In 2007 Conrad “The Caveman” Stoltz became the first pro man to win his third XTERRA World Title on the same day Julie Dibens won the first of her three straight XTERRA World Championships in Maui.
“Oh the good times,” recalled Dibens. “I remember showing up to Maui for the first time and totally feeling out of my depth! I knew I was in good shape but really feared for my life on the plunge. I remember riding my bike like I stole it and literally wanting to stop after making it down the plunge unscathed to regroup and have a big sigh of relief. Once on the run I was just pumped to be in the lead of the world champs and was determined to try and run away for a world title.”
The first leg – a one-mile swim in the warm waters of the clear blue Pacific Ocean - proved who the strongest swimmers were. 20-year-old Jordan Bryden was first out of the water in 19:47, followed by Sergio Saruiento from Mexico, Bevan Docherty from New Zealand, then Olivier Marceau and Cedric Fleureton from France. The second pack included the brothers from Spain - Hektor and Eneko Llanos, chased closely by South Africans Lieuwe Boonstra and Stoltz.
Once out on the treacherous lava-strewn jeep track trails heading up the lower slopes of Haleakala, the race belonged to those with the biggest lungs and best abilities on the mountain bike. Stoltz went from 10th out of the water to first on the bike by the notorious Heartbreak Hill section at mile 4, followed 20 seconds back by Marceau, then Fleureton, Docherty and Llanos.
Six miles and more than 1,000-feet of climbing later (there’s 3,000 total feet of climbing on the bike) Marceau had taken over the lead with Stoltz 20 seconds back. Two-minutes later came Eneko Llanos, Docherty, and German Felix Schumann had moved into 5th. For the next mile the field was tasked with climbing roughly 600-feet to Ned’s Peak – the highest point on the course at 1,400 feet.
What goes up, must come down and a sharp right hand turn at the Peak sends riders down the Plunge – a furious downhill and site of some of the most gnarly crashes in XTERRA history. This is the spot on the course where Stoltz was anticipating making his move, but Marceau held position and remained in the lead at mile 15.5.
“I thought I could get away from him on the downhill but his technical skills have improved and I didn’t catch him until right at transition,” said Stoltz.
Stoltz and Marceau rode shoulder-to-shoulder into the bike-to-run transition and went stride for stride in the beginning of the 6.9 mile trail run until the first big climb when Stoltz started to pull away.
“We’ve been racing against each other for 11 years and I’ve never run faster and he’s always been a superior athlete, especially running,” said Stoltz. “At the 2000 Olympic games we were in the lead coming off the bike together and he ran two minutes faster, so I just thought I’d try to hang in there and see what happens. Then on the climbs I couldn’t believe it, he started slacking off and I though he was playing games with me. I concentrated, stuck to my pace and he dropped off. I was really blown away. I would have never fancied running away from Olivier, and even the other strong runners because this field is classy.”
Turned out Marceau wasn’t playing cat-and-mouse, he simply didn’t have enough to respond when Stoltz took off.
“My legs were very weak and I couldn’t keep up with Conrad. He’s used to this kind of race and he’s very strong and his pace is always the same,” said Marceau.
Marceau finished 1:11 behind Stoltz and in the runner-up spot for the second straight year (he was 19 seconds behind Hamish Carter in 2006) and for the third time in Maui (also 2nd in 2004).
Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the afternoon happened on the bike course behind the two frontrunners as American Brian Smith picked off more than 100 riders to move into the third position. Smith was 113th out of the water, and moved up to 3rd place by virtue of the fastest bike split – a blazing 1:30:51.
“This is definitely the best race of my XTERRA career and to do it in the biggest race of the season is really special,” said Smith.
While Smith was stellar on the bike, Aussie Chris Legh was magic on the run. Propelled by the fastest split of the day (43:53) he passed eight guys to finish 4th overall, his best finish in Maui. It’s the second time Legh has had the fastest run of the day in Maui (also in 2003).
“I’ve raced here enough to know you gotta keep going and when I got to the run I was fortunate my legs turned around because if I ran like I rode I’d have been in trouble,” said Legh.
Bevan Docherty, the Silver medalist at the 2004 Olympic triathlon event, came out of the water with the leaders, had the 13th best bike and the second best run to round out the top 5.
“It was a fun race, harder than I thought, and I certainly have a lot of respect for those guys like Conrad,” said Docherty, whose only other XTERRA was in Colorado back in 2002. “But, for my first world champs I’m really happy because this is one of the hardest races out there. On the bike I was just waiting for the descent, but then you can’t sit down, you can’t even relax on the downhill, so you’re constantly working and that’s something that gets to you. Just the constant grinding and no relaxing. It’s a really hard race.”
Felix Schumann had a brilliant race for 6th, 2005 XTERRA World Champ Nico Lebrun finished 7th, Canadian Mike Vine was 8th, Spain’s David Henestrosa 9th, and Nico Pfitzenmaier placed 10th. American favorites Josiah Middaugh (17th) and Seth Wealing (46th) both had mechanicals.
In the women’s race, for the first time in four years, the women’s XTERRA World Champion wasn’t named Melanie McQuaid (2003-05-06 winner) or Jamie Whitmore (04).
“Breaking the Melanie-Jamie streak had to be done. They’ve dominated the last four years, and somebody needed to break in there and the fact it was me was fantastic,” said Dibens that day. “Of course I know they’ll come back next year stronger and they’ll be gunning for me.”
Julie Dibens was flawless and led the race from start to finish by posting the fastest swim (more than a minute faster than Sibylle Matter and two minutes quicker than McQuaid), the 4th best bike and the best run.
“I think I pretty much had the perfect race, it was awesome! I had a good swim, and knew I had to have that lead coming out. Then I got out on the bike and put my head down, didn’t look back, didn’t ask for splits, just concentrated on what I was doing,” said Dibens.
Early on the bike 3x XTERRA World Champ McQuaid looked poised to chase Dibens down as she cut a minute out of Dibens swim lead by mile 4. By mile 15, Dibens had added a little to her lead and by the bike-to-run transition she had 1:24 on McQuaid.
“Julie was really strong and I don’t want to take anything away from her race because she’s awesome and I look forward to another chance to do battle with her, but I didn’t have the kind of race that really made it much of a battle and that’s disappointing,” said McQuaid.
Whitmore was in a pretty big hole from the start as she exited the swim more than four minutes behind Dibens. Her sixth best bike split landed her in 6th position at the bike-to-run transition where she turned on the jets and moved into 3rd at the finish.
“I actually had a strong swim but definitely not what Julie can do,” said Whitmore. “After crashing out last year there’s no way I can complain this year. I learned something new, and I had a phenomenal season and this isn’t the end of me so it’s just a matter of getting everything together.”