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Del Corral, Bucher win XTERRA France Championship

As reported by XTERRA's Kahuna Dave Nicholas.

Spain’s Victor Del Corral and Switzerland’s Renata Bucher won the XTERRA France Championship in Xonrupt on Saturday, July 10.  The victory marks the first XTERRA Championship ever for Del Corral, and the first of 2011 for Bucher (the four-time XTERRA European Tour Champion now has 22 career XTERRA victories).

XTERRA Managing Director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas was on site for the race and brings us this report…

In the north of France, another great European race with twists and turns and loads of entertainment.  Race morning was sunny and warm as the 400 participants in XTERRA France Decouvert (discovery) headed out exactly on time at 8:15 a.m.  Next, over 100 kids from 7-13 went out in real swim-bike-run races in 3 age groups and had some exciting battles.  Size and gender mean nothing to kids; the girls and smaller boys were unbelievably fast.

About an hour before the championship race start the clouds came in and the rain started.  The good news is it stopped just before the 2:00pm start.  A great mass of 500 stood on the shore when the “bomb” went off and the game began.

Ben Allen, an Aussie living in France and fresh off a victory at XTERRA Brazil, killed the swim leading second-place by 30 seconds.  Frenchman Benoit Augeux and an Englishman living in France, Asa Shaw, were next, followed by Olivier Marceau, Ronny Dietz, Yeray Luxem and the rest of the pack.

For the women, South African Carla van Huyssteen was first out of the water followed by Marion “Bubu” Lorblanchet.  Lorblanchet muscled her way past the diminutive van Huyssteen leaving transition knowing that the “Swiss Miss” Renata Bucher would be strong on the bike.  Bucher had what she termed a bad “sveem” and was more than three minutes behind Lorblanchet from T1 and had a lot of work to do.

The rains that came before the start had really soaked the trails but recall – the other races were finished before the rain started so the first lap was run on fairly fresh trails.  But that did not last long.  Soaked dirt and about 1,000 bike tires equal a mudfest.  Marceau took the lead quickly followed by a very impressive Ronny Dietz.  They were being caught, but not very quickly by Spaniard Victor del Corral Morales Del Corral was second here last year and just won the ETU cross champ race in Hungary, so everyone knew he was strong on the bike and could run very quickly but he was still a bit unknown.  Marceau’s classic get-out-in-front strategy blew up when dirt, rocks and whatever got into his drive gears and he had no small ring – only the big.

“It would just spin around and the chain never catch” Marceau said with a shrug.  Now we knew why this fabulous athlete was pushing his bike up the steep Lorraine hills.

The second lap was the deciding factor.  Marceau lost his small drive ring and Lorblanchet who was having brake problems on the first lap found them totally gone.  Not a good thing on a circuit with over 1,500′ of climb and descent each lap.  After 500 racers had made one lap everything was sloggy mud, slippery as ice and miserable riding.  Morales second lap was 4+ minutes slower than his first; Renata and Marceau were eight minutes slower.

Bucher passed Lorblanchet as the second lap started, Carina Wasle was having a good race and passed into second place past the ailing Lorblanchet.

Riikka Kelja (now Riikka Vreeswijk) who we had not seen in years was having a fabulous comeback and riding in fourth position.  Riikka was a podium pro woman when XTERRA first started in Europe years ago and clearly has not lost any of her ability.

A lot was said about the 29er being the wrong choice for the muddy conditions.  Lebrun said his tires began a big buildup of mud and got really heavy; that and the bigger footprint of the tire made it harder to push through the thick muddy sections.  “I think today the 26 was much faster” said Nico.  Many agreed.

Victor del Corral can run – everyone knew this.  He got off the bike with a comfortable lead and then put in the fastest two laps of the day.  Lebrun figured he would need a two minute lead going out on the run to keep in front and he was right; as he was one-minute slower per lap on the course.  The problem?  He was three minutes behind going out on the run and finished four minutes back.

Renata simply kept moving, and moving quickly.  Her training is going better, she is back at home in Europe and whatever she is doing is perfect as she destroyed the women’s field winning by seven minutes ahead of Wasle.  Lorblanchet was pretty happy with third after her problems, the amazing Kelja was fourth, and Carla van Huyssteen ran her way into the top 5.

Everyone was smiling at the end.  It was wet, it was slippery, and the entire field was covered in mud head to foot.  Every racing kit was soaked in dirt and sweat.  The bikes were so caked in Lorraine dirt you could not tell what the brand was.  The organizers put in a fabulous jump just half-kilometer from the finish and only 200′ from the start of the second lap.  It was easy to walk to and several hundred spectators (so what if it is raining?)

European fans love watching bikes race and were totally entertained as riders tried to get “beeg air” with many crashing, sliding out and generally having a ball.  The first climb was for both the bike and run so as the race progressed we had runners and bikers headed up the same paved path.  This made for absolute Tour de France crowds next to an aid station where a very enthusiastic bike club served up water, electrolyte, fruit, croissants and candy.  Riders and runners were not going fast and the crowds left only a few feet clearance as they clapped and cheered the racers on.  Covered in mud and weary and tired, every competitor was smiling and motivated by the scene.  If you have ever watched La Tour and seen the spectators part as racers go by, that is exactly what happened in France.  It was fantastic.

So the XTERRA France Championship in Xonrupt part II is finished.  There are a dozen reasons why this race sells out three months in advance.  Every rider got a logo’d pair of race pants complete with suspenders, the pasta party and torte flambee’ at awards were terrific.  The course is very challenging but fun, the camping is great, hotels range from Auberge to 4 star and the XTERRA spirit is everywhere.