Off-road triathlon is this weekend

The Lake Tahoe area has become one of the most popular spots there is for extreme and endurance sports.

So it makes sense that a relative new sport that combines the extreme with endurance will be coming to the North Lake Tahoe area this weekend.

The inaugural Nissan XTERRA USA Championship Off-Road Triathlon will be held on Sunday. As part of the event, an off-road sports festival, which will include demonstrations and clinics will be held throughout the weekend.

The off-road triathlon, which has combined mountain bike racing with triathlon events, has become the fastest growing multi-sport event in the world. The event is set to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday with the start and finish at Incline Beach.

More than 300 international athletes will compete in the event, with professionals in the race competing for an $80,000 purse. The pros who have accumulated the most points over four events will win the $50,000 Nissan XTERRA Point Series purse.

Along with serving as the U.S. championship, the event is also serving as the national championships for the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and Japan. Those competing are also seeking to qualify for the World Championships next month in Maui.

In the event, competitors will take part in a 1.5K swim, will cover a 32K mountain bike trail with a climb of 3,000 feet to an elevation of 8,400 feet and will finish with a 10K trail run.

The series was the brainchild of Dave Nicholas, who is the director of the Lake Tahoe event.

"It just made perfect sense," said Nicholas about putting mountain bike racing into a triathlon format. "It took off like a rocket. It's been exploding ever since."

Chris Lyman, who is a consultant for the event, said the popularity of mountain bike racing has "fueled the growth of the sport."

He also said that "typically mountain bikes do pretty well" in the event. But Lyman added that "this will be a really competitive field" in Sunday's race.

In addition, Nicholas said this event serves as an alternative for those who prefer trail running as opposed to road running.

While the top athletes can complete most events in 2 to 2 1/2 hours, Nicholas said the winner will do well to finish this race in two hours and 45 minutes on Sunday.

"You can't have a lollipop course for the most important event of the year," Nicholas said. "This is a very, very tough course."

Like Maui, Nicholas said he hopes this event becomes an annual happening where everyone says, "You just have to do Tahoe.

"That's pretty much what we say about Maui. This is every bit as epic."

Nicholas admitted that his own creation is even too much for him to try. "I couldn't do it in six hours," he said.

Competitors obviously have to be in top shape to complete the course. "It's not the sort of event where we let people take all day," Nicholas said.

Among the free clinics will be Mountain Bike Like a Champion, presented by top mountain bike rider Ned Overand from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Friday at Incline Beach.

There will also be the MicroSupreme MEGA XT, a shorter off-road triathlon that is open to anyone. The event, which features a 750-meter swin, 32K mountain bike ride and a 5K trail run will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.

For more information on this weekend's events, call 1-877-751-8880 or go on line at www.xterraplanet.com.

Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor.

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