There are two races left in the 2022 North American Elite Series, the Utah Beast on July 9 and the Blue Mountain Beast on October 22. Before we get to the predictions for this weekend in Huntsville, let's take a look at what went down at the Puebla Beast last month.
What Went Down in Puebla
The Puebla Beast marked the first time that many of the top athletes in the field raced outside of the United States. Unlike the men’s race, which saw only four athletes from the U.S. or Canada crack the top 10, the first five female finishers were all from the U.S. or Canada. Without Emma Cook-Clarke in the field to challenge her, Lindsay Webster won by a comfortable nine minutes to continue her unbeaten streak, which dates back to September 2019. Kris Rugloski, Alex Walker, Rose Wetzel, and Rea Kolbl rounded out the top 5. Sadly, Annie Dube suffered an ankle injury that caused her to drop out of the race.
A Golden Opportunity for a Fresh Face to Emerge in Utah
1,513. That’s the number of days between Saturday and the last time someone other than Webster or Nicole Mericle won a U.S. National Series race. (The last winner not named Webster or Mericle was Rea Kolbl, who won the 2018 Big Bear Beast.)
Why am I mentioning that? Because neither of those two ladies will be racing in Utah this Saturday. Lindsay has been on the podium at all 29 National Series races she has competed in since June 2015. Dube, last year’s runner-up at the Spartan World Championship, will also be sitting this race out.
Their absences in Utah will create a rare opportunity for some women to move up the Elite Series standings.
The Contenders: Who Can Win the Utah Beast?
Alex has been on fire the past year, ending up on the podium in four of her last six National Series races. She finished 5th last year in Utah, and two of the women who beat her won’t be racing this year. Alex never struggles at altitude and is one of the most heat-acclimated athletes in the sport, as she trains in 100-degree weather in Texas. Can she make it five National Series podiums in seven races this weekend?
Without Lindsay Webster in the race, I would be absolutely shocked if Emma does not win. Honestly, even if Lindsay was racing, I might have picked Emma to come out on top this week.
Emma’s climbing is on another level right now, as she finished 2nd at the Broken Arrow Vertical Kilometer (VK) at Lake Tahoe and 1st at the Meet The Minotaur Skyrunner World Series race in Canada (where she finished 11 minutes ahead of Lindsay). Although Lindsay essentially locked up the North American Elite Series title for the sixth time after her win in Mexico, it’s still mathematically possible for Emma to win the series if she wins both Utah and Blue Mountain. It's unlikely, but certainly not impossible.
Kris is the most versatile OCR athlete on the planet right now, male or female. Everyone keeps asking how long Kris can continue performing so well despite her insanely busy race schedule, and she just keeps proving everyone wrong. She recently moved to Colorado from Texas, so altitude and heat shouldn’t affect her as much as most women in this race.
After a 3rd-place finish in Big Bear and a 2nd-place finish in Mexico, can Kris add the one missing podium spot to her collection with a win in Utah?
As mentioned above, Rea was the last woman not named Lindsay Webster or Nicole Mericle to win a US National Series race. She also finished 4th at this venue last year and 6th in Utah in 2019. Although she's often towards the top of the pack on long climbs, Rea tends to be more cautious on steep, technical descents, like we’ll see in Utah.
After four National Series podiums in 2021, Rose has yet to find herself in the top 3 this season. However, Rose did place 3rd at this same venue in Utah last year, finishing 3-4 minutes ahead of perennial podium threats Alex Walker and Rea Kolbl.
Rose cramped up towards the end of last year’s race, so look for her to be even more aware of her nutrition and heat load during this year’s race, which is also shaping up to be a hot one.
Predicting the Top 5 Finishers in Utah
It’s time to make some predictions! Here’s who I think will finish in the top 5, in order.