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Pentathlon des Neiges

The pentathlon is a great event for summer triathletes.

Triathletes in search of a new winter cross-training challenge may want to check out the Pentathlon des neiges on Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham.

As part of the Pentathlon des neiges, there are 10 races scheduled from January 28 and February 26. Of particular interest to triathletes is the long distance challenge on the final day.

Charles Perreault, former Canadian long course triathlon champion and former director general of Triathlon Quebec, has won the elite long distance challenge twice, most recently last year, and plans to be back in 2012 to defend his title. “The pentathlon is a great event for summer triathletes,” Perreault said. “It makes me stay in shape during the long winter months, and also keeps my motivation high with a variety of aerobic sports that are different from the usual three sports of triathlon.”

The long distance challenge, a 45k race, includes two elements summer triathletes are familiar with. It’s made up of a 15k bike, 6k run, 9k ski, 9k skate, and 6k snowshoe. Triathletes who feel they need to ease into this event may want to try the short distance challenge on February 25, which consists of a 9k bike, 4k run, 6k ski, 6k skate, and 4k snowshoe.

Part of the magic of the Pentathlon des neiges, according to Perreault, is that it has something for almost everyone. As well as the two pentathlons just described, scheduled events for 2012 include a snowshoe race, a skating race, a Canadian Forces winter games event and four pentathlons geared to a wide range of abilities, including a corporate challenge, a health and social services challenge that raise funds for charity, a pentathlon for a school-aged children and a family and friends challenge. Organizers say last year’s participants ranged in age from four to 81.

All races are on a closed course and competitors can race solo or as part of a team. Organizers build a skating rink overlooking the St. Lawrence River specifically for the speed skating leg of the races. The event is supported by Triathlon Canada and the Quebec Speed Skating Association, as well as corporate sponsors and more than 150 volunteers.

Race director and founder Jean-Charles Ouellet says because the pentathlon involves multiple laps of a 2k course it’s a spectator-friendly event. “For the spectators, the real show is getting to watch, almost all at once, participants riding, running, skiing, skating and snowshoeing.” He says one of the thrills for spectators last year was seeing Canadian athletes who had competed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games racing in the long distance challenge wearing their Olympic uniforms.

The first Pentathlon des neiges was in 2005 in Lac Beauport and there were 62 competitors. The next year, the size of the field more than tripled. In 2008, organizers moved the event to the Plains of Abraham and it exploded in popularity-there were 1,300 competitors in three different races and 15,000 spectators. Last year, of the 2,900 entrants, 899 of them were in the short distance challenge and 726 in the long distance challenge.

Organizers say the Pentathlon des neiges is now the biggest winter outdoor event in Canada. This winter, they’re planning on 3,000 competitors and an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Ouellet says the most popular of the five disciplines for pentathlon competitors is the bike. “To bike in winter in downtown Quebec really pulls at the imagination. Also, since biking is the first event, and there is a mass start, it’s exciting.”

Pierre Gendron, a world masters mountain biking champion, has done the pentathlon and has also been a volunteer. He says jokingly the biggest challenge in the race is passing the hockey skate crowd on speed skates without insulting them. “Hockey players have very short fuses.” More seriously, Gendron says managing your five-sport transition area requires good organization, and the final discipline demands great patience. “In the grueling snowshoe section, you have to play a mental game, because the path is very hilly and running on snowshoes seems so slow compared to the ski and skate you’ve just completed.”

Leanne Yohemas, who lives in Calgary and has done a number of Ironman competitions, says she had a blast competing in the team category. “It was everyone’s goal, it seemed, to have fun. It amazed me just how much people were unphazed by the cold: they just got into it. The site was beautiful, and the announcer made every participant feel like a hero.”

According to Ouellet, one of the main reasons people love competing in the Pentathlon des neiges is it’s such an unusual event. “When you finish, you feel like you’ve accomplished something unique while having a great time. Winter is enjoyable if you join forces with it.”

For more information, please consult the Pentathlon des neiges Web site at www.pentathlondesneiges.com.-TW