BEAVER CREEK — We’re pretty sure Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers didn’t get together for dinner before this year’s Super Bowl.
But, then again, the world of the off-road triathlon athlete is a bit different than the NFL.
“I’m hosting a barbecue tonight for all the Xterra pros, crew and local athletes,” Edwards’ Josiah Middaugh said on Thursday afternoon. “It’s a little bit different than other sports.”
For the record, grilled chicken was on the menu.
While the fraternity of these guys is tight, when the Xterra Mountain Championship begins Saturday in Nottingham Lake at 9 a.m., the competition will be as fierce as ever. Middaugh enters his home race as one of the favorites. After all, in the five years since 2008 that the Avon/Beaver Creek stop has been on the Xterra tour, the local has finished third, third, third, first and second.
But this year is a bit different by Middaugh’s design and random circumstance.
Middaugh’s chief nemesis in the Mountain Championship and in his pursuit of the series title, Conrad Stoltz, of South Africa, is in Italy this weekend and out of the running for the overall crown. Stoltz finished second behind Middaugh in the season-opening Xterra West Championship in April and then had to drop out during the Southeast Championship in May with a leg injury. (Middaugh topped the podium in Alabama as well.)
As for Middaugh’s design, it seems to be working. He is 2-for-2 so far in Xterra events. He did not compete in the East Championship in Richmond, Va., in June because he was here winning the GoPro Mountain Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge, which means he enters Saturday’s race in second place in the points standings behind Craig Evans, of Hendersonville, Tenn. But Xterra racers get to drop one race from their season score, so for the first time as Middaugh starts the Mountain Championship, he controls his own destiny when it comes to that elusive series title.
“My training has changed a lot in the last two years,” Middaugh said. “Last year was my best season to date, and I’m building on that, refining my approach to training.”
Middaugh won Xterra Nationals in Odgen, Utah, last September, and finished second at the World Championships in Hawaii in October. That’s carried over to 2013.
Though very capable of massive training sessions on his bike or on foot that are head-shaking — he has been known to run up Simba at Vail or Arrowhead in Beaver Creek multiple times during the winter — it’s all about shorter, but higher-intensity training for Middaugh.
“It’s incredibly boring,” Middaugh joked. “I see people and they ask me, ‘Have you done any good rides?’ I say, ‘My rides haven’t been enjoyable. I have a specific set of intervals. I’ve been doing the same stretch of Strawberry Park (in Beaver Creek) over and over.’”
This type of training is more specific to Xterra competitions. And while Middaugh hits the Eagle-Vail pool regularly because he jokes that he has “no delusions” about his swimming ability, his weakest leg of the triathlon, part of his game plan has been doubling down on biking, his greatest strength.
In addition to getting to know every speck of dirt on his intervals at Strawberry Park, he is also working out at the Dogma Athletica gym in Edwards, riding the Compu-Trainer, which simulates course and race conditions.
Key moments and competitors
If Middaugh has his way Saturday, he would be 1 minute, 30 seconds off the pace after the 1-mile swim in Nottingham Lake. When he won this race in 2011, he was 1:40 behind the leader at the time.
The key to his race is the early portion of biking. Middaugh said he needs to blast the first 5 miles of the 15.5-mile ride. That section has 2,000 feet of elevation gain, which plays into his strength as one who trains at altitude. This portion of the course helped him win in 2011, though he had to stave off a challenge in the running leg. And it’s where he couldn’t catch Stoltz in last year’s race.
As for the final leg, the run, this is also where Middaugh’s new training will hopefully kick in.
“The run has always been kind of the question mark. I feel my running fitness is good. The snowshoe races I do are really specific to Xterra races,” said Middaugh, who is a six-time national snowshoeing champion. “I never know how fatigued I’m going to be coming off the bike. I try to put in every ounce on the bike, and, sometimes, there’s not much left for the run.”
While Stoltz is out, the rest of the Xterra field certainly won’t be rolling over for Middaugh. He brought up Dan Hugo, of South Africa, often, as well as Branden Rakita, of Colorado Springs. Those two are third and fourth, respectively, in the Xterra season standings. Middaugh added that Evans more than deserves his due for leading the series and that Boulder’s Ben Hoffman, who finished third here last year, also figures to be a big factor.
One thing is for certain. Middaugh will have the most fans Saturday.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I definitely feel like I have the community behind me. It’s a good feeling.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.