BEAVER CREEK — Saturday is the Xterra Mountain Cup off-road triathlon, and local national champion Josiah Middaugh is hoping to be a gracious host.
It starts with a mile swim in the cold 64-degree waters of Nottingham Lake situated at 7,400-feet elevation. Nottingham is just big enough to get a full-mile swim with two laps, and Buck Creek flows into the reservoir, so even though the lake is small, the water temp rarely tops 70 degrees.
The next step involves roughly 15 miles of mountain biking that climbs 3,500 feet into the thin air of the Rockies.
“I just threw up in my mouth a little remembering that climb,” said Ben Hoffman, one of America’s greatest all-around triathletes, after seeing a picture from last year of Branden Rakita, Josiah Middaugh and himself three miles into the first climb on the bike that gains 2,000 vertical feet in five miles.
The bike course peaks out at more than 9,400 feet, above the Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch ski slopes, and then turns into some well-maintained singletrack that switches through the aspen trees and works its way to the Village-to-Village Trail and down to Beaver Creek Village.
The final piece of resistance is a calf-burning, six-mile trail run which breaks down into essentially two challenging climbs that each have over 500 vertical feet of climbing (1,300 for the course).
Appropriately, America’s best Xterra athlete Middaugh calls this place home and has won two of the last three races here.
“Love having Xterra here and the opportunity to showcase my backyard,” said Middaugh, the reigning Xterra U.S. Pro Series champion and winner of five of the last six regional championship races. “The whole reason I do Xterra is because of the training grounds I have access to, 90 percent of which are right out my front door and up Beaver Creek. To me, this place is what Xterra is all about, the mountain lifestyle.”
As an athlete and coach, Middaugh has personally exposed that lifestyle to a whole new generation of athletes in the valley and says he can see it taking hold.
“I think having Xterra here has created a triathlon community, which is really cool for me to see. Kids are getting into it, adults are getting into it. We have a lot of swim teams, and open water swims in Nottingham Lake, which didn’t use to happen before. It’s the perfect place for it.”
So much so that Men’s Journal Magazine recently named it “one of nine scenic triathlons that are worth the trip.” Also of note, the International Ski Federation picked Beaver Creek Resort to host its 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
MIDDAUGH, GARRARD THE FAVORITES
The mountain men are out in full force for Saturday’s Xterra Mountain Cup, led by Middaugh and a strong contingent of Colorado’s finest elite triathletes.
The top five from this race last year were all from Colorado, and all five are back on the start list. Middaugh, who won it for the second time in three years last season, is a hometown favorite who helped design the course for the inaugural championship race at Beaver Creek Resort back in 2009.
Rakita, who was second last year, has been in the top-five four times in five years at this race. Hoffman, known more for his exploits on the road, grew up mountain biking in Western Colorado and feels right at home on the trails. He’s finished third in each of the last two years here.
Cody Waite, Xterra’s in-house training tips guru, was fourth last year and in the top five here four times since 2009. Ryan Ignatz, who was fifth last year, is always a threat.
In addition to those guys, Middaugh says to watch out for young gun Mauricio Mendez from Mexico. Mendez won the Xterra amateur world championship title last year and this year, in his first season as a pro, has finished third, fourth and sixth in the first three regionals and posted jaw-dropping swim-and-run splits in the process.
“Excited to see how he’ll do because I think this is a really good course for him,” Middaugh said. “He shouldn’t have any problems with the altitude as he lives in Mexico City which is at the same elevation and he’s a good climber.”
Other racers to keep an eye on include Ryan Petry, a rookie pro from Arizona who just recently graduated from college and moved to Boulder; and rookie pro Alex Modestou from Washington D.C., who was ninth overall (top amateur) here last year and has been in town for a month training and preparing for the race.
In the women’s chase, Emma Garrard, perhaps for the first time in her career, is considered the favorite to take the title.
“I don’t know if I’d call myself the favorite, but this course does suit my strengths pretty well,” said Garrard, a 32-year-old from Park City, Utah, who has been the fastest American in the sport since the USA Championship last year. Garrard finished second to only Flora Duffy at the first three regional championship races this season, but Duffy won’t be on the start line today.
“It’s an honor to be seen as a favorite after a lot of years racing Xterra, and it’s exciting to think about potentially winning, it would mean a lot, but there are a lot of strong women to compete against,” Garrard said.
Indeed the field is stacked with the top five from last year’s race back, including the defending and four-time winner on this course, Shonny Vanlandingham, the 2012 mountain champ Danelle Kabush (second last year), Kelley Cullen (third last year), Suzie Snyder (fourth last year), Sara Schuler (four times in top four here including runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012), Canadians Chantell Widney and Christine Jeffrey and a wealth of fast Coloradans.
“This race is hard. It’s got a lot of climbing but not too technical. I think it’s a good course for me as climbing on the bike and run are my strengths, but it will still kick my butt,” Garrard said.
Middaugh, who has been coaching Garrard, said, “I don’t want to say this could be a breakout race for Emma because she’s had great performances before, but it’s certainly a great chance for her to be on top of the podium. Her background in Nordic skiing is perfect for Xterra racing, especially on a mountain course like this. She’s always had the engine and it’s really been starting to show.”
“I just threw up in my mouth a little remembering that climb.”