Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #302 Xterra Philippines: Adventures in Pain

This appears in the Monday, March 19, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Xterra Philippines: Adventures in Pain
by rick olivares pic by brosi gonzales

Ben Allen’s bike chain broke. He had a sizeable lead over the rest of the field but this stoppage could have cost him the lead. “I just had to fix my bike. Pump the tires. Their cost me some precious minutes but I didn’t panic. My motivated myself to fix my bike and get back to the race.

The Australian, who is in the midst of a 13-city triathlon tour that spans some 15,000 miles, quickly got back in the race and finished first in the second staging of Xterra Philippines at Liloan, Cebu, with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, and 5 seconds. Frenchman Oliver Marceau was second with a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, and 22 seconds. Englishman Cedric Lassonde was third with a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, and 38 seconds.

“A race like Xterra demands that you never quit; you never give up,” quipped Allen who doused himself with a bottle of water. “The bike leg was the most difficult and the most technical and you have to think fast and quick. But you also have to have a cool head to navigate that.”

Austrian Carina Wasle, who came behind Swiss sensation Renata Bucher, was a close second out of the water but she did not have such luck as she was nowhere in sight after the bike leg. The second leg of the Xterra course calls for bikers to traverse a 35-kilometer course twice with a breathtaking view of the adjacent Camotes Sea. But behind the tranquility lurked danger. There’s a stretch along the bike course called “the Boneyard” – a treacherous path of dirt, gravel, dried up bushes, and jagged rocks leading up to the 100-year old Liloan lighthouse. Wasle blew out her bike on “the Boneyard” and never recovered. One rider fell, hurt her arm and required stitches on her chin. And Bucher, finished first in the women’s pro division with a time of 2 hours, 53 minutes, and 33 seconds, unchallenged. “It’s a challenging course all right. It was difficult for many of us. You had to adjust quickly and pray for some luck,” said a relieved Bucher.

Jacqui Slack, from Stoke-on-Trent, England, was second with a time of 2 hours, 56 minutes, and 39 seconds. Her compatriot, Darelle Parker, who is a stuntwoman in his spare time, was third with a time of 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 44 seconds.

“I got the adventure I was looking for, all right.” Thus spoke American triathlete Will Kelsay as he crossed the finish line of the 2012 Xterra Philippines in Liloan, Cebu several places behind overall winner Ben Allen who finished first in all three courses – the swim, bike, and run legs. “The thing about Xterra is it’s a whole lot of fun even when it hurts and you’re bleeding.”

Dehydrated during the run course as he (and several other runners did as well) thought there were not enough water stations along the course. “Mercifully it wasn’t as hot as we thought it would be. But it was brutal. It was awesome.”

Triathlon is one of the world’s most demanding, grueling, and punishing sports. Now when you take the sport off-road – and that is what Xterra is all about – then you can double the difficulty factor.

“That’s what makes Xterra the most extreme competition in the world,” added Alaska Milk Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Wilfred Steven Uytengsu. “It isn’t simply the distance and nature of the race but because off the rugged terrain and challenging course.”

For the second year in a row, Xterra Philippines was held at the Amara Estates in Liloan, Cebu. Like its parent triathlon, Xterra has three different races - the 1.5 kilometer swim course in the Camotes Sea, the 70-kilometer bike leg, and lastly, the 10-kilometer run that also goes through a challenging half-meter wide walkway of bamboo sticks lashed together.

Said taskmaster Guy Concepcion, Xterra Philippines Race Director, “It’s a slightly different course from last year but its more challenging. I think the athletes will appreciate it.”

“I heard about Xterra Philippines from Shonny (Vanlandingham),” said American Branden Rakita who hails from Boulder, Colorado. “She said many good things about the race and it was good to get away from the cold of Colorado. And it’s always good to experience a different culture.”

Rakita, who is in his fifth year as a pro and who earned a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University isn’t the only one who was enticed to participate in Xterra Philippines.

“It’s a great test before the start of the European season,” said Englishwoman Jacqui Slack who along with Australian Ben Allen are both in the middle of a 13-race and 15,000 mile journey through Asia and the Pacific. “It’s a great way to get ready and fit.”

Renata Bucher, the Swiss Miss who is a four-time Xterra European Tour champion and six-time Xterra Saipan champion is one of three returnees to the event the others being Austrian Carina Wasle and Englishwoman Darelle Parker. “I knew that I would come back. It was a beautiful experience and having all the people and the kids cheer and smile for you are one of the things I remember a lot. They were there to cheer for the entire race. Residents of Liloan took to the streets to cheer on the athletes last year.

The second staging of Xterra also drew some star power as Philippine celebrities like Jericho Rosales, Richard Gutierrez, Drew Arellano, Mateo Gudicelli, and Paolo Abrera to name a few participated. “I’m both nervous and excited,” chimed in Arellano. “Bahala na si Batman!”

Added Rosales who ran the race leg of a relay team to constant cheers from the crowd, “It’s a good start (participating in Xterra) although I just ran. But from what I can see these triathletes superb athletes with a high tolerance for pain. And how can you not want to do this again with all these people supporting you?”

Notes: This year’s Xterra Philippines drew 330 participants from 14 different countries. That is three times the number of last year’s participants. Counting the participants of the Trail Run that was the Saturday event, the total number of participants goes up to 600. In the Filipino Elite category, Neil Catiil repeated as champion with a time of 2 hours, 54 minutes, and 47 seconds. Elmo Claraval was second at 3 hours, 2 minutes, and 38 seconds. Arland Macasieb came in third at 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 11 seconds.

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