Canadians Mike Vine and Melanie McQuaid defended their home turf at the sixth running of the XTERRA Canada Championship at the Canmore Nordic Center nestled in the Alberta Rockies this morning.
The day started colder than what was forecast, “Winter in August” as McQuaid put it, but as if on cue the sun broke out just a minute before the main event and a big blue sky dominated the rest of the day.
The swim in Quarry Lake is just about as majestic a swim start as you’ll ever discover with Ha Ling Peak and the Ehagay Dakota Range providing a dramatic backdrop for several hundred of the fastest XTERRA athletes on the world tour.
Boulder, Colorado pro Branden Rakita led the swim from start-to-finish and took to the bike a little more than two minutes ahead of his main competition in Mike Vine.
“Had a good swim, felt good, and really tried to push it the first lap but it was really wet from the overnight rain which made it hard to get the flow of the course down because I’m just not used to the wet roots and rocks. So, I made a few mistakes and ran into a tree,” said Rakita. “That said, it’s fun, super fun, a great XTERRA course for sure, just got to be on top of it all the time.”
Vine, on the other hand, felt the slippery conditions were perfectly suited for his skill set.
“Today was slick and greasy but that’s what I like, so it worked for me,” explained Vine. “I didn’t know what to expect today though. I thought I’d have a good ride but the swim, yikes, I took a big break from swimming so was just practicing damage control there. Once I got on the bike I could tell I had the legs right away. I’ve been doing local mountain bike races around here and have already done a few events at this venue so this is my home turf and where I live now, Alberta, so I wanted to have a good showing and really cherished the chance to race here.”
As proof, Vine posted the fastest bike split (1:13:16) of the day by far, more than four-and-a-half minutes quicker than that of Rakita, and went on to post the fastest run split as well.
“It’s a welcome surprise, this being my first XTERRA of the season,” said Vine, who also won the inaugural XTERRA Canada Championship back in 2000. “I didn’t set lofty goals, but knew I was riding OK. I’ve had a really good time racing around the province this summer and it’s great to have the opportunity to have an international level race here at home.”
Paul Tichelaar – who represented Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games – finished third in his XTERRA debut and seemed to have caught a little XTERRA fever in the process.
“It was amazing, might restart my triathlon career,” smiled Tichelaar after the race. “I love the mountain biking, the course was a challenge, and I liked that you could have a bad period because it’s easy to refocus. You’re not out there on a flat road just killing yourself. You’re really racing against the course. And it’s physically harder, with no break on the bike, not even on the downhill. Plus, the mix of technical, physical, technical, physical, made it really fun.”
Kelly Guest, who was seventh at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in Shelby County, Alabama in May, had a smile on his face all morning despite wishing there was oxygen rather than water at each of the aid stations. Guest finished fourth.
McQUAID IS SIMPLY CANADA’S BEST
Three-time XTERRA World Champion Melanie McQuaid has been racing off-road tri for more than a decade, and before that raced mountain bikes with Canada’s national team. Today she won the official XTERRA Canada National Championship for the fifth time in as many tries since 2003, and she’s won an untold number of unofficial off-road tri titles in Canada as well.
She is simply the best her country has to offer the sport, and proved it yet again today. She didn’t have the best swim (Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey was two minutes faster), the best bike (Both Renata Bucher and Danelle Kabush went faster, albeit by just seconds), or the best run (Kabush) but she still won by more than a minute.
“Good way to start the end of the season,” said McQuaid, who will contend for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship next weekend at Lake Las Vegas, Nevada and then turn her focus to the XTERRA USA and World Championship races. “I’m really happy because I had a tough season in spots so putting it together when it counts feels really good.”
Coming into this race it seemed the deck was stacked in favor of Kabush, who has experience on this course – which plays into her strength with a tough run – and she’s coming off a win at the XTERRA Mountain Championship race in July where McQuaid finished fifth.
“Of all the courses out there I knew this would be a hard one to beat Danelle on. I was well aware Danelle was the lady to watch, and home course means something. She’s a mountain goat and the run course was way harder than the bike. Aside from just Danelle I was really exciting to see how competitive and deep the women’s field was here today.”
