had overruled sensibility last weekend. Thought I got into my riding well, seated through the early climbs. It had started raining – it hasnt rained all week, and probably wont for the next week either! – which was a game changing ace played my island. The Northern Marianas has the worlds’ most consistent weather. Each consecutive weather prediction reads like a copy and past of the prior.
Before the first single track I’d got up to second, just trailing the Ozzie. It was slippery as snot. Leaves on leaves, polished roots. No reason for panic, if anything, surely this would favour me? It was only when like a giraffe on an ice rink cooming down tar that I realized I was in severe trouble. The tar is made of broken shells and we’d been told to caution if wet. Caution never leads to confidence. And hesitation leads to devastation.
1’40″ near the top of the long climb, about where yesterdays video clip began. That back section of mountain captures more rainfall and holds mud longer. Sadly I was to the wrong side of it all, battling tires and bike and inner calm. Loosing the trail a few times and unable to ride up steep section of packed rock. Dont think I’ve ever unclipped my foot more in a race, including for a few savvy slides on muddy drops. All said, despite loosing plenty time through this back quarter of the ride, I really enjoyed the challenge. It was sketchy and demanding. Perhaps I should have stopped and lowered the tires. Who knows. I was glad to have started the ride with tempered aggression, hurt was setting in. It was still raining.
They called it 3’30″ off the bike. Which I was still happy to chase like a bushman in the Kalahari; slow, sure and steady. It is only the most sensational of trail runs. Happy to have my Puma Fuujin’s beneath me after feeling insecure on the bike, I felt smooth with good movement, but was loosing time to a clinical display from Ben Allen. I heard 5′ just before the moss covered bouldering ravine. Tough to believe, 5′, but there it was.
Navigated the green rock drops leading to a funky military tunnel which we ran through by lantern light. A neat feature to the course, as if that magical ravine needed a cherry on top.
The only hiccup for the day was a misplaced arrow, but I realized my folly 200m on. Brad thankfully did the same, so he still has to buy drinks later on. The final kilometer is along the beach, the kind of beach where life seems to make sense and ambition is replaced with weed and a surfer tan. But such novelties weren’t to be had. Kept them weary feet pointed parallel to the waterline and passed the beach bar. The dreaded 2nd.
I was hoping my body would have enough today, instead I was considerably down. Plenty to consider when processing why, but such is the nature of the beast. Another congrats to Ben Allen. He handled the tricky swim and crazy bike phenomenally well. And closed it out easily.
Brad kept his cool, and not only got swimming but had a real tussle with Brit Sam Gardener. Brad too couldn’t ride much of the top, also having to run a few of the steeper climbs which took him from Sam’s wheel to entering T2 at 1’45″ to catch. He finally bridged not long before the beach, finishing third for his first Global Xterra podium. Like I said, he’s buying tonight.
A big thanks to Bill and his management, for support before and during the Saipan stay. Long may this event last.
This island and its 11year Xterra history is a joy. Glad to have tasted of their excitement for adventure. The route is thrilling and entirely memorable, almost all of it worth mentioning. I’ll need to return some year, stay at the same hosts and bring home the title to thank them for all their homemade muffins I’ve eaten.