XTERRA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Maui race puts McQuaid in her comfort zone
WAILEA, Maui » When last seen on the Valley Isle, Melanie McQuaid had the look of a walking dynasty. Make that, a swimming, biking and running dynasty.
She had just captured her second straight Xterra world title and her unprecedented third overall.
But instead of pulling away from the field in the off-road triathlon circuit this season, McQuaid stumbled. She won only one race and was displaced in the season point standings by Jamie Whitmore. The 31-year-old from California won four of five events leading up to tomorrow's World Championship.
The races begin with a 9 a.m. plunge into the waters off the Maui Prince Hotel for a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, followed by a treacherous bike ride up along the rocky foothills of Haleakala and concluding with a 10-kilometer run through lava fields and sand.
For those not metrically inclined, that's 27 miles total.
McQuaid is aiming for a three-peat, but will face strong challenges from Whitmore and Jennifer Smith of New Zealand.
"This hasn't been the best season I've had so far, but when things get important that's the time to get going," McQuaid said. "If there's one thing I've learned it's that it doesn't take much to knock you off of the top. I've fallen a few times this year, and I'm due for a good race."
The 33-year-old biochemist from Vancouver, B.C., attributes this year's early struggles to a change in training routine designed to strengthen her weaknesses.
"Then, I had a foot injury and then I got a bad case of flu going into the nationals," McQuaid said. "I wouldn't say it's been a disappointing season as much as it has been frustrating because things have happened that you can't control."
McQuaid returns to a place where she has enjoyed great success and great times.
"When I got off the plane from Canada the other day, I could feel a change come over me," McQuaid said. "It's in the air. It's like breathing magic. The people here are so friendly, the island is so beautiful and the weather is so perfect. I love coming here and competing here, and I'm looking forward to demonstrate what I can do."
Maui has not been as kind of late for Conrad Stoltz, the 34-year-old South African known in tri-athlete circles as "The Caveman."
Things started spectacularly for Stoltz, who won world titles in 2001 and 2002.
Since then, his fortunes have taken some turns as steep as those he will be negotiating during the bike course on race day.
"In 2003, I had five flat tires (and finished 17th)," Stoltz recalled. "In 2004, I was training for the Olympics and I just did too much racing. In 2005, I broke a pedal and couldn't finish. Last year, I was out with an injury. This season has gone really well. No crashes, no injuries and just one mechanical problem."
That mishap took place in Utah, but Stoltz won his other four races, best in a storied career. Stoltz partly attributes his return to prominence and dominance in a change to his training regimen.
"For the first time, I took a break in the middle of the season," Stoltz said. "By saving myself physically, my body feels very strong going into the most important race of the year. After some of things that have happened here the past few years, I come into this race with a lot of motivation."