PENTICTON, B.C.—Battling on one of the most beautiful and scenically diverse courses that the sport has seen, Mexico’s Francisco Serrano and Canada’s own Melanie McQuaid were named the 2017 Penticton ITU Cross Triathlon World Champions.
Serrano earned his very first World Title in the men’s field after a huge comeback performance on the run drove him past the race-day leader and onto the blue carpet to grab the finisher’s tape. Joining him on the podium then was Spaniard Ruben Rufaza who finished with the silver, while bronze went to Kiwi Kyle Smith, who claimed the elite third place medal, but also the U23 World Championship as he was the first athlete to finish.
The win from McQuaid gave her a reclaiming of the crown after she first won the ITU Cross Title in 2011. But after 6 years, she busted out a dominating start-to-finish performance to grant her the second title and more so, on home soil. Coming in second was Great Britain’s Jacqueline Slack and bronze then was earned by Ladina Buss (SUI).
Starting off just five minutes after the men, the full women’s field saw a strong mix of XTERRA and off road centered athletes vying for titles.
The 1.5km swim that saw the women glide through the water of the calm Okanagan Lake, put a number in separating the field. Four leaders exited the swim first, including Slack, McQuaid, Suzanne Snyder (USA) and Spaniard Laura Gomez Ramon and they had a substantial lead over the rest of the field.
However, while the foursome made it through the first transition together, once out onto the dirt paths of the bike course Mcquaid really powered through her swimmates to take the lead spot.
Maybe it was the encouragement or momentum from knowing she is racing in her home country, but McQuaid took off fiercely and never slowed down. She rocked through the tough and technical bike course that winded through the backwoods trails, never slowing down to allow her competitors to catch her.
Once she made it through the second leg of the race and made her way downhill back towards the transition zone, she was unstoppable with an advantage no one could touch. She then carried her lead out onto the run, where she also excels.
The curvy and descending trails on the run course could not even slow her down and she continued on to the finish line to grab the tape and claim her second World Title in 7 years.
McQuaid said, “I think it is really special when you can win a World Championships in your home country because you just have that extra support and more of your family and friends around, so it is awesome.”
“I told my coach Kelly that this was the World Championship course I always prayed for when I was focusing on the off road stuff, so I really knew it was going to be a great course for me. Then when I went out there it just was one of those magical days where I just was having so much fun, nothing hurt and I just was loving it.”
Slack brought in the line to take second place, having a strong race from being the swim leader, to remaining as the main chaser on the bike and run. Third place then went to Buss, who despite a gap to be made up from the swim, caught up to the field and brought her onto the podium.
The men’s field packed in the talent as past world champion medallists lined the start list. They began the day as the first group to test the course and as the starting drum beat down, they entered the water from a beach start. Stroking through the clear blue waters of the Okanagan Lake, the 1.5km swim spread out the roster entering the first transition zone. Smith was the first to exit the waters, followed by Aussie Ben Allenand France’s Brice Daubord with the rest of the field gaped out behind.
After a swift T1, the leading athletes headed out onto the 31km bike course that took the athletes through a tour of landscapes in the vineyard countryside, to single-lane trail riding in the forest to overlooking viewpoints of the lake below.
While Rufaza was among the chase in the swim, he quickly hammered through the off road bike course and pulled ahead to become the race leader. As a three-time crown defender, it looked like he had the strength to go for his fourth consecutive title in Penticton. So when he made his way to the second transition, he had built a healthy lead of over 30 seconds from the chasers behind.
Hot on his heels and pushing for two more podium spots was a trio of Allen, Smith and Serrano entering T2 together.
After dropping off the bike, the men headed back up a large hill and onto the dirt terrain for the 8km run. Striding up and down small hills and winding down clay-rock formations and even down to the lakeside to run through some watermarked sections, the elite men made some medal contender changes.
Serrano caught up to Rufaza and for the first-time in three years, ran past him and into the lead position. His final push paid off and he came in to the finish line to take the World Crown for the first time in his career.
Serrano said, “I can’t believe it, it is a great feeling. I really worked hard for it, I trained for it. I was confident that I was going to have a great race, I had a good lead up. Everything here went so smooth. Once I got to Penticton, everything is just so beautiful, every single detail went great; the house was good, the bed was perfect, the food was great, the training went perfect, no crashes, no mechanical problems for the race. During the race every single detail came right where it needed to be and I came up with the win. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to beat Ruben (Rufaza), I have never beaten him. So today is a good day to come ahead of him.”
Rufaza then was left to take the silver and the bronze went to Smith who broke away from Allen to get the final spot. While Smith was racing in the U23 men’s field, because the elites and U23 athletes started the race together, he was eligible to take elite honours, while still being crowned the U23 World Champion.
The men’s u23 podium was earned by Kyle Smith (NZL), Marcello Ugazio (ITA) and Arthur Forissier (FRA). While the men’s junior champion was Alec Davison (AUS), followed by Tate Haugan (CAN) and Filippo Pradella (ITA).
On the women’s side, the u23 champion crown went to Penny Slater (AUS) followed by Laura Gomez Ramon (ESP). The junior title was won by Holly Henry (CAN) and then followed by Bridget Theunissen(RSA) and Marta Menditto (ITA).