OGDEN, Utah — Right on schedule.
It’s kind of a strange thing to say given that Edwards’ Josiah Middaugh has been pursuing the Xterra off-road triathlon series title since turning pro in 2003. At the time, Middaugh did, in fact, say that it would take him 10 years to reach his peak.
And 10 years later, Middaugh finished second in Saturday’s Xterra USA Championships to clinch that elusive series title.
“It’s been a long road,” Middaugh said after the race. “I’ve put my time in.”
Not only is it Middaugh’s first Xterra overall title of his career, but he is also the first American to top the series since Michael Tobin in 2000.
“It hasn’t hit me completely,” Middaugh said. “But I definitely feel like it’s been a good year so far. I’ve gotten stronger every year. I’m excited to be in my prime. Right now, I feel like I have a shot in every race.”
Costa Rica’s Leonardo Chacon ended up winning the race with a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 31 seconds with Middaugh in second at 2:33:26. Though he undoubtedly wanted to win Saturday’s race, Middaugh, under the worst-case scenario, had to finish ninth or better to clinch the overall, and so a second-place finish did just fine.
Too much swimming
In theory, Saturday’s race was meant to have 1.5 kilometers of swimming, Middaugh’s weakest discipline. Instead, it ended up being a 2K.
Middaugh said that added about 10 minutes to times in the water. It also probably gave Chacon a bit of an edge as the Costa Rican was the first out of the water. Middaugh, South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz (Middaugh’s chief nemesis for the series title during the years) and Spain’s Ruben Ruzafa (the 2008 Xterra World Championship winner) came out of the swim roughly together and about 2 minutes, 45 seconds off Chacon’s pace.
Chacon is former Olympian in mountain biking, while Ruzafa was on the World Cup biking tour and Stoltz has always been a handful, so Middaugh had a serious challenge ahead.
Stoltz took the lead on the bike, while Middaugh caught Chacon on the uphill portion of the pedalling and was able to hold off Ruzafa, as well. By the time it was time to switch from the mountain bike for running shoes, Stoltz held roughly a 30-second lead on Middaugh.
The Edwards resident was likely in fine position to secure the series win already and could have coasted through the run. But Middaugh was in race mode.
“I’m just trying to win the race,” he said. “The only thing in my mind is that I know how I stack up regularly against Conrad. If I’m behind him by 30 seconds, I normally win the race. But I don’t know with Chacon and Ruzafa.”
Middaugh, indeed was right about Stoltz, but Chacon could run, and it was the two of them down the stretch.
Chacon and I were together for three to five miles,” Middaugh said. “He put on a surge with a mile to go, and I was pretty much toast.”
At this point, mathematically Middaugh had the series title wrapped up, but he said he more concerned with holding off whomever was in third place. That ended up being Ruzafa.
The worst-case scenario was South African Dan Hugo winning and Middaugh finishing 10th or worse. Middaugh held on to second place, while Hugo was fifth. Middaugh ends the series with 390 points to Hugo’s 317.
“I had a beer when I was done and I might have some ice cream tonight,” Middaugh said. “That’s about it. I have to get up a five tomorrow morning to drive home.”
And while that may not be the epic celebration expected, Middaugh’s dad Steve flew in from Michigan and was undoubtedly a proud father.
As is typical with Middaugh, his eyes are already turned to the next event, which would be the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii on Oct. 27.
“I would happily trade my second place finish today for a first place in Maui,” he joked.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.