It was smoking hot in Makena for the 2009 XTERRA World Championship. In the men’s race Eneko Llanos finished 55 seconds ahead of Nicolas Lebrun to collect his third XTERRA World Championship and first since winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004.
The men’s race was amazing, with all the sports heavy weights battling it out on the dusty slopes of Haleakala. Seth Wealing and Eneko Llanos were the first two contenders out of the one-mile warm water Pacific Ocean swim, followed by Olivier Marceau, Franky Batelier, and Conrad Stoltz.
Per his Maui routine, Stoltz jumped to an early lead on the mountain bike and was the first to hit the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” section at about mile 4, but the chase pack was thick and persistent.
By midway through the 20-mile bike Stoltz was still in front but with a tail that included Batelier, Llanos, Marceau, and Lebrun – one-by-one and separated by mere seconds. Just past the halfway point “Ned’s Climb” takes riders up some 1,400 feet in a matter of a mile to the highest point on the course at where the “Plunge” begins. It’s here where Stoltz’ has built his legend and the spot where in past years he could put guys away with his fearless downhill riding. This year the course was as smooth as it has ever been and minimized the fear factor for his foes. Not to say that the Plunge isn’t still a gnarly, loose, jagged lava rock riddled stretch, it is – just not as bad.
“This was a tough race, but the bike course was a little smoother, a little faster,” said Llanos, who became the first racer in 14 years to win XTERRA Worlds after competing at the Ironman World Champs. “The course was a little less technical, and I went at a steady pace and it went really well.”
Stoltz cleared the section but didn’t put any time on the lead pack and at mile 15 Llanos and Batelier were right behind him with Josiah Middaugh pushing his way into the conversation just 30 seconds back, and Lebrun and Marceau within a minute. There hasn’t been a race in recent memory here in Maui where six guys were this close this far into the race, and another big name was about to be added to the mix.
At the bike-to-run transition the spectators lining the lush luau grounds at the host hotel got to see for themselves just how exciting the racing action was with Stoltz, Llanos, and Middaugh all coming into and exiting together. Llanos got the early jump and once he got in front he never gave it up.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be this strong,” said Llanos, who finished 14th at the Ironman World Championship in 8:37:55 and captured the Double award for the fourth straight time. The award is given annually to the pro man with the fastest combined time at Ironman Worlds and XTERRA Worlds. “Just two weeks ago I was really disappointed in Kona, and now here I am so happy. I came here with no pressure and just wanted to have fun and then I felt strong from the swim and had a good day. When I crossed the finish line I couldn’t believe it, how fast feelings change, and something amazing happened and I’m just so happy now.”
Batelier was fourth into transition, then Lebrun, Marceau and Weiss. Any given day and any of the seven could do something special on the run and win. Lebrun did his best, and picked off everyone but Llanos on his way to 2nd place, his best finish in Maui since winning it all in 2005. Middaugh, who hasn’t done a legit training run in nearly a year due to injury, dropped to 9th by the finish line.
Marceau was his usual professional self and had a solid run to finish 4th for his fifth top 5 in Maui, Stoltz slugged it out for 5th, Batelier hung on for 6th, Felix Schumann worked his way into 7th, and Seth Wealing came across as the top American in 8th.
In the women’s race Julie Dibens proved she is one cool cat … calm, collected, confident and an absolute monster on the Maui course. She actually trailed in this race for the first time in two years, with Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey coming out of the water 38 seconds up, but that lasted all of about five minutes and then Julie was Julie – making it look easy and putting more on more time on her competitors with every turn of the pedal.
By mile 11 she had a four-minute lead and was mixed in with the top 15 men. A few seconds later Brian Smith (one of XTERRA’s all-time fastest men’s mountain bikers) rode by and said “Wow!” – referencing the fact that he was halfway through the bike and Dibens was still in front of him.
At mile 15 Dibens was up by nearly five minutes, it was more than that at transition, and when she finished with a women’s event record time of 2:56:42, the finish line crowd waited another seven-and-a-half minutes before seeing Lesley Paterson. She had the day’s fastest bike split, even better than Marie-Helene Premont (an Olympic silver medalist in the 2004 mountain bike competition in Athens), Shonny Vanlandingham (NORBA’s all-time best) and Melanie McQuaid (a Canadian National Team rider for years).
Dibens is the first pro – man or woman – to win this race three years-in-a-row and joined the exclusive club of three-time winners with Conrad Stoltz, Melanie McQuaid, and Eneko Llanos.
“I felt good all day except for that last stretch of the run on the lava,” said Dibens. “I was able to ride in control and run smart. I’m delighted to be up here on the podium again and to win this race three times in a row is really special.”
In the ultimate display of class, Dibens deflected talking about her own race at the awards ceremony dinner but rather praised Paterson, who she had raced against on the ITU circuit nearly a decade ago, and told the assembled masses that this course was good for her and on any other course Melanie McQuaid could "kick my a#*".
"To me, Melanie and Jamie Whitmore are still the Queens of XTERRA and I'm certain these guys out here in the audience feel the same way," said Dibens.
Lesley Paterson is a rising star in the XTERRA World and had it not been for that one Brit – this race was hers. She finished in the top 3 in all three championship XTERRAs she entered, however, this result was by far the most impressive and her run split was the fastest of the day by far at 49:50.
“I was real consistent on the bike today and was able to stay with Shonny until the plunge when she took off,” said Paterson. “I worked so hard on the bike this year and it really paid off, and I’m really excited about my finish today.”
For McQuaid, the dream of an unprecedented fourth world title is still just that. She didn’t have a bad day, it just wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t have an amazing day today and you have to in order to win here,” said the 3x World Champ. “I’m not happy with my performance, I just wasn’t snappy enough, but I had a good season.”
Carina Wasle had a breakthrough race in Maui to finish 4th, her best result in five attempts, and Shonny Vanlandingham raced through a cold to finish in the top five.
Fastest swim: Luke McKenzie (19:30), Christine Jeffrey (19:42)
Fastest bike: Michi Weiss (1:28:11), Julie Dibens (1:42:48)
Fastest run: Chris Legh (43:59), Lesley Paterson (49:45)
Daz Parker edged Martina Donner from Austria by just nine seconds to win the XTERRA amateur women's world title. In the men's amateur race Tim Van Daele turned in a 2:53:46, more than a minute ahead of Cedric Lassonde from France.