While Julie Dibens prepares to take on the Leadville 100 mountain bike race we look back on her second of three straight XTERRA World Championship runs in 2008. It was the same year a young Spanish mountain biker straight out of the world cup shocked the off-road world and won his first-ever XTERRA on the biggest stage possible.
Ruzafa, just 24-years-old at the time, became the youngest racer to win the crown.
“I decided to do this just two months ago after talking with Eneko Llanos,” said the Spanish mountain biking champion that day. “I didn’t know I could do so well, but I thought if I didn’t lose too much time on the swim I would be able to catch up on the bike and hopefully hold on during the run.”
That’s exactly how it played out. Ruzafa, who only started swimming a year earlier, came out of the swim more than two minutes behind a tight pack of leaders – Brent McMahon, Craig Evans, Branden Rakita, Eneko Llanos, Olivier Marceau, Seth Wealing, Hektor Llanos, Franky Batelier, and Conrad Stoltz – but was able to work his way to the front of the pack by about mile 14 on the bike and never looked back.
Early on, this race showed all the signs of a Stoltz world championship run. The “Caveman” was out of the water with the leaders, passed everyone by the fourth mile of the bike where he had already put 30 seconds on Marceau, Dan Hugo, Batelier, and Eneko Llanos. From there he extended the gap, and was up 1:30 by mile 10 and with less than two miles left of heavy climbing before “The Plunge” steep downhill section where Stoltz’ is at his best, it looked like he was well on his way to a 4th World Title.
“I felt really good today, best I’ve felt in a long time. I was relaxed and riding really fast on the technical stuff, and even had quite a bit in the tank for the run, but then it came down to luck,” said Stoltz, who got a slow-leak somewhere around mile 13 or so that forced him to stop, repair, and watch as Ruzafa went by.
To compound matters, at mile 17 Stoltz’ back tire was completely gone, and he was dangerously riding on the rim coming down the lava fields. “It’s the last race of the season and I wanted to see what I could salvage,” said Stoltz.
Stoltz bad luck aside, Ruzafa came in with heavy mountain bike credentials and lived up to every bit of it – posting the fastest split in 1:30:25. To put that in perspective, American Josiah Middaugh who had the fastest split on this course two years ago - had the third best time in 1:33:39.
“The Euro guys were flying,” and “new faces and stiffer competition” were common sentiments from the veteran XTERRA bunch.
The run belonged to the speedy Brent McMahon who turned in a 43:18 (two minutes quicker than anyone else). McMahon passed a half-dozen others and finished in third, same as in 2005.
One of the last guys McMahon passed was Vine, who settled in for fourth place, and the consummate pro Olivier Marceau rounded out the top five. Eneko Llanos was sixth and won the Hawaiian Airlines Double for the third straight year, and Middaugh came in as the top American in 7th.
Dibens dominated the women’s race for the second straight year, taking the lead from the very start of the swim all the way through the finish line with a winning time of 3:03:57, a full minute ahead of runner-up Danelle Kabush from Canada. Dibens became just the second woman to win the XTERRA World Championship in back-to-back years (following Melanie McQuaid’s 2005/2006 titles).
“I think this one was harder, it definitely took more out of me,” said the former All-American swimmer at Louisiana State University and 2004 Olympic triathlete after the race. “I was hurting out there on the run and the heat really got to me, and just before the finish a guy passed me and said that Danelle was right behind so I had to sprint to the finish and that was murder. Despite that, XTERRA is awesome. I just wished I would have got into this earlier. It’s just something where everyone who tries it loves it, and then it’s just plain addictive.”
Melanie McQuaid was supposed to provide Dibens stiffest competition, but “some kind of intestinal thing” turned out to be her chief rival.
“I want a mulligan, can we race tomorrow,” said the three-time World Champ after the race. “I tried to keep going but just kept catapulting backwards, it was the worst. I only thank goodness that there were two other Canadians that pulled up the slack for me today.”
McQuaid is referencing Danelle Kabush who had the third-best bike and fastest run by far to finish in second place for the second time in three years (and she took off last year to have a baby).
“I was feeling leaner and meaner this year after having that child,” smiled Kabush.
Shonny Vanlandingham solidified her reputation as being the best women’s biker this course has seen by turning in the fastest bike for the third time in four years. That bike pushed her to the front of the pack and even on a bad ankle she still held off all but Kabush on the run to finish in third place and top American.
Renata Bucher, the three-time XTERRA European Tour Champ, was solid all around and finished fourth, and in the top five in her third straight Maui race. Christine Jeffrey, in just her first-year of XTERRA racing, put together her best effort yet to finish in 5th.
Fastest swim (1-mile): Brent McMahon (18:13), Linda Gallo (18:16)
Fastest bike (20-miles): Ruben Ruzafa (1:30:25), Shonny V (1:48:12)
Fastest run (7-miles): McMahon (43:18), Danelle Kabush (49:55)
Francois Carloni was the overall amateur champ and Keri Grosse edged out Charlotte McShane to win the women’s amateur crown.