LeBrun, McQuaid win titles

The men’s champion breaks through, while the women’s titlist proves her dominance

By Fred Guzman

Special to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Monday, October 24, 2005

MAKENA, Maui >> Under heavily overcast skies, it was a bright afternoon in the lives of two competitors in the off-road Nissan Xterra World Championships yesterday.

For one, Nicolas LeBrun of France, it marked the end of frustrating close calls. For the other, Melanie McQuaid of Canada, it was a signal that she has become the most dominant performer in an extreme sport requiring athletes to compete in a 1,500-meter ocean swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run.

?I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time, ?said the 32-year-old LeBrun, who finished second in 2003 and third in 2002. ?I had come so close before, and always something would happen. And now this. Amazing.?

LeBrun was clocked in a mediocre 22 minutes, 15 seconds in the swim, a discipline he began practicing just several years ago. But he registered a blistering 1:31:28 in the demanding bike ride to move into the lead. He then held off two-time defending world champion Eneko Llanos of Spain with a 44:36 run for an overall time of 2 hours, 38 minutes and 19 seconds.

The 29-year-old Llanos was done in by the mostly uphill bike course along the rugged lower slopes of Haleakala.

?I was in second place coming out of the water and thought I was in very good shape for the rest of the race,? said Llanos, who finished in 2:41:41. ?But I hit a rock with the bike, and my tire began to lose air. I had to stop at least five times to put in more air, which is very risky because it is very dangerous trying to stop on some portions of the course I easily lost 6, maybe 7, minutes as a result of those stoppages.?

Brent McMahon, a 24-year-old Canadian and one of the emerging stars in the sport, finished third, just 40 seconds behind Llanos. An exceptional swimmer-he was the first athlete out of the water in 19:42, 4 seconds ahead of Llanos-and an outstanding runner, McMahon made major inroads in the bike portion of the race.

Josiah Middaugh of Vail, Colo., was the top American finisher in 10th place, while Chad Seymour was the first Hawaii resident across the finish line in 28th place.

McQuaid, a powerfully built 29-year-old from British Columbia, became the first two-time female winner in the 10-year history of the event, which this year featured a prize purse of $130,000.

Earlier in the week, some of the other top female competitors acknowledged that it was only a matter of time before McQuaid became the Xterra tour’s most dominant performer. Specifically, they said, it would happen when McQuaid ? and exceptional cyclist and a strong swimmer-learned how to run.

McQuaid was competitive in the ocean with a time of 22:25 and blew away the female field with a 1:49:35 clocking on the bike-nearly 7 minutes better than the eventual runner-up Sybille Matter. That gave McQuaid a big enough cushion to run ultra-conservatively for an overall time of 3:07:16.

Matter, a 29-year-old from Switzerland, finished in 3:08- 54 seconds behind the winner ?and 2003 world champion Jamie Whitmore of the United States was a distant third in 3:13:41.

?The run was a lot harder than I expected, but I had enough of a lead to be extra cautious,? McQuaid said. ?That last portion of this course is like running in a sandbox.?

McQuaid bristled a bit when asked about having walked during a particularly treacherous stretch late in the race.

?Come on! It wasn’t like I couldn’t run,? she insisted. ?There was a long piece of lava. I didn’t want to take a header in that stuff and end up jeopardizing the win.?

Asked if she ever looked back to see if anyone was closing in on her, McQuaid again showed her extreme confidence in this extreme sport.

?I never, ever look back,? McQuaid said. ?I’m not worried about other people, only about getting the best out of myself. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, you know. I’m going to be a lot better next year. You’re going to be surprised.?

Sounds like someone who has something to prove, instead of someone who had just received a first-place check for $25,000.

Notes: Highlights of this year’s event will be aired on CBS on Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 5? A total of 519 competitors started the race?.Two-time men’s champion Conrad Stoltz struggled in this year’s event. The 31-year-old South African, who won here in 2001 and 2002, finished ninth overall after having won five events this season. Stoltz holds the bike record at Makena with a time of 1:24:12, but his clocking yesterday was nearly 15 minutes behind his previous best? Olivier Marceau, who won four of 14 events on this year’s world tour and was runner-up in last year’s world championship, finished a disappointing seventh? Blind athlete Bobby McMullen, who is also a double-transplant recipient for his kidney and pancreas, finished in 7:40:00 and was greeted at the finish line by a delegation of athletes who had finished more than 4 hours earlier.

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