Ben Allen of Australia and Renata Bucher of Switzerland both won the XTERRA Saipan World Tour event Saturday and swept the inaugural XTERRA Asian Triple Crown swing of the XTERRA World Tour.
Allen finished in 2:31:05 and prevailed in another hard fought duel with Olivier Marceau of France by 39 seconds. Allen and Marceau finished 1-2 at XTERRA Guam two weeks ago and XTERRA Philippines last week but Saipan was by far their closest duel in the three XTERRA Asian Triple Crown races.
Former surf lifesaving and adventure racing champion Allen’s race-best 15:51 swim gave him a 1:16 lead on Marceau to which he added another 5 seconds in transition.
Marceau erased the minute-20 gap Allen had coming out of the water by the top of the climb on the bike, then forged into the lead at the cave section at the halfway point on the run.
“I’ve never seen anyone run so fast on that technical downhill section in the ravine,” Allen told XTERRA media. “Olivier was flying and I was pushing myself beyond my ability just to try and keep up.”
Marceau pushed hard to get his lead up to 10-or-15 seconds. But when the course hit the flat section before the beach, he pulled away to finish 39 seconds ahead of Marceau.
“In the jungle I tried to break away but Ben stayed close and on the road he was faster than me,” said Marceau. “I was right behind him, and I did my best to catch him but he was stronger than me today."
Marceau, the 2000 ITU Olympic distance World Champion, gained 1:14 back on the bike but when the run was over, the 27-year-old Australian topped Marceau 48:25 to 48:57 to seal the win.
Marceau fought hard but fell short in his attempt to add to his 2004-2007 string of 4 straight victories in Saipan before he took 4 years off from this race.
Cedric Lassonde of France combined an 18:41 swim, 1:22:28 bike and a 51:51 run take the final spot on the podium, 3:53 back of the winner.
While Allen started the Triple Crown with a dominating 3:40 margin over Marceau, Allen’s margin of victory slimmed to 2:17 in the Philippines and 39 seconds in Saipan.
Bucher, coming off a 15 minutes margin of victory in Guam and a 3:06 edge over runner-up Jacqui Slack in the Philippines, finished in 2:54:56 with a 9:50 margin over Slack in Saipan. Carina Wasle of Austria finished 3rd, 1:07 back of Slack.
“This is the place where I really started my career as an XTERRA athlete,” Bucher told XTERRA media. “I fell in love with the island the first time I came, and as long as I do XTERRA I will come here.”
Bucher had to play catch-up, as British pro Jacqui Slack put two minutes on her in the swim and then rolled with the lead for the next hour until the peak of the climb up Mt. Tapochao.
“Jacqui swam really well,” said Bucher who has now won 7 of 8 in Saipan XTERRA races.
“I tried to push hard but I couldn’t catch Jacqui until the top of the climb. I never looked back the rest of the way, until I was on the beach just before the finish.”
Bucher combined a 2nd-best 20:23 swim, race-best 1:34:12 bike and 2nd-best 58:37 to avenge last year’s loss to Shonny Vanlandingham –Bucher’s only defeat at Saipan.
XTERRA Saipan Championship
Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
March 24, 2012
S 1.5 k / B 30k / R 8k
1. Ben Allen (AUS) 2:31:05 - $2,200
2. Olivier Marceau (FRA) 2:31:44 - $1,700
3. Cedric Lassonde (FRA) 2:34:58 - $1,200
4. Takahiro Ogasawara (JPN) 2:45:00 - $800
5. Graham Wadsworth (GBR) 2:46:28 - $500
6. Jens Buder (GER) 2:49:12 - $400
7. Branden Rakita (USA) 2:52:36 - $300
8. Will Kelsay (USA) 2:58:40
9. Peter Lombard (GUA) 3:13:21 * M35-39
10. Benjamin Dillon (GUA) 3:15:36 * M25-29
1. Renata Bucher (SUI) 2:54:56 - $2,200
2. Jacqui Slack (GBR) 3:04:46 - $1,700
3. Carina Wasle (AUT) 3:05:53 - $1,200
4. Mieko Carey (SPN) 3:13:41 - $800
5. Dawn Hammermeister (SPN) 4:07:09 *F45-49
6. Yoshimi Yasue (JPN) 4:26:19 *F40-44
7. Robyn Wondrasek (SPN) 4:39:26 * F25-29
8. Erin Johnson (GUA) 4:42:53 *F35-39
9. Karly O’Neal (GUA) 5:20:02 *F 35-39
10. Azuna Samata (JPN) 5:53:17 *F 35-39