KAPALUA, Maui -- Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez aced his first ever off road triathlon and Lesley Paterson dominated her field to win the men's and women's titles at the XTERRA World Championship at Maui Sunday.
Gomez used a dominating swim and a tied-for-best run to edge U.S. XTERRA veteran Josiah Middaugh by 47 seconds on the challenging Kapalua course that featured 3,485 feet of climbing on the 18.6-mile off-road bike and 1,092 feet of climbing on the 10k trail run.
The unexpected victory capped off an incredibly multitalented season for Gomez who took the silver medal at the London Olympics, won the $151,500 top prize at the non- drafting Hy-Vee 5150 event, won the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand final in a sprint finish over series champion Jonathan Brownlee, and took the European Championship.
Great as they were, none of these victories by the two-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion illustrated his immense natural talent as much as his conquering of the pinnacle of XTERRA on a rugged course in his first foray in off road triathlon.
As expected, Gomez posted a race-best 19:06 swim which led his closest pursuers -- former Australian Surf Lifesaving champion Ben Allen of Australia and 2006 ITU World Champion Tim Don -- by 1:19 and 2012 Olympian Brent McMahon of Canada by 1:20. Most significantly. Gomez put 2:11 on 4-time XTERRA World champion Conrad Stoltz and 3:43 on recent XTERRA USA champion Josiah Middaugh.
Gomez surprised himself by posting a 5th-fastest 1:27:20 bike split, which was good enough to hold the lead through 14 miles. Recognizing he was lacking the off road riding technical skills of Stoltz and Middaugh, Gomez pushed hard on the grinding uphills and rested on the downhills, letting Stoltz ride away in the final 4 miles as the South African took a 30-second lead starting the run after his 2nd-fastest 1:24:36 bike. Middaugh posted the fastest bike split of 1:23:36, but after his dilatory swim, he still trailed Gomez by a few seconds starting the run.
"I surprised myself on the bike," said Gomez. "But I decided to rest for the run and not take chances on the downhills."
The discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor strategy paid off big time as Gomez passed Stoltz by Mile 1 of the run and finished with a tied-for-race-best 37:54 run. Middaugh, who made up for his swim deficit with his swift bike, had only enough left in the tank for a 5th-fastest 38:39 run that provided Gomez with his virtually all of his margin of victory.
Stoltz, worn out by his surge on the bike, fell to a 13th-fastest 41:24 run split, which was 2:23 back of Middaugh but just enough to hold off Costa Rican Olympian Leonardo Chacon by 15 seconds to secure the final spot on the podium.
Gomez' victory came despite one unexpected hurdle. His condo was near sea level and he was forced to evacuate at 10 PM the night before the race due to a tsunami warning stemming from a 7.7 earthquake in British Columbia. The anticipated tsunami fizzled, but Gomez, despite lack of sleep, did not.
Lesley Paterson remained a bit disappointed after her victory at Maui last year when friends and acquaintances asked her if long-time race leader Melanie McQuaid lost the race when she collapsed from overheating a hundred yards from the finish. "I felt I earned that win," Paterson emphasized. "I believe I ran hard and put the pressure on Melanie that caused her to blow up."
This year Paterson was determined to erase any doubts about who was responsible for that win. After losing a sprint finish to Renata Bucher at XTERRA West, she won the ITU Cross World Championship, dominated the XTERRA U.S. Pro series, and won the XTERRA USA Championship handily.
Still, Paterson felt she had something to prove at Maui and trained hard to prove it. After a typically sluggish swim in the choppy waters, Paterson started the bike more than a dozen riders down to two ITU stars - Mari Rabie's race-best 21:12 and Barbara Riveros-Diaz's 21:43. Paterson didn’t pout - she simply put her head down and chewed up the course and the field with a race-best 1:36:02 split that gave her 3 minutes on Riveros-Diaz and another 3 minutes on Rabie.
While Paterson could have cruised, she revealed after the race that Riveros-Diaz's ITU World Triathlon Series winning foot speed had put fear in her. So she responded with a race-best 40:51 10k trail run that was 1:50 better than the Chilean, who finished 2nd, and 4:23 better than Rabie, the South African Rhodes Scholar, who held off hard-charging XTERRA rookie Heather Jackson by 17 seconds for the final spot on the podium.
"This time I didn’t want any questions about who earned the win," said Paterson, whose finish time of 2:44:12 was 1 minute 47 seconds faster than her 2011 winning time - and a definitive 4:07 better than 2012 runner-up Barbara Riveros-Diaz.
Canadian Melanie McQuaid, who came to this race eager to avenge her collapse while in the lead last year, simply had an off day, finishing an unlucky 13th.
2012 XTERRA World Championship
October 28. 2012
S 1.5k / B 18.6 mi. / R 6.2 mi.
1. Javier Gomez (ESP) 2:26:54
2. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:27:41
3. Conrad Stoltz (RSA) 2:30:04
4. Leonardo Chacon (CRC) 2:30:19
5. Victor de Corral (ESP) 2:30:24
6. Brent McMahon (CAN) 2:30:56
7. Asa Shaw (FRA) 2:32:16
8. Tim Don (GBR) 2:32:41
9. Yeray Lexem (BEL) 23:10
10. Olivier Marceau (SUI) 2:33:36
11. Nicolas Lebrun (FRA) 2:34:14
12. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 2:35:10
1. Lesley Paterson (GBR) 2:44:12
2. Barbara Riveros-Diaz (CHI) 2:48:19
3. Mari Rabie (RSA) 2:53:56
4. Heather Jackson (USA) 2:54:13
5. Jacqui Slack (GBR) 2:55:19
6. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 3:01:11
7. Renata Bucher (SUI) 3:01:51
8. Shonny Vanlandingham (USA) 3:02:24
9. Helena Erbanova (CZE) 3:03:48
10. Marion Lorblanchet (FRA) 3:04:21
11.Elizabeth Orchard (NZL) 3:04:59
12. Danelle Kabush (CAN) 3:05:17
13. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 3:07:29