Xtreme success for McQuaid and Stotlz

Published 10:24 am Monday, May 25, 2009

For most of the decade, Melanie McQuaid of Canada and Conrad Stoltz of South Africa have been synonymous with off-road triathlon success. Stotlz has owned the XTERRA Southeast Championship at Oak Mountain State Park the past two years. However, for McQuaid, it has proved a hard mountain to climb, finishing second the last two years.

This year, the two claimed their third-consecutive XTERRA Cup wins of the season, putting themselves on pace for one of the best performances in XTERRA history.

“Both of us are particularly focused this year. We haven’t had the world championships we’ve been hoping for,” McQuaid said. “Although I’m going real well right now, I can get even better than this.”

After winning the inaugural Pelham race in 2006, McQuaid has struggled the last two years to give her best performance in the heat, calling the 2008 race a meltdown. This year, she had one strategy — enter the 10K run with no other female pros in sight.

She did just that, recording the fastest time splits in the 1.7-mile swim and 18-mile bike ride. She carried a four-minute lead into the run over the other female pros.

Stotlz didn’t dominate across the course like McQuaid, but he blew past everyone on the bike to erase a third-place swim and fourth-fastest run time.

Stotlz’s motivation for the domination on the bike was the loss of his close friend and competitor and real estate broker, Steve Larsen.

After athletes arrived in Birmingham early last week, word came late in the evening May 19 that Larsen, a fellow XTERRA athlete and famous cyclist, died while training in his hometown of Bend, Ore.

“I was shocked,” said Stoltz, who trained with Larsen and bought real estate from him. “It’s the first time anyone close to me passed away, so I never knew what would happen.”

Before the race, Stoltz spoke about Larsen to the group before a moment of silence, as he planned to dedicate the race to his friend. Stoltz said Larsen’s one strategy of “full gas all the time” helped push him through the 18-mile bike, recording the fastest bike time ever (1:02:29) in an XTERRA event at Oak Mountain State Park.

“The amazing part is even when I couldn’t pedal, I had this amazing strength on the course today. Even on the road, the guys were with me and within a few seconds I was gone,” Stotlz said. “I thought, ‘I’ve had a chance to feel what Steve felt like,’ because he was so amazingly strong on the bike.”

Stotlz finished first for the third time this year and third time at Oak Mountain with a time of 2:04:27, close to a minute over Colorado’s Josiah Middaugh.

McQuaid also feels like her win was due to Larsen.

“I put together a race that Steve Larsen would approve,” McQuaid said. “And I had his tires to help me through it.”

McQuaid uses Larsen-made tires on her bike.

She and Stoltz put her tires to test at Oak Mountain for the first time this year the morning after they learned of Larsen’s death. She men and women run the race at the same time, the two hit the course together along with Hoover tri-athlete Casey Fannin to train and get reconnected with the trail.

The training proved smart for McQuaid and Fannin, as the two ended up sticking side-by-side for most of the race, pacing each other along the way.

“I knew Casey and I would be well matched. It was good to have someone pace me today,” she said.

Fannin, 49, won the 45-49 age group with a time of 2:22.53. By design, he finished right behind McQuaid’s 2:22:52, holding off at the finish line to congratulate McQuaid and let her pass in front of him for the finish.

“I didn’t want to take the win from her over me. She pulled me around the whole bike course. She motivated me and I motivated her,” Fannin said.

The connection with Fannin and Stotlz comes from Stotlz staying at the Fannin’s house the past four years while in Birmingham and McQuaid staying with Fannin’s friends Mark and Dianne Jacobs.