Off-road triathlon competitions have taken off globally thanks largely to the commitment to the sport by the people affiliated with the Nissan Xterra series.
But until a hotel in South Maui expressed interest in televising an off-road marathon in 1996, there wasn't much talk of putting together an event combining swimming with mountain biking and trail running. Three short years later, the Xterra USA Championship Series officially started, making stops throughout the country, building up a following and a fan base for off-road triathlons.
The 2003 Nissan Xterra Central Championship is set to begin in Keystone on July 20. Five Routt County residents -- Jill Miller, Paul and Cynthia Hill, Julie Franklin, Edward Briones and Katherine Zambrana -- are registered for arguably the most physically demanding course in the 42-race Xterra series.
The Central Championship course consists of an 1k swim in chilly Keystone Lake, a 26k mountain bike ascent and descent covering 6,000 feet total and a 13k trail run complete with river crossing.
It's advertised as a chance to test one's sanity.
For many triathletes, they read no further than the word "test" and they are in.
"The three disciplines are good fits for Colorado as such an active, fit, healthy state," Xterra Public Relations Director Trey Garman said.
"There are courses that suit others better, but we have a ton of pros from Colorado, so this is a race they want to do really well in. The majority of our pros will travel to any race and do it. That's what they are. They are Xterra athletes."
Once such athlete is Steamboat's Zambrana. She is fifth in the women's overall pro standings, and with her ability to climb and climb and climb on a mountain bike, she figures to be one of the top women in the field.
Zambrana finished ninth at the West Championships in Big Bear, Calif., and seventh at the East Championships in Richmond, Va. Both were at lower altitudes.
"The big deal at Keystone is the altitude," Garman said. "There's not too much air up there, which is one of the biggest challenges of Keystone. It's grueling. It's punishing for athletes to come out of frigid water and climb straight up a mountain and then have the technical skill to come back down. Then they have to run."
The added benefit of the Xterra series is that it's open to amateurs as well. Entering its third year, the amateur series is divided into eight regions where people compete for an overall title and the right to race against the other seven divisional winners at the USA Championships in Lake Tahoe.
"It's just taking off," Garman said. "We have more than 10,000 amateurs in our series. We have people going everywhere to be a regional champ."
People interested in signing up for the championship course or for the shorter Xterra Sport race (.5k swim, 13k ride, 5k run) can still do so at www.xterraplanet.com, though a limited number of sports are available, Colorado coordinator Sharon Cutler said.
There are a number of other events still open for registration as part of the weeklong festival Xterra holds in the Keystone Resort area.
The triathlons are July 20, but a variety of mountain bike races are available for all levels of riders with courses ranging from 8 miles to 16 miles in length.
The registration fee is $25.
A 5k and 10k Saucony Scramble is July 19 for $15 with on-site registration.
A complete list of registration requirements, costs, directions and instructions are available at www.xterraplanet.com.
The Xterra Central Championship begins at 10:30 a.m. July 20 and spectators are welcome -- and encouraged -- to gather around the transition area to push the 440-person field through the course.
--To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org