Xonrupt, Gerardmer - Defending XTERRA European Tour champions Nico Lebrun from France and Helena Erbenova of the Czech Republic won the XTERRA France Championship on Sunday.
It's Lebrun's first win of the year, and he becomes the fourth different man to win a Euro Tour race this season as Ruben Ruzafa took the opener in Spain, Ben Allen claimed Greece, and Victor del Corral won in Switzerland. Lebrun, the 39-year-old former XTERRA World Champion (2005) is racing his final year as a professional, as he announced he'll retire following this season.
In the women's race Erbenova collected her third straight win and her 7th in last eight European majors.
Dave Nicholas, the managing director of the XTERRA World Tour, was on-site and brings us this report…
Somebody needs to make this win a chapter in the textbook on how to win races, any kind of race. Nico Lebrun was nicknamed "The Professor" by me because he raced so smart. Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost was named the Professor for the same reasons.
Nico knows what he is capable of and takes what his body and the competition give him on any day. Today, against much younger and very strong competitors he proved conclusively, as does Conrad "The Caveman" Stoltz and Shonny Vanlandingham, that these older racers are not ready for the pasture quite yet.
For once at the XTERRA France Championship the weather was superb. Truly could not have been any better. The past two years have had driving rains and muddy conditions and the way this course is designed it was a monster. France is the longest and arguably the hardest XTERRA on earth. The bike takes the pros well over two hours and the win takes more than three hours.
Sunday dawned cool, yet sunny. XTERRA Decouvert (Discovery) started at 8:15am with more than 700 participants. 750m swim and one lap of everything. This race was followed by three great kids races that grouped youth from 7 to 15 years of age. No wonder the French and Euros have such great competitors despite not having our population. They start young!
In years past I marveled at how many spectators would come out even in cold and rainy conditions. With great weather and a new monster of a Vosges Mountains wood ramp that was at least 150' long with 4 jumps; the spectator count was huge.
The swim is a mass start. Everybody is treading water and cheating out as far as they can go and BOOM off goes the canon (not quite as good as the USA version) and the fight is on. Ben Allen did the usual and pulled a slight lead over USA Tour pro Branden Rakita. There were several athletes from the States in France and all were thrilled with the organization and courses.
Ben led the bike out but suffered both a front and rear flat on the first lap and for the second race in a row scored no points. Leader Asa Shaw had the hammer down on the bike and led the first lap.
"I knew the Spaniards were faster on the bike and would get me eventually - so I went as hard as I could" he said after the race. Asa was right. First Victor del Corral, fresh off winning Switzerland, led Ruben Ruzafa, XTERRA Spain winner and Hector Guerra, 2d in Swiss and 4th in Spain.
The Spanish train was coming for the Englishman and got well past on the second lap. Ruzafa and Guerra both know that del Corral can outrun most anyone and hooked up to drop their countryman. I was waiting on a fast downhill at a sharp right turn to take photos. Racers coming down, locking brakes, sliding the back around; fast downhillers passing slower climbers, it was great. About the time I expected to see Asa still in the lead - remember he won here last year - a guy twisted his bars and did a superman faceplant. He was stone knocked out and not moving. Another spectator and I recognized what was about to happen and raced out, moved his bike off the trail but he was unresponsive. About 20 seconds later he came around, stunned but not hurt. Other marshals came running down from above and the situation was OK but I knew what was coming. Sure enough here comes Ruben and Hector flying down what is no more than a rocky 30" wide trail. The marshals jumped up to stop them but the duo rolled right, darted through the grass and around a tree - locked the brakes up, made the hairpin and were gone. WOW. The next people down were lappers and they naturally came to a stop to see what had happened. It was a total road block. The other spectator and I started moving bikes and riders yelling "allez allez" and finally a dozen or so guys got the message and headed down the hill. Seconds later here came Nico Lebrun all in red standing up out of the saddle yelling "deuxième deuxième" (second lap second lap). I say to myself "Nico? - where's Asa, where is Victor?" They came by shortly but at that point I figured the race belonged to Ruben.
Helena Erbenova is again dominating the women. She paced herself on the swim, headed out on the bike turning the best women's time by nearly eight minutes. Marion "Bubu" Lorblanchet is the cutest, funniest French woman on tour. She won the Euro title in 2011 beating a very strong Renata Bucher. She hurt her foot badly in 2012 and is just now returning to form. Always a fast swimmer she was first out of the water and was holding second after the first lap behind the Czech Erbenova. Shadowing her though, was Jacqui Slack. Jacqui has not had the results she expected so far with a 2nd in Greece her best in Europe. Today she was on her game and passed Bubu on the second lap gaining a three-minute lead but no matter how hard Jacqui went there was no stopping Helena. Bubu ran hard but Jacqui kept her cool and came home a minute ahead for a very nice second. It is good to have Maud Golsteyn back and she had a good day with a 4th a bit behind Lorblanchet but comfortably ahead of Coralie Redelsperger who finished out the top 5. Poor Renata Bucher was not feeling well and dropped out on the bike. Those of you who know our Swiss Miss understand how strong willed she is. Perhaps she needs to take heed of what The Professor did.
