DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
QUEBEC S3 WORLD CUP
FEBRUARY’S ITU S3 World Cup in Quebec was more than one of the most unique triathlon events I’ve attended in my long history in the sport. In many ways it felt like a step back to triathlon’s early days of development when the sport changed from a novelty to a full-fledged competitive endeavour.
The S3 format is something new to the world of winter triathlon. Rather than run, bike and cross country ski, the S3 race consists of snowshoeing, speed skating and cross country skiing. The idea is to combine three winter sports in hopes of getting triathlon into the winter Olympic Games program. Quebec was one of the first to host a world cup event using this format as part of the Pentathlon des Neiges, the largest winter multisport festival in the world.
In the first event, three years ago, a pair of Olympic biathletes – Slovakia’s Dusan Simocko (Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010) and Canada’s Marc-andre Bedard (Vancouver) – duelled over the Plains of Abraham before Simocko managed to pull away during the final ski leg to take the title. The Slovakian was sick last year and couldn’t defend his title, but was back in 2016, keen to do whatever he could to promote this new type of winter triathlon.
“I like this format more than the old format,” he said. “These disciplines are more winter sports. I think it’s a better way to get into the winter Olympic program.”
Heading into the race, I couldn’t help but feel some nostalgia for the early days of the sport, when Olympians and single-sport specialists like myself were drawn to a new challenge. The field in Quebec included a bunch of Olympic skiers, a world snowshoe champion and even a Sparta and Obstacle Course world champion (Jonathan Albon from the U.K.). It felt like the good ol’ days when I was competing against Olympic skier and cyclist Pierre Harvey, as he snuck away from his cross country ski coaches to get in some fun training and racing during the summer. Back then no one came from a triathlon background – we were all coming from another sport.
Triathlon really took off, on the competitive front, when the top athletes became very proficient in all three sports. Athletes like Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Greg Welch were outstanding swimmers, bikers and runners. Triathlon really came into its own when athletes no longer identified as, say, a runner who was getting into this new sport, and saw themselves as triathletes who had to be very good swimmers, bikers and runners.
That day arrived for S3 racing in Quebec when Gatineau, Quebec’s Maxime Leboeuf took the title. Leboeuf originally competed on the Canadian national biathlon team, then took up running when he went to university. He would go on to excel in snowshoeing, too. Three years ago Leboeuf got manhandled during the ski leg by Simocko and Bedard. This year he had become so proficient in all three sports that they never stood a chance. Lebouef did his best Jan Frodeno imitation by leading the way through the snowshoe leg, staying in front by the end of the skate (he was passed for a short time, but worked his way back to the front) and never looking back during the ski leg. After the race he talked about how much he had practiced his transitions.
“One of my strong parts of the race was the transition,” he said. “It’s free time.”
Lebouef’s win showed that the S3 triathlon is ready to be taken seriously. He proved that to win you have to be a triathlete, one who leaves nothing to chance in preparation. Hopefully performances like his help the sport make it to the Olympic program. It would be a good addition.
Maxime Leboeuf leads Bruno Freudenreich during the snowshoe portion of the race