If you click on the bio page on Melanie McQuaid’s website, you’ll see a list of victories stretching longer than a laptop screen can contain, highlighted by four world championships. But of all her wins, championships and world titles, only one is a road race. The rest are trail races, and not for a lack of trying. According to Athlinks.com, McQuaid entered six road tris last year, and she has been consistently racing on the pavement since 2008. Almost all of these efforts have been disappointments when compared to her off-road pedigree. If her dominating win at Ironman 70.3 California is any indication, McQuaid has finally found the formula to translate her Xterra success to the road, and the current crop of 70.3 studs better take notice.
At Ironman 70.3 California last weekend, McQuaid came out of T1 minutes behind Meredith Kessler and surrounded by most of the other favorites, then quickly made her game plan known: she was going to drill it on the bike and take her chances on the run. The other 70.3 veterans have seen this strategy fail Mcquaid in the past. She tears the legs off nearly every competitor on a mountain bike, but hadn’t yet been able to do the same in 70.3s. Ironman 70.3 California was different. She upped the pace and left Heather Jackson, a rider accustomed to pedaling through the entire field, down the road. Then she swallowed Meredith Kessler, another highly respected cyclist, and left her behind as well. She rode through the cold, breezy air and hilly roads of Camp Pendleton with no one to pace off or break the wind while the rest of the women jockeyed with each other. After nearly 56 miles, McQuaid took the course’s second to last turn onto a short steep hill and danced up it with incredible foot speed. She didn’t seem as powerful as Caroline Steffen, relentless as Chrissie Wellington or graceful as Julie Dibens, but McQuaid applied her own variety of cycling superiority to dispatch the competitive field in Oceanside while saving enough strength to seal the second, and most impressive, 70.3 win of her career.
McQuaid credits a new bike and bike fit with finding strength on her tri bike that is “close to what I can do on a mountain bike.” She gushed with enthusiasm for her Trek Speed Concept the second she crossed the finish line. It was a little bit strange, actually. The first words that spew out of an exhausted professional triathlete after a race are typically about their family, the other athletes, a racecourse breakthrough or random shrieks of joy. Sometimes they stumble around in silence while regaining their bearings after a truly all-out effort. The first thing out of McQuaid’s mouth after crossing was, “[My bike] was awesome, it was sweet. I’m so happy with that bike it’s not even funny. It’s like a game changer for me.” McQuaid just wanted to talk about her bike and fit. Rather than crediting her dominating ride to new-found strength or fortunate circumstances, McQuaid sounded relieved that she was finally able to display speed on the bike she feels has always been waiting to be revealed.
What was the difference? “I didn’t come off the bike like an old lady, all bent over and screwed,” she said. ”I have a funky body and I didn’t fit my other bikes. Now I’m comfy.” Whether she can keep performing like this, or how this performance will stack up against world-beating 70.3 athletes like Dibens or Melissa Rollison remains to be seen, but at the age of 38, Mel McQuaid seems to have finally found the recipe she needs to harness her “funky body” on the road.