SNOWBASIN -- Dan Hugo killed the bike. And then the bike killed him.
The South African native who was ranked eighth in the U.S. Pro Series coming into Saturday's Xterra USA Championship had a huge day, swimming the 1,500 meters in 21:28, biking 18 miles in the second-fastest time of the day in 1:22:56, and running 6.2 miles in 40:26. But his big day came to an end just short of the finish line when Nicolas Lebrun passed him with just over a mile to go.
"I didn't know he was coming," said Hugo. "I knew I was really struggling with the run, and suddenly he was 10 seconds behind me. He came out of left field. In hindsight, if I could have gone with him on the uphill, it was literally downhill to the finish."
Lebrun, a French native who won the championship in 2009 and placed second last year, put together a solid bike in 1:25:57, and a stellar run of 38:27 to catch Hugo and cement his second USA Championship.
His first victory of the day, Lebrun said, was catching Lance Armstrong on the bike.
"I'm passing Lance on the bike? Is this a dream?" said Lebrun of what he thought when he caught and passed the Tour de France champion.
Six miles into the bike ride, Lebrun was sitting in fifth, behind Hugo, Conrad Stoltz, Armstrong, and Josiah Middaugh. When Lebrun heard his splits on the bike and that he was making up time on the top guys, he paced himself.
"I tried to not do too much (on the bike)," said Lebrun, "Because with altitude, if you push a little too much you can really crash. I enjoyed the end of the race and the victory."
Hugo said that the altitude hurt him, and that he pushed the bike too hard.
"My lungs are pretty crushed from racing at altitude," he said. "I've kind of wiped the tears off, even though I really, really wanted it. You learn all you can, find where your weaknesses are for the moment and then work on them. Even though I'm moaning and groaning, I have a lot to take from today."
Armstrong was fifth out of the water, cruised to third during the first 6 miles of the bike and then fell back to fourth when Lebrun passed him. Middaugh ran 37:58 to pass him on the run and eventually place third, and Stoltz maintained his position to come in at fourth, just ahead of Armstrong.
Armstrong said that he rode just at the edge of his limits.
"I felt like I could have kept pushing, but I knew I had to run," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to go for the win, so it was better just to ride tempo and ride at my limit and hope that I survived."
When asked if he would do more offroad triathlons, Armstrong said, "Maybe."
There was no maybe about it for Melanie McQuaid, the women's winner. She beat her nearest competitor, Lesley Patterson, a San Diego resident originally from Scotland, by three minutes.
"I was just trying to be smooth and have fun out there," McQuaid said. "I'm well prepared for this race, so I kind of relaxed and let it happen."
McQuaid, a Canadian native, was second out of the water behind "big fish" Christine Jeffrey, but passed her about four miles into the bike and was alone from that point on. McQuaid's bike split was a blazing 1:34.16. She said she knew that she was doing well on the bike when she started seeing some of the pro men.
Patterson, who ran a 40:55, the fastest women's run of the day, said that it's going to take a lot of work and maybe more experience to beat McQuaid.
The pro athletes and qualified age groupers will now prepare for the Xterra World Championships on Oct 23.
Locals Nick Fisher and McKay Hunt did well in their age groups. Fisher was the second amateur and placed 15th overall by riding a crushing bike time of 1:26.49 to make up for a slow 32-minute swim. Hunt just missed qualifying for Worlds but was second in his age group.
Today, Xterra will present the new Trail Run National Championship at 9 a.m. at Snowbasin Resort.