by Dave "Kahuna" Nicholas
(Sardinia, Italy) - After five days of high winds and cold weather, Sardinia proved to be a wonderful host and gave us a sunny, warm and calm day for the race. The start was wonderfully Italian. The federation demanded all the athletes check-in with them manually, despite the fact everyone had walked over timing mats...and they would not let athletes into the water until everyone had raised their hands. You had to be there.
So slightly behind time, the 3rd annual XTERRA Italy race started. Young and fast German pro Andi Boecherer was far ahead in the swim and led the field by over a minute coming into swim-bike. German Ronnie Dietz was just 1.5 minutes behind and favorite Nico Lebrun about 3.
Lebrun looked very confident wearing his fantastic XTERRA World Champ uniform, and Nico knows this Italian course well. Boecherer has been close to winning for years. Extremely fast in the water and on the bike, his talents have been split between road and XTERRA. The biggest surprise of the day was when Renata Bucher came out of the water as the 3rd woman. Italian Champion Stefania Bonnazi was 2d and Maria Luisa Tavernini first.
Lebrun and Boecherer came off the bike literally side-by-side. Andi put his bike on the rack seconds before Nico, but Nico beat the youngster out onto the run by 50 feet and immediately pushed hard and had 100 yards on him within the first 1/2 K. Nico Pfitzenmaier was 3rd off the bike and it was great to see Dietz and Luca Bonazzi in the top 5 and not far behind.
The run in Italy is 2 laps and loops itself back past transition and a thousand spectators. Nico was very comfortable passing in first place, Dietz was pressuring Boecherer, Phitzy looked tired and Luca got huge cheers urging him on to the ultimate giro. At the end, Nico slowed down and enjoyed the 300-meter finishing straight, slapping hands and high fiving the boisterous crowd. Dietz grinned like Christmas morning in second, Andi was happy with third and the crowd went wild when Bonazzi showed up 4th. Frenchman Steve Laurent had his best XTERRA ever and posted a phenomenal run that moved him into the top 5 just a few seconds in front of the fading Phitzenmaier.
The women's race was predictably Buchers. She posted the fastest bike and had nobody in site going out on the run. Melissa Thomas, still healing from injuries she received while training a few weeks ago, had a great swim/bike and came into bike-run together with Stefania. But Thomas' back precluded any challenge and Stefania cruised to a terrific 2nd place. This was her first race since the summer of 2005 when she was hit by a car in an accident that nearly ended her career. Still showing some remains of surgery on her knee, her finish was loudly applauded by everyone.
Claudia Frank put in a great bike ride, and she needed it to hold off Hungary's Esther Erderley (Eszter Erderlyi) by under 10 seconds. Eszter is an unknown to the XTERRA European tour but had a solid race and we hope to see more of her. Thomas soldiered on to a courageous 5th.
As always, the whole day ended up as "hey, the Sardinians had this great party and an XTERRA race broke out". The food, wine, beer, music and awards were fantastic. The hospitality from Commune Villacidro and the folks of Sardinia are truly second to none. And even the weather Gods were kind giving us a great day for some great racing.
To see some great scenes and results to www.xterraitaly.it and convince yourself you need to go here next year.