Eagle-Vail resident Josiah Middaugh has been the most dominant American in the sport of off-road triathlon for a decade, but up until Saturday, he was always missing a key accolade to go with that claim.-
Middaugh, a repeat podium finisher on the Xterra America Tour - which attracts athletes from all countries and represents the highest level of competition in the sport of cross (off-road) tri - has been victorious in the Xterra East Championship, Xterra West Championship and the Xterra Mountain Championship, three of the five major events on the tour. But throughout his career, a win at the Xterra USA Championship -- the final, culminating event in the circut -- has always eluded him.
Middaugh ran to victory Saturday at the USA Championships in Snowbasin, Utah, for the first time in an Xterra career that began back in 2000.
He said the feeling was one of relief.
"It's always been an asterisk-on my resume - national champion, but without actually outright winning the race," he said following the race Saturday.-"Finally, I had a year of good training, and no bad luck."-
At last year's national championships, Middaugh got a flat tire in the mountain biking section and wound up in third, which was still good enough to beat Lance Armstrong, who participated in the race on a whim and took fifth. The year before, Middaugh came down with pneumonia-a week before the race, also finishing third.
This year, Middaugh said his fitness was good -- better than he has ever felt, in fact. But with South African Conrad Stoltz having a career season, winning every event he competed in (with Middaugh usually in second) Middaugh didn't have much hard evidence of this being an outstanding season.-
-"I've had some indicators that my fitness was good right now, but you never really know until you race," he said. "That was the true test."
Middaugh said he had a little back and forth with Stoltz on Saturday before securing a big enough lead for victory. He ended up finishing nearly 2 minutes ahead of the second-place competitor, Ben Allen of Australia, allowing him enough time to cross the finish line holding two of his children.
"I caught the leaders early, about mile 6 or 7," he said. "That first downhill Conrad got back ahead of me, and it wasn't until about mile 9 that I passed him again for the second time. But I was so tentative on the downhill, I was just so worried about flatting, or having something ruining a good performance. I knew my fitness was good, I just had to be careful everywhere. I was a little bit too nervous, but it worked out."
Stoltz ended up finishing fourth, behind Allen and Nico Lebrun of France.-
Earlier in the week, Middaugh said he had his sights set on nothing less than a victory in Snowbasin, despite the fact that his overall position of second on the tour (behind Stoltz) was nearly a foregone conclusion.
"I'm going for the win," Middaugh told the Vail Daily earlier in the week. "Most likely the standings won't change much, but the race has eluded me."
-As it turns out, he was closer to an overall win than he had imagined.-
"If Conrad would have finished fifth instead of fourth, I would have won the series," Middaugh said after the race. "It's kind of a bummer because (David Henestrosa, 6th overall) got a flat tire, and he would have beat Conrad."
Stoltz's fourth, rather than fifth, place finish was actually a $4,000 swing in the wrong direction for Middaugh, who would have went home with $10,000 for an overall tour win rather than the $6,000 he received for second.-
Nevertheless, he said he was happy to be bringing roughly $8,500 home from Utah, including the $2,500 for the individual win at Saturday's contest.
Middaugh said between the long awaited win at national championships and the extra $8,500 in his pockets, it wasn't a bad trip to Utah. But always the family man, the father of three said the best part of the weekend for him was seeing his own father, who came out from Michigan to witness the event.
"We picked my dad up from the airport on the way out (to Utah), he doesn't get to see as many races as he'd like, maybe one every year or two," Middaugh said. "It was good to have him here ... he picked a good one."
Middaugh will wrap up his season with the Xterra World Championship in Maui on Oct. 28.-