"I felt sick after Greece so I stayed home and let my body rest," Lebrun said about missing last weekend's race at XTERRA Switzerland. "Today I knew I could not beat the Spanish guys on the bike so I went hard, but still kept a lot left for the run." He catches del Corral just before T2 and has gone past Shaw so "The Professor" knows the two fastest guys that could beat him are behind. And now there had to be a hidden smile knowing his plan was bearing fruit. The Fox was in the Chicken Coop. First Guerra passed Ruben but slipped and fell giving the younger Spaniard the lead again. Skinned a bit but a tough guy, Hector kept going but "The Professor" could hear the huge crowd yelling for him as he went up the first, steep hill past the feed station. This is France after all. On the more treacherous singletrack uphill leading high up into the Vosges, Nico first caught Hector and could see Ruben not far ahead. It was over. Nico has always been one of the fastest runners and despite the long, slippery downhills followed by roots and rocks along the lake he knew the race was his.
Ruzafa kept second, Guerra braved it out for third and Victor had the 2nd fastest run but could not bridge up to the podium. Asa had a great day finishing 5th and keeping the points lead, but Guerra has finished in front of him in the last two races and with the win, Lebrun is only 20 points behind.
Textbook Professor Lebrun. Not feeling well so misses a race to recover. Knows the field and what they can do; knows the track and trails and where he can take advantage. He paces himself over a two-hour long bike ride and his tactics and predictions worked. A lesson each and every racer should learn.
One cannot say enough about the Charbonnier family and the fantastic event they put on. Building that fabulous ramp along with a 25' high tower full of huge speakers pumping euro-beat disco music and re-mixes had the crowd dancing all day. At least a thousand filled the paved steep climb that both bike and run took. It really was like a tour de France scene where the road is nearly blocked and people step back just as the riders get to them.
Herve' the announcer is a great talent. Love to have him work with Whit and Welchy. This entire race is a class act and the standard that all others must be measured by. And finally, after searing heat the first year and downpours the last two even the weather Gods saw fit to make this weekend simply the best.
Top 5 Pro Men
Nico Lebrun, FRA 3:06:42
Ruben Ruzafa, ESP 3:07:01
Hector Guerra, ESP 3:07:47
Victor del Corral ESP 3:08:13
Asa Shaw, GBR 3:11:21
Top 5 Pro Women
Helena Erbenova, CZE 3:35:53
Jacqui Slack, GBR 3:48:05
Marion Lorblanchet, FRA 3:49:17
Maud Golsteyn, NED 3:53:30
Coralie Redelsperger FRA 4:00:40
Next on the XTERRA World Tour: XTERRA France was the fourth European Tour Championship race and the 13th World Tour event to qualify amateur athletes into the XTERRA World Championship to be held in Kapalua, Maui on October 27, 2013.
Date - Race, Location
Feb 24 - XTERRA South Africa Championship, Western Cape
Mar 2 - XTERRA Philippines Championship, Cebu
Mar 9 - XTERRA Motatapu, South Island, New Zealand
Mar 9 - XTERRA Saipan Championship, Northern Marianas
Mar 23 - XTERRA Guam Championship, Piti
Apr 7 - XTERRA Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, Victoria, Australia
Apr 13 - XTERRA New Zealand Championship, Rotorua
Apr 28 - XTERRA Malaysia Championhip, Putrajaya
June 2 - XTERRA Spain Championship, Cieza, Murcia
June 15 - XTERRA Greece, Lake Plastira
June 22 - XTERRA Brazil Championship, Ilhabela, SP
June 29 - XTERRA Switzerland Championship, Vallee de Joux
July 7 - XTERRA Freedom Fest, Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii
July 7 - XTERRA France Championship, Xonrupt, Gerardmer
July 14 - XTERRA Victoria, Canada
July 20 - XTERRA Abruzzo, Lago di Scanno, Italy
Aug 3 - XTERRA Mexico Championship, Tapalpa, Jalisco
Aug 4 - XTERRA Canmore, Canada
Aug 10 - XTERRA Czech Championship, Prachatice
Aug 17 - XTERRA Germany Championship, Zittau
Aug 24 - XTERRA Japan Championship, Marunuma
Aug 31 - XTERRA Ecuador,
Aug 31 - XTERRA MountainMan - Kualoa Ranch, HI
Sept 8 - XTERRA England, Cranleigh, Surrey
Sept 21 - XTERRA USA Championship, Ogden/Snowbasin, UT
Oct 27 - XTERRA World Championship, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii