Lebrun, Bucher Win XTERRA France Mandelieu la Napoule

The European Season is over, and the final race was held for the first time in the Mediterranean village of Mandelieu la Napoule.  You’ll have to look at the photos because you simply won’t believe what I write about how beautiful a place it is.

The racing was good, but it was not the epic battle that was expected.  Nico Lebrun made sure everyone knows how strong he is with his 5th win of the year and 3rd Euro Series Championship.  Francky Batelier pushed him hard and led the champ for a while but Nico was too strong and pipped the younger Frenchman by 12 seconds.  Olympian and many times XTERRA Champ Olivier Marceau was just a minute behind in 3rd.  A few years back two young German athletes came to the Titisee event in the Black Forest and finished 1-2 beating Lebrun.  Felix Schumann has gone almost exclusively XTERRA and had a great year finishing third in points.  Sebastian Kienle went the 70.3 direction with his career but came back to XTERRA and had a great return with the second fastest bike (behind the amazing Lebrun) and was only passed by Marceau in the last kilometer and finished just 8 seconds behind for a fine fourth.  South Africa’s Lieuwe Boonstra was 5th and those points propelled him to 6th and last money paying position in the year end standings.

A fine performance to finish 3rd in the womans field was posted by French mountain biker Sabrina Enaux.  She kept her cool during the swim and smashed the bike course beating Renata Bucher’s time by 2 minutes and the other women by far more.  She never quite made the lead, but did take second place for a while before Austrian Carina Wasle blew past her on the run.  Carina beat everyone on the very hilly, steep course de pied (running course for you qui ne parle pas Francais) for a fine second place.  Her second, Renata’s first and Anna Bayliss-Scheiderbauer’s dnf pushed those two women to first and second for the season and poor Anna, who had stomach problems all week, was demoted to third in points.

2008 saw a big surge in age group athletes who competed in 2 or more events racing to become European Champion.  Indeed, there were almost a dozen changes in position at Mandelieu to determine the top 3 in each age group.  The “Euro Tour series” is now well understood.

While the bike course above the sea was not technical, it was fast and demanded attention and power to do well.  The run goes from sea level to the top of a steep hill with a very fast descent back to the finish.  Transition is on a wonderful beige sand beach - just a 20m run from where you exit the bright blue Med.  The finish is smack in the middle of the main street of the town.  Both the bike and the run take off from the beach and the first K or so goes under, over and in and out of the local castle.  Fantastic.  The views from the run go all the way to Monte Carlo.  And naturally, being France, the cuisine is always delightful as is the curious Provence rose’ wine that everyone drinks.  According to the locals, rose’ isn’t wine and that’s why you can drink it for breakfast or anytime you want.  Not a bad thought.

So 2008 finishes with a fantastic location and strong entry of almost 300 athletes.  The future looks strong with the return of the German Tour and Championship and the possibilities of even more events for Europe.  How does this affect Americans??  Ask Barbara Peterson who is the 2008 European tour age group champ or Amber Monforte who had a blast at 3 races along with a bunch of other Yanks.  It is the perfect reason to come to the old country, enjoy the sights and culture and rip your legs and lungs apart trying for a podium.

See you all, including hundreds of Europeans, Aussies, Kiwi’s, Japanese, Brazilians, South Africans and others I have forgotten, onMaui.  Get used to it.  XTERRA is everywhere.