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Marceau, Matter Win in Europe and We Preview the Pros at the Southeast Championship
MARCEAU, MATTER WIN XTERRA EUROPEAN TITLES
By XTERRA Managing Director Dave Nicholas...
The Costa Smeralda on the Island of Sardinia with the fabulous Mediterranean waters and silver sand beaches; a 4 star resort to host the event; a goodie bag for each entrant that had to be worth 75€; 2 fantastic parties, the unbelievable Italian evenings and just in case you were interested a killer set of trails for the bike and run that made everyone want to stop and take photos instead of race.
A huge entry for XTERRA Italy (also the XTERRA European Championship) plunged and waded into the shallow Med shelf 5 minutes before the actual start time (“eh, everybody was a ready – so I make a da horn”) A terrific crowd of spectators lined the beach and the shorelines a la Maui and cheered wildly when Leonardo Ballerini came out of the water first. But Super Pro Olivier Marceau, headed for his 3rd Olympics, quickly dispatched Ballerini and made it perfectly clear everyone else was racing for second. Sibylle Matter did her usual very fast swim and T1 combination to take an immediate 3 minute lead from the next fastest woman and had nearly 6 minutes up on Renata Bucher, a former XTERRA Italy winner and her biggest competition.
It was difficult to tell what was happening out in the coastal hills as Marceau was simply riding away from everyone. Young German star Felix Schuman was holding a solid second place, but not far back two other chargers – Jim Thijs of Belgium and Karel Zadak of Czech were coming up quickly and bringing Nico Lebrun, England’s Sam Gardner and France’s Franck Borgia with them.
The second bike lap created the mixed salad for the run. Marceau in front – the others not in the same area code – then WHAM – Schumann, Thijs and Zadak all together and within the next minute or so Lebrun, Borgia, Gardner and Germany’s Ronny Dietz. We had 7 men within a minute of each other. Experienced XTERRAphile’s could predict what was about to happen and true to form “the professor” Lebrun ran past everyone but Schumann on the first lap and just like the UK last year; the young student German kept the Euro champ in site but finished 20 seconds back for a good third place.
Marceau chilled his run and still finished 3 minutes ahead of Nico. The other 5 men continued the battle on the dunes along the sea – yes the Italian run had almost 3K of beach run – with Belgium’s Thijs barely holding off a supercharged Ronny Dietz by just 8 seconds. Karel Zadak fell back to 6th but still his best performance to date. Borgia tightened up on the run and nearly fell into the clutch’s of the new Italian champion, Alessandro Degasperi who turned in the 3rd fastest run and earned 9th place overall.
On the women’s side Sibylle had matters (no pun intended) well in hand. Austria’s Carina Wasle had just finished her university exams on Tuesday and was happy to be in the hunt. Renata, a winner of several XTERRA’s all over the world is back and ready to re-take her European Championship, but despite the quickest bike time and a great run, could not challenge Sibylle. Carina cruised to a well deserved 3rd place and new Swiss pro Andrea Huser (better known for her winter racing) came 4th on the trails but was penalized 2 minutes for unsnapping and taking her helmet off in transition. XTERRA America Tour West second place finisher Marion Summerer was 25 seconds back on Huser on time but benefited up to 4th because of the penalty. The marvelous Stefania Bonazzi kept her Italian National women’s title with 6th place.
What’s up for the rest of the summer? 2007 Euro Champ Eszter Erdelyi crashed the week before the race and could not compete. She will be back in a few weeks in Wales and by that time Carina will be fitter, Renata will have been in the pool, Sibylle is always on the podium and Canada’s Melanie McQuaid is coming – all of them will have to contend with World Champ Julie Dibens who will return to defend her UK crown. Should be on heck of a women’s race in Wales on June 21.
Lebrun looks completely ready to defend his crown as Marceau will be concentrating on his road work to Beijing. Schumann is ready to win – and I predict it will come this year. The kid is simply too talented to keep off the top step. Zadak and Thijs have both proved they are better this season and Dietz has won his share and is always dangerous.
But lurking just out of sight, and ready to throw a roundhouse punch to everyone’s plans is the Caveman Conrad Stoltz and his protégé Dan Hugo. Both have their tickets to ride – and will do it in Wales, the Czech Republic and France. How these men will hold up facing 5 races in 5 weeks and in the much cooler weather in Wales and Czech is anybody’s guess. But one thing we have learned over the past several seasons is Conrad is always a threat.
For those of you who have wanted to go and enjoy your XTERRA Brothers and Sisters in Europe – this next month could be the right time. Melanie, Conrad and Dan are all flying over to challenge and perhaps you should too.
But back to Bella Italia. Simple words cannot tell you how terrific the organization, the setting, the trails, the sea, the food and mostly the people are. Italy is the best and Sardinia is the best of Italy.
Featuring some of Mother Nature’s finest trails in tree-lined forests with plenty of roots, rocks, mud, and dirt - Oak Mountain State Park is the ultimate arena for an XTERRA race, and the last two years have produced some of the most memorable finishes in the sports history. In the inaugural year Brent McMahan outran Seth Wealing by less than a minute for the win while Melanie McQuaid came across the line just 22 seconds ahead of Jamie Whitmore. Last year Whitmore turned the tables and edged McQuaid by a minute while a healthy Conrad Stoltz crushed the men’s field.
This year Stoltz is back – this time as the reigning XTERRA World Champ and fresh off a win at the West Regionals in California – and he loves this place.
“This is definitely one of my favorite courses,” said Stoltz after crossing the line in 2:02:36 last year. “It’s in the forest and in South Africa we don’t have forests like this, and it’s technical. We came here on Thursday and pre-rode the course over and over and over learning all the turns and rocks and roots and it’s very different for us. We were in the Forest all week just saying, wow look at this, & look at this.”
By “we” Stoltz was referring to his running mate, fellow countryman and rising star Dan Hugo, 23, who upstaged Stoltz to win the XTERRA South Africa crown back in April and kept it close in California to finish in second. At this race last year Hugo was in third place during the later stages of the mountain bike section before a bad crash (right in front of a group of journalists no less) broke his hand and kept him out of racing for the rest of the season. It’s certain Hugo will be out to vanquish his demons on this course.
THE WOMEN’S RACE
With Jamie Whitmore, the sports all-time winningest athlete, on the sideline recovering from having a spindle cell sarcoma (A nerve tumor with cancer) removed from her pelvic area, 3x XTERRA World Champ Melanie McQuaid from Canada is clearly the gal to beat. It won’t be easy, as McQuaid showed fine form in winning the West regionals convincingly last month.
This is the race to watch out for the mountain bike specialists like Jenny Smith (fourth last year but had the fastest bike), Shonny Vanlandingham (a 7-time U.S. National Mountain Bike team member), and Danelle Kabush (another Canadian star who was 2nd at the XTERRA World Champs two years ago).
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