The best off-road triathletes in the world – South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz and Canada’s Melanie McQuaid – won the XTERRA Southeast Championship on arguably the best off-road triathlon course in the world at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama today.
“This place is amazing, and I know I speak for all of us when I say we love it here,” said Stoltz. “It’s a true XTERRA course with a nice warm water swim in a beautiful lake, a real mountain bikers course with climbing, technical sections, and fun corners, and a tough but scenic run. This really is my favorite course.”
It’s Stoltz fifth straight win in Shelby County, third straight on this year’s America Tour, and 40th career XTERRA championship victory.
“Impressive, isn’t it,” said Dan Hugo, 25, who finished in second place just 19 seconds behind his fellow countryman to make it a 1-2 showing for Stellenbosch, South Africa. “You must give credit where credit is due, and what Conrad did today was impressive. When he needs to produce a good swim, he does. When he needs a strong run, he delivers. He doesn’t make mistakes on the bike. He’s seemingly flawless. I guess 20 years of experience will do that for you.”
What really did it for Stoltz was a great swim that had him out of the water within seconds of the leaders Craig Evans, Branden Rakita, and Seth Wealing, and the fastest bike of the day that was two minutes quicker than Hugo and four minutes better than the one guy most likely to catch him on the run, Josiah Middaugh.
Stoltz caught Craig Evans on the bike at about the 2.5 mile mark and the two rode together for a few miles before Stoltz pulled away and starting putting time on the field. Hugo caught Evans to move into second at about the halfway mark on the bike but never did see Stoltz in front of him. Indeed, Stoltz was out of sight to all but the spectators who lined the tricky “blood rock” downhill section and the crowd gathered at the transition area.
Hugo did reel the “Caveman” in quite a bit on the run to close the gap and had him in his sights at the Oak Mountain Dam with just a few miles to go but Stoltz was steady and calculating, exerting just the right amount of effort to win without inflicting too much punishment on his body.
“Going fast is painful,” explained Stoltz with a grin to the Shelby County Reporter journalist post-race.
From Hugo’s perspective, “I couldn’t have run 30 seconds faster. My dehydration level was near the edge. It’s a fun course, but so testing. On the bike you have to concentrate the entire time. You can’t drink water or take your eyes off the trail for a second. It’s very intense, out-of-the-ordinary intense because the penalty for losing your focus is disaster. And as much as I loved the run because of the beauty and all the different elements, I was begging for it to end.”
Middaugh had the third-best bike and fastest run by nearly a minute to catch Craig Evans on the run and move into third place.
“I’m happy with my bike handling skills considering I still haven’t ridden on dirt at home yet,” said Middaugh, who drove through a snowstorm from Vail, Colorado to the Denver airport on Thursday.
Craig Evans had his best race of the season, and his fourth straight top six finish at Oak Mountain, to place fourth. Frenchman Nico Lebrun got past a nasty sickness that sidelined him at Santa Cruz last week to finish in fifth. Rounding out the top 10 Cody Waite (6th), Patrick Valentine (8th), Jason Michalak (9th), and Adam Wirth (10th) all had their best showings of the season and Branden Rakita’s seventh-place finish was strong enough to keep him in third-position in the XTERRA Pro Series standings.
Of note, Seth Wealing was among the leaders before a mechanical ended his afternoon while Shiloh Mielke “bonked” on the run to end his day.
With simply not enough hours in the day to get in all the training and racing involved with Melanie McQuaid’s ambitious XTERRA and Ironman 70.3 racing schedule, the three-time XTERRA World Champ decided to give Stoltz back-to-back race weekends training strategy a shot.
“I was on the Conrad taper, which pretty much meant putting my feet up,” said McQuaid, who picked up her third win in four tries on the XTERRA America Tour this year. “I didn’t’ do much at all and it worked. I’m feeling a lot better since Santa Cruz last week.”
McQuaid was a lot faster than last week as well, and picked up her third win at Oak Mountain since 2006. She came out of the water in second-place a little more than two minutes behind Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey and put the hammer down on the bike to take the lead about a quarter-way through and never looked back.
“It took everything I had because this is a really competitive, deep field. I was riding with pro men and still get out-split on the bike by two girls,” said McQuaid at the awards ceremony, referring to Shonny Vanlandingham, last year’s winner who had the fastest split today, along with Renata Bucher who was in second-place until Vanlandingham caught her at about mile two of the run. McQuaid, like Stoltz, also had high praise for the course and community.
“This course is really fun, and what off-road tri courses should be like – a legit swim, true mountain bike course, and super challenging trail run. It’s a very worthy venue, and the people here in the south are the nicest you’ll find anywhere. It’s just an awesome, inviting community and so fun to get to enjoy life southern style for a while like this.”
Indeed the courtesy and respect for one another could be found everywhere – from the amazing volunteers from Team in Training and the local community that came early and stayed late, to the racers who went out of their way to say please and thank you with every pass.
For Vanlandingham, defending her Southeast Championship title got tough early when she went out too fast in the swim.
“I felt like it was my first group swim. I went so hard because I wanted to be in the pack and just blew up and ended up having to backstroke for a little bit,” said Vanlandingham, who came out of the water more than four minutes behind McQuaid. “I was laughing at myself, but it wasn’t that funny because I ended up further back than normal.”
Despite the setback the reigning XTERRA World Champ rallied to post the fastest bike and run splits, but it wasn’t enough to catch McQuaid who was fast all around.
“Melanie just puts it all together. That’s what she does really well – putting together all three disciplines. I tell you what though; I am going to Nashville, Tennessee right after this so Craig Evans can help me with some swim training,” smiled Vanlandingham, who finished in second-place 1:33 behind McQuaid.
Bucher, who was second at the Pacific Championship in California last week, was third today with Jeffrey and Emma Garrard in fourth and fifth, respectively.
1 Melanie McQuaid Victoria, B.C. 2:39:58
2 Shonny Vanlandingham Durango, Colorado 2:41:31
3 Renata Bucher Lucerne, Switzerland 2:44:36
4 Christine Jeffrey Guelph, Ontario 2:47:48
5 Emma Garrard Park City, Utah 2:50:28
1 Conrad Stoltz Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:22:22
2 Dan Hugo Stellenbosch, South Africa 2:22:41
3 Josiah Middaugh Vail, Colorado 2:26:05
4 Craig Evans Hendersonville, Tennessee 2:27:40
5 Nicolas Lebrun Digne, France 2:30:52