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Friday, April 29, 2011
Updated: May 2, 12:37 PM ET
Elite women eye U.S. duathlon crown

By Sarah Wassner Flynn

Hundreds of multisport athletes will descend upon Tucson this weekend for the USAT Duathlon National Championships, marking a surge in popularity for the once-fledging sport. "We are definitely seeing a resurgence," notes veteran duathlete Rachel Sears Casanta, 37, of Ventura, Calif., who says the run/bike/run race format took a hit in recent years when triathlon took off. "Sure, it's sexier to say, 'I'm a triathlete'. But duathlon is just as hard as, if not harder than, triathlon."

And the competition is hotter than ever. Though Sears Casanta, a nine-time duathlon national team member and two-time world medalist, is out with Achilles tendonitis, a crop of quick women will battle it out over a 5k run, 35k bike, and 5k run. They're competing for a chance at the national title, and a berth in the Duathlon World Championships, scheduled for September 24-25 in Gijon, Spain (the top three finishers will go). Here's a look at how some of the favorites stack up.

Marisa Asplund, 34, Durango, Colo.

The reigning elite national champion, Asplund placed 16th at the ITU Duathlon World Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland last September, leading Team USA to a silver medal. "Marisa will be hard to beat. She is a solid runner and no one can touch her on the bike," said Sears Cassanta of the former pro cyclist. In preparation for this year's champs, Asplund, a onetime middle school teacher, has been doing her homework: She spent the winter training in Tucson, familiarizing herself with the race course. "Just rode the Duathlon Nationals course," she tweeted (@marisaasplund) last week. "... seriously amazing ride! Hilly ... powerful ... perfect."

Becky Keller, 32, Charlottesville, Va.

A three-time Team USA member, Keller's best finish to date came at the 2008 Elite Duathlon World Championships in Rimini, Italy where she finished 19th and closed with one of the field's fastest 10k splits. Keller, a personal trainer, has since taken some time off, but recently ramped up her training just in time for this weekend's race. "I'm just getting into the season with some hard running races behind me," she said, adding that while she's gunning for a top finish in Tucson, her focus is on triathlon this season. "I didn't taper that much going into this race since it's the start of triathlon season, and I'm trying to get some podium finishes."

Rachel Chambers, 39, Sarasota, Fla.

A member of the 2009 Elite Duathlon World team in Concord, N.C. (where she placed 21st), Chambers has been hitting the hillier parts of Florida, as well as the heat of San Antonio, to gear up for Tucson's topography and climate. And the registered dietician says the hard work is paying off. "I'm feeling very strong, and have been getting progressively fitter and faster recently," she said. "I'd love to place among the top three [at Nationals] and qualify for worlds."

Women's start List, USAT Duathlon National Championships (as of 4/21/2010)

Teri Albertazzi, 39, Tucson, Ariz.
Marisa Asplund, 34, Durango, Colo.
Angela Axmann, 27, Phoenix, Ariz.
Courtenay Brown, 33, Boulder, Colo.
Rachel Chambers, 39, Sarasota, Fla.
Shannon Grady, 35, Glen Mills, Pa.
Lauren Green, 46, Austin, Texas
Becky Keller, 32, Charlottesville, Va.
Nicole LaSelle, 34, Dayton, Ohio
Anne Curi Preisig, 44, Falmouth, Mass.