— by Loreen Pindera
For Sweden’s Lovisa Modig, 26, the only apparent moment of struggle at the ITU S3 Winter Triathlon World Cup in Quebec City came when it was time to celebrate her victory: try as she might, she could not get the cork off the bottle of bubbly she was handed on the podium.
That task went to Slovakia’s Peter Mlynar, the second-place winner in the elite men’s race. Finally uncorked, Modig took a swig of champagne, grinned and drenched Maija Oravamäki, 45, the Finnish endurance runner who came up behind Modig for the silver medal in Sunday’s elite women’s race.
It was a second straight victory in Quebec City for Modig, a member of Sweden’s national cross-country skiing team, who came to Quebec last year on a lark, never having competed in a winter triathlon before — and never having raced on skates.
“I didn’t have any expectations, and it was really fun,” she said. “I was like, I have to do this again! So I came back.”
“This year I practised a little bit more ice skating, so maybe I was better this year than last year, but I’m still not so good. My legs really got tired.”
Quebecer Sarah Bergeron-Larouche, 31, an endurance runner and 2015 10-km snowshoeing women’s world champion, took third place in the women’s elite event.
For a fourth straight year, Quebec City’s own Maxime Leboeuf won the men’s event, with a commanding lead over Slovakia’s Mlynar and Christopher Busset, who took the bronze.
Leboeuf, a 31-year-old senior analyst for the Bank of Canada and the father of a toddler, wasn’t sure he’d hold onto his place at the top of the podium before the race.
“I’ve been a bit tired — my son’s been sick, and work has been busy. But after five minutes on the run I knew it would be a good day,” said Leboeuf.
An endurance runner who placed 35th in Boston in 2015 in 2:25, Leboeuf made the podium twice as a junior at the biathlon world championships.
“Maxime Leboeuf is in a class of his own,” said François Calletta, the executive director of Groupe Pentathlon, the organization behind the ITU Winter Triathlon World Cup event. “He is the only triathlete in the world right now that has really mastered all three sports.”
Those three sports, for the first time this year, were running, skating and cross-country skiing.
Replacing the showshoeing segment with a run was a big disappointment for the 2018 snowshoeing world champion, Stéphane Ricard, who travelled from France to take part in this year’s ITU event.
But Leboeuf, the men’s 2015 10-km snowshoeing world champion, was more reflective about the decision to drop the showshoeing segment in favour of a run.
“If it’s to grow the sport that I love, to help the sport of winter triathlon develop internationally, then it’s fine,” said Leboeuf.
At issue is the fact that Scandinavians simply don’t snowshoe — and Calletta’s dream is to see, in the not-too-distant future, winter triathlon become an Olympic event. To do that, the ITU has to agree on what constitutes a winter triathlon.
In Finland, said Oravamäki, it’s biking, running and skiing. But the IOC is not interested in including cycling in a winter Olympics event, Calletta said.
“We’ve invented the winter triathlon, in this format,” said Calletta. “We submitted it to the ITU, and they love it.”
It only makes sense, he says, to include speed-skating: “It’s a pure winter sport.”
His next goal is to get Canadian cities with speed-skating ovals to sign up for the ITU circuit, and he’s looking to Red Deer, with its permanent outdoor oval built for the Canada Games, to be first in line.
But that’s down the road. Calletta and his group first have to get through this week, as the 10-day Pentathlon des Neiges continues its 15th-anniversary edition right through next weekend, culminating with the run-bike-ski-skate-snowshoe event on March 2 and 3.
Temperatures in Quebec City have tumbled since last Sunday, which turned into near-blizzard conditions by day’s end. That forced the Pentathlon organizers to cancel this week’s elementary school events, disappointing more than 900 students who were to take part in the team relays on Tuesday.