The women’s elite race indeed featured an impressive line-up of XTERRA veterans, all of whom traded spots seventh to second thru most of the bike. Jeffrey had the lead early but gave that up to McQuaid, then Suzie Snyder jumped into second, then Kabush, then Bucher, but all the while McQuaid was pulling away.
“When Renata caught me we went back and forth, and if felt fun having a race like that,” said Kabush. “Still didn’t have enough juice to reel in Mel on the run though.”
McQuaid knew the chase was coming, and planned accordingly…”Paced really well on the bike and didn’t try to go too hard because I wanted to have a lot left at the end because this run is so hard. There’s no momentum, no flow, it’s all anaerobic little ups and quad crushing downhills,” said McQuaid. “This was probably the hardest XTERRA Canada we’ve ever had. This Canmore venue was really spectacular … and extraordinarily difficult.”
Behind McQuaid, Bucher was the second rider into transition but was passed on the run by Kabush, and ultimately finished third.
XTERRA newcomer Chantell Widney, an ITU road tri standout, moved up a few spots off the bike to finish fourth, with last year’s runner-up Brandi Heisterman in fifth. American Suzie Snyder placed sixth, with Jeffrey in seventh and Katie Button in eighth.
“I’ve been riding my mountain bike for two weeks. In fact, I didn’t even have a mountain bike two weeks ago,” said Widney. “You don’t realize how tired you are and how hard it is to go up those climbs until you’re at race pace. Everybody blew past me on the bike. It was fun though, and I’ll do another one after a little bit more practice on the bike.”
1 Mike Vine CAN 2:19:18
2 Branden Rakita USA 2:24:29
3 Paul Tichelaar CAN 2:29:46
4 Kelly Guest CAN 2:32:28
1 Melanie McQuaid CAN 2:39:20
2 Danelle Kabush CAN 2:40:28
3 Renata Bucher SUI 2:44:23
4 Chantell Widney CAN 2:47:10
5 Brandi Heisterman CAN 2:49:27
6 Suzie Snyder USA 2:52:12
7 Christine Jeffrey CAN 2:53:10
8 Katie Button CAN 2:58:53
HEERINGA, MULLER WIN AGE GROUP RACE
Simon Heeringa from Sydney, Australia came out of nowhere to win the age group race, finishing fifth overall while BC rider Nadine Muller won the women’s amateur crown. Hundreds of amateur racers took part in today’s race, which dished out 40 qualifying spots to the XTERRA World Championship held in October in Kapalua, Maui.
Canadians are renowned for coming out to Hawaii in droves, and at prize giving dozens of racers accepted their spot into Worlds immediately. “Already got my ticket,” was heard more than once.
All-in-all the new venue at the Canmore Nordic Center (which hosted the Olympics back in 1988) was a huge hit with the international crowd. “Demanding, but beautiful” seemed the common theme.
There is no doubt the Canadian contingent is a hardy bunch, perhaps the epitome of such grit was displayed by the reigning 45-49 XTERRA World Champ Sue Lambert from Edmonton – who crashed hard on the first lap of the bike but refused to give in. She carried on and won her division covered in cuts and blood – then hung out for awards so she could accept her award and claim her spot to Maui.
Between the XTERRA Canada organization led by Yoeri Geerits and four-time XTERRA World Champ Cal Zaryski who act with the athlete in mind, the meticulous course marking done by race director Tony Smith, the big-time sponsor swag bag with $85 Icebreaker event shirts and Buff Headware given to all racers, a mountain of product from Planet Foods, generous support from the title sponsor SportChek and presenting sponsor ATB Financial – the sport is in good hands in Canada…eh!
Next on the XTERRA World Tour: The XTERRA Canada Championship is one of 16 major World Tour events. Up next, the XTERRA Switzerland Championship that culminates the Euro Tour next Saturday, the USA Championship to conclude the America Tour on Sept. 22, then Maui!