XTERRA France Championship
| by Dave "Kahuna" Nicholas, XTERRA managing director|
click thumbnails for full size
The premier edition of XTERRA France took place on a perfect day along the French Riviera. Big blue sky, and cold but crystal clear water and the biggest buoy in the history of XTERRA. Look at the picture to the right to see what I mean.
A mass start for the "anywhere-from-1300-to-1500 meter" swim was right on time at 1:30pm. Local organizer and current XTERRA European champ Olivier Marceau wasted no time coming from third out of the water to challenge Cedric Fleurton for the lead. Fleurton finished second to Marceau last season in Italy in his only XTERRA appearance until today… and he was not about to finish second again. At the end of the first bike lap Cedric was only a few feet in front of Marceau with a fast closing Nico Lebrun now up in third place at just under two minutes behind the leaders. Nico Phitzenmaier who surprised all at the World Champs on Maui by coming off the bike in third was just behind Lebrun.
Julie Dibens is another new kid on the block for the European Tour. A two-time Olympian in triathlon from Great Britain, Dibens swam for LSU in college, was the 1999 USTS women's champ and a former age group world champ. Quite some credentials and she showed up strong by coming out of the water in seventh overall and leading the first lap handily. European champ Renata Bucher was coming on strong and similar to the mens race, she was only a few feet behind Dibens at the end of the first lap, then passed her but flatted and gave it all back.
The bike course at France is probably the most technical of all the European courses. Gobs of climbing and fast, technical downhills made for a course everyone gave top marks to.
|As the bike came to a close, Fleurton still held the lead, but now only 40 seconds behind was Lebrun. Marceau was beginning to feel the weeks of effort he put forth organizing and managing this race and it is a tribute to a fine man and athlete that he could still compete at such a high level. Phitzenmaier still held fourth and was closing on Olivier.|
Out onto the leg-burning, two-lap run up and around the Cap Esterel with magnificent ocean views of the L'isle Dor, also known as the world's biggest buoy. The question was if Fleurton could hold off a man who has always been one of XTERRA's fastest runners. Twenty minutes later we had the answer. Fleurton first, Lebrun still 40 seconds behind. Phitzenmaier had passed Marceau for third.
At the same time the surprise was Julie Dibens. Clearly a very experienced professional she came into transition one minute ahead of Bucher, and we all know stories of how fast Renata is… yet at the end of the first run lap Dibens had not given up any ground at all to the Swiss girl. But Renata has not won a fistful of races without being a tough competitor and as we looked up into the campgrounds from where the last 100 meters dropped down on the beach to the finish we saw Renata make the pass for the lead and hold off a very fast and competitive Julie Dibens.
Almost 200 athletes competed in this first race of the season and everyone had nothing but praise for the location and the course. Eighteen different countries were represented making it a truly international start for the year. As mentioned, if you want technical, this is the place to come. Oh, and the fantastic scenery, food, beach's and wine just make it that much better.