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This article was published 21/8/2017 (846 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WASAGAMING — Four years ago, Josh Malenchak did his first-ever triathlon on an old mountain bike at Riding Mountain.
On Saturday, the 21-year-old from Winnipeg won the Olympic event at the 31st running of the Riding Mountain Triathlon, and couldn’t contain his joy at the finish line or later when he talked about it.
"It made me smile when I crossed the line because I just love this race so much," Malenchak said. "From the time I was this big, I’ve been coming here with my family. I used to be a gamer kid, so it was ‘Who would ever want to do triathlon?’ and I did it on the mountain bike. I remember looking at the front-runner guys as I was leaving transition and they’re coming back. ‘I was ‘That’s inhuman, that’s amazing’ and just chipping away at the block and having fun with it … To cross the line first today, I almost had a couple of tears in my eyes because it was such a good feeling to be able to look back and see how far I’ve come.
"I love this race. I love the volunteers, I love the environment, I love everything, so to have a great race here meant a lot."
Malenchak beat second-place finisher Jared Spier by nearly five minutes as he cruised to the win in two hours, four minutes and 11 seconds in the race, which has a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40-km bike ride and a 10-km run.
The top female was Maja Kralovcova of Regina, who was 11th overall with a time of 2:22:22.
With the mercury gradually edging up to 28 C in the afternoon, race conditions were ideal when the Olympic event launched at 9 a.m. Overcast conditions, a temperature of 17 and very light south winds, along with the freshly paved Highway 10, made it a fast course.
"Conditions were almost perfect," Malenchak said. "The water looks like glass, the road is perfect, the run course is shaded. It’s awesome."
In total, 446 competitors started the race, the first in two years after race organizers Ellis and Deb Crowston had to cancel the 2016 event due to road construction.
Ellis Crowston said the race, and the day, received high marks from athletes.
"We had more people come to us and just tell us what a great time they had," he said. "It was far more than usual. A lot of times it’s comparing it to different races, but this time there was a level of sincerity and a true appreciation of the day and how it
all came together … It was literally perfect triathlon weather."
Crowston admitted that after a year away, he and Deb were a bit out of synch, but said the fact their veteran volunteer base quickly signed up to return was a tremendous boost.
Malenchak, who has ridden the highway a lot, was thrilled with the new asphalt, saying it made the course safer.
"I was so happy for this race for the new road because in previous years I saw people almost kill themselves when they’re in aero position and hit a pothole or something," he said.
"That kind of freaked me out a lot, especially when I had no experience. When I rode on it (Friday in training), it was ‘This is like butter. This is so smooth.’ Conditions were really good. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the run would feel a little hotter, but I forgot how much shade there is. Everything was pretty good."
The pavement was so good, in fact, that Malenchak broke Dave Harju’s 22-year-old course record on the bike by a hefty 24 seconds with his 1:00:18, an average of 39.8 km/h.
In the Sprint race, which is a 750-metre swim, a 40-km bike ride and a five-km run, it didn’t take Carson McComb long to serve notice that he’ll need to be taken seriously at his home race.
In his first time doing the race as a junior — McComb had previously done the Kids Of Steel event at the lake — the 16-year-old from Brandon edged his nearest competitor by nearly two minutes in a time of 1:04:05 (10:21 swim, 35:46 bike, 17:59 run).
"It’s my first sprint win this year, so I’m happy with that," McComb said.
The provincial team member, who has been racing since he was 11, had to adapt to the rules that forbid cyclists from riding too closely together to benefit from the aerodynamic advantage it provides. The races he has been doing allow it.
"It was a tough ride with lots of hills," McComb said later. "I’m used to draft legal racing, which is when you’re in a pack with other guys. This is a bit more of an individual race, which I need to work on a bit if I’m going to do this more."
He did an ITU event in Edmonton last fall, which was his first major race with the provincial team. This year he’s raced nationals in Ottawa and was an alternate for the Canada Games.
But it’s nice to race at home.
"I woke and got outside and it was a little bit chilly but it warmed up pretty nice," McComb said. "The water temperature was pretty nice so I was happy with that."
Natalia Kolesova of Regina won the women’s sprint in a time of 1:13:57.
Jeff Bales of Brandon posted the best time in the duathlon, 1:10:53, for the 2.5-km run, 20-km bike and 5-km run. Nicole Mitchelson of Regina was tops among the women and second overall in 1:13:02.
None of the winners will be happier than Malenchak, who celebrated with a quick swim back in the lake and afterwards a plateful of post-race food.
"This whole place has a special place in my heart, including this race," Malenchak said. "Training so much and racing so much, this is my baby race. I just love it. To have a great day here is awesome."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson