Left, Australia's Ben Allen celebrates his first place finish in last Saturday's 2012 XTERRA Saipan Championship. Right, Switzerland's Renata Bucher gets high-fives from spectators en route to the finish line loop of last Saturday's 2012 XTERRA Saipan Championship. (Roselyn B. Monroyo) 
Bucher was the first female pro to complete the 1.5-kilometer swim, 32K bike, and 12K run race, timing in at 2:54:56 and regaining the crown she lost to U.S. pro Shonny Vanlandingham last year.

“Last year was one of the saddest days in my life, as I lost the race (XTERRA Saipan) that meant a lot to me. I waited for one whole year to get through with that feeling and I am very happy I was able to win my favorite race in XTERRA Tour,” said Bucher, who incidentally started her triathlon career in 2005 on Saipan and won the Crown Jewel for six straight years before losing it last year.

The 34-year-old Bucher crossed the finish line with her hands up-five fingers on her right hand up and two on the left-signaling her seventh XTERRA Saipan win and 24th overall on the 24th day of March.

“It was an amazing feeling, as I did not only regain the women's crown, but also completed the Triple Crown on the island that has a special place in my heart,” added Bucher, who also won XTERRA Guam and the Philippines.

Duplicating Bucher's feat was Australia's Ben Allen, who set the second fastest time in XTERRA Saipan at 2:31:05, behind the 2:27:16 (2007) of Olivier Marceau, who returned here after missing the race for four years, but failed to reclaim his crown as he came in 41 seconds behind Allen.

“I am on top of the world, winning three XTERRA races week after week is tough and it helped a lot that a I trained very hard in the past two months in Australia to get into top shape,” said Allen, a first timer in XTERRA Saipan and only on his second year in XTERRA Tour.

Rough start

The swim leg started a bit later as organizers took time deciding which way to begin the race and then when swimmers dove into the waters Micro Beach (right side of the beach), strong current greeted the triathletes.

“The swim was very challenging. The current was a bit strong and the water was choppy. But, it was what I wanted, I love swimming in that condition,” said Allen, who was first out of the water at the 22:00 mark, more than a minute ahead of Marceau (23:46). Eventual seventh placer Branden Rakita was second out of the water with his 23:39.

Female pro runner-up Jacqui Slack (3:04:46) beat Bucher for the third time in the swim leg, clocking in at 25:13, more than three minutes ahead of the latter (28:18). Saipan pro Mieko Carey was the second female out of the water, submitting 26:48.

“I knew that will happen so I prepared myself to catch up with her in the bike leg,” Bucher said.

Neck-and-neck bike race

Allen, Marceau, and eventual third placer Cedric Lassonde (2:34:58) were at it in the brutal bike race and had only about one minute separating them as they headed up to the dreaded climb at Mt. Tapochao. Marceau was first up the backside of the island's landmark, followed by Marceau, and Lassonde. Then heading to the dangerous downhill, coral road at Navy Hill, Lassonde had overtaken Marceau, while fourth place Takahiro Ogasawara of Japan stayed close to the lead group.

Lassonde was the fastest in the bike race at 1:22:28, but his swim time of 25:56 left him at third, heading to the run leg. Marceau remained at second place after submitting 1:24:19 in the bike leg, while Allen timed in at 1:25:33 to remain in the lead, but was just 33 seconds ahead of the former.

Slack had the lead in the bike leg, going up to Navy Hill and to the first few climbs at Mt. Tapochao. However, Bucher grabbed the driver's seat in the last long tricky climb to the highest peak on the island and made it to the bike-run transition area in Micro Beach with a time of 1:34:12. Slack logged 1:40:43, giving Bucher about five minutes lead heading to the last phase of the race.

Lead change

Marceau gave Allen quite a scare at the halfway mark of the run leg when the two triathlets entered the jungle at Navy Hill and negotiated the slippery and sharp ravines en route to the famous World War II tunnels.

“Olivier was flying. You could tell from every step he takes that he knows his way out of the technical part of the course. I had to keep up with him to have a chance when we hit the road,” said Allen.

Marceau managed to grab the lead from Allen after they went out of the tunnel and headed to more ravines, but the Australian regained control when they were out of the trail and started running along the Sugar King road.

In the women's division, Bucher went to Anak's trail just less than a minute earlier than Slack. However, Bucher gained momentum on their way to the tunnels and ravines.

“I knew I have the advantage in the ravines/tunnels trail, as Jacqui is used to running on the road. The trail run is my favorite, it's very technical and I am used to it after coming here for the past seven straight years,” said Bucher, who came out of the jungle with over eight minutes lead and eventually won by about 10 minutes against Slack.

Gallant stand

Austrian pro Carina Wasle, who stunned Bucher in last year's XTERRA, coming in at second behind Vanlandingham, this time finished at third place, completing the race at the 3:05:53 despite a crash early in the bike race.

Heading down to the bike trail at Navy Hill, the diminutive triathlete crashed into another biker. The Saipan biker was trying to move out of Wasle's way, but run out of time, and the latter fell on the ground and had her right leg hit the crank of the former's bike. Wasle sustained a deep cut about three inches long and was dizzy after the fall.

Despite her condition, Wasle through the help of the Saipan biker got up and chased the leaders. Wasle managed to overtake Carey on the way up Mt. Tapochao and timed in at 1:47:11. Carey also had her misfortunes in the bike leg, as she had two flat tires and ended up posting 1:50:21.

Wounded and wobbly, Wasle soldiered on in the run leg and even recorded the fastest time in the women's division at 55:54. Bucher timed in at 58:37, while Slack had 1:04:08. The brave Austrian pro ate up Slack's nine-minute lead and was less than 100m away from the finish line and a few feet ahead of the latter when fatigue took its toll on the former.

Wasle suddenly stopped near the pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, as she cramped up. With the crowd egging her to move on, the teary-eyed Wasle walked her way to the loop and Bucher and Slack hugged her at the finish line.

“I thought of quitting a lot of times, but I just couldn't,” said Wasle.


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