Nissan Xterra West Championship
TEMECULA, CA (May 15, 2005) – Among the vineyards on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon in Southern California Conrad Stoltz and Melanie McQuaid shined, winning their respective pro divisions at the Nissan Xterra West Championship at Vail Lake Resort in Temecula.
For Stoltz, the victory snaps a six-race winless drought in the U.S. and puts him back on track to being the sports most dominant player. From late in the 2001 season through the first race of 2003 that's exactly what Stoltz was - dominant - winning eight straight XTERRA Championships including two Pro Series titles and two World Championships.
"After a disastrous 2004, it's really wonderful to be back," said Stoltz.
It didn't start wonderful, however, as an average swim put Stoltz 1:15 behind the leaders heading on to the bike. Canadian Olympic triathlete Brent McMahon and Japanese Olympian Hideo Fukui were first out of the 74-degree water in Vail Lake, followed closely by former Navy SEAL Kerry Classen and XTERRA European Tour champ Olivier Marceau.
Marceau hammered the steep climb that faced swimmers at the very beginning of the bike and quickly maneuvered his way to the front just about mile into the course, a spot he held until Stoltz made up the minute midway through the course.
"Conrad caught me on the bike and I couldn't follow him. He was stronger than me, no doubt about that," said Marceau, who is racing in the XTERRA U.S. Series this season. "Conrad was very strong and I think he came back at his best."
Stoltz blazed the bike - finishing the 19.5-mile course in 1:08:34 - a full two-and-a-half minutes faster than Marceau who had the second best split. Surprisingly, it was XTERRA newcomer McMahon who had the third fastest bike, a minute behind Marceau. The 24-year-old also had the best swim and run splits, making a huge splash in just his first race.
"I don't have the technical skills as well as these mountain bikers so this course was definitely more my kind of course with lots of fitness and climbing, and not as much technical," said McMahon, who passed Marceau on the run for second place. "I don't think I could've asked for a better start. XTERRA has always appealed to me, but I've been tied up with World Cup racing and making the Olympic team so I never really had the opportunity. Now, I've got a couple years to do some different stuff and have some fun."
Also having fun was another Canadian, Mike Vine. The 2002 XTERRA Saipan Champ was solid all around in his first big race in two-and-a-half years.
"If everything went right and I had a perfect day then I thought I could finish in the top five, and that's pretty much what happened," said Vine, who sat in fourth place nearly from start-to-finish. "I had a lot of fun on the bike course. It's fast and smooth, and there's a fair bit of climbing but the downhills seemed to be longer than the uphills."
To end up in the top five American Greg Krause ran down three guys in the two-loop "slog fest" that took competitors up a quick vertical dirt ridge then down into a gulch filled with sand and ankle-biting rocks. The panoramic views of the valley were hardly appreciated in the mid-day heat.
The women's pro field was filled with more than 20 racers, including a handful of newcomers to the sport expected to make an immediate impact. Still, it was the Jamie vs. Melanie show. The archrivals have finished 1-2 in their last 10 XTERRA meetings, and today McQuaid was the "1" for the fourth time during that span.
"There is a saying in athletics that you are only as good as your last race," smiled McQuaid.
Of course, the Nissan Xterra West Championship has been good to her. Her first-ever XTERRA Championship was at Half Moon Bay in 2002, and she started last season with a win at Big Bear.
"This was one of the funnest races I've ever done. There is such a cool vibe here. I hope we keep coming back again and again."
The 2003 XTERRA World Champ had a 17-second lead on Whitmore, the '04 World Champ, coming out of the water. The swim leader was newcomer Jessica Harrison of France (via England), who was followed by Janae Pritchett (formerly Deverell), Candy Angle, and Cherie Touchette.
McQuaid methodically picked off all three while "coasting" to the fastest bike split of the day.
"I was being conservative on the bike because it was really hot out there, and I knew the race could fall apart on the run if I didn't time it right. I think I had the right pace. I wasn't going fast enough to get out of Jamie's sight, but, I'm more confident about my running now."
Whitmore was riding her way to the front as well, and despite her chain coming off and a crash, by the end of the first of two laps she was in second place. Whitmore pulled into the bike-to-run transition 1:34 down, and in striking distance.
"I made up some time on the first run lap to cut her lead to about 30 seconds," said Whitmore. "But then I fell on the run. Sometimes when you're delirious you just can't look when there are a lot of obstacles, and I just face-planted. It kind of ruined me."
Whitmore still had a faster run than McQuaid, by about 20 seconds, but couldn't make up the difference.
"Melanie had a really great race. And ya know, I lost my first race last year," smiled Whitmore, who then, of course, went on to win the USA, World, and European Championships.
"I think the rivalry between Mel and I is so strong that it'll be there for a long time, till the day one of us retires," said Whitmore.
Not to be lost in the mix was an incredible comeback by the swift-footed Swiss star, Renata Bucher. Bucher, who upset Whitmore to win the XTERRA Saipan Championship in April, was the 20th female pro out of the water - a full five minutes behind Melanie and Jamie.
"The swim was a lot of drinking water or standing and people passing me," said Bucher. "I was suffering, like always, during the swim."
She picked her way through a massive pack of age group athletes to get within striking distance heading out on to the run in ninth place then danced through the sand passed the rest of the women's pro field, except the two at the very front.
"I tried to catch Jamie or Melanie but they were far away. I had a very good run, but the rest of the race could have been better. Still, I'm very happy because the bike is not great for me, because I like the hills and a little bit more technical and this course was hard to pass."
Jessica Harrison finished 4th in her XTERRA debut, combining the best swim with the fourth best run. The World Cup racer was talked into giving XTERRA a try by fellow club teammates Marceau and Sylvain Dodet.
"I've never been to a race where people are so friendly," said Harrison. "It's an awesome atmosphere. It's kind of like going back to the roots when I raced triathlon 10-12 years ago, when it was non-drafting and everyone is nice and knows each other."
2002 XTERRA World Champ Candy Angle posted yet another solid swim-bike-run to finish in fifth. Other notables included Danelle Kabush (3rd at Worlds last year) in sixth, Melissa Thomas in seventh (missing out on what would have been her 11th straight podium), adventure racing star Danelle Ballengee 10th, and 4x NORBA Champ Jimena Florit 22nd (71st female out of the water).
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