Local athlete Josiah Middaugh wins Xterra Oak Mountain race in Alabama | VailDaily.com

Local athlete Josiah Middaugh wins Xterra Oak Mountain race in Alabama

The Xterra contest is a bit more complicated these days, but local racer Josiah Middaugh is keeping it simple so far. He has won every race he has entered in the annual off-road triathlon series.

On Saturday, Middaugh won the Xterra Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alabama, to put him in good standing in the Xterra America Tour, the Xterra Pan Am tour and the Xterra World Tour. Middaugh wants to win them all, but he can only make it to certain events as the series branched out into the Pan American region last year. The Oak Mountain event on Saturday was Middaugh's second race of the season; he also won the Xterra Costa Rica on April 9.

"There's a couple South American races that I won't make it to," Middaugh said. "So I'm off to a good start, but I'm actually behind in points because there's a couple of people who have done all the races, so I'll have my work cut out for me this season."

'CLASSIEST GUY IN THE SPORT'

Middaugh is the 2015 Xterra world champion and finished fifth at the world championship last season. On Saturday, Middaugh said he didn't like the way the race was shaping up for him after finishing the swimming section about 2 minutes behind the lead, and not making all of that time back up on the mountain-biking section. An adept climber, Middaugh said the bike course in Alabama doesn't offer as many opportunities to capitalize on his strengths.

"It's a really technical course, so it's hard to make up a lot of time by pedaling," he said. "I would pedal hard for 10 seconds here or 20 seconds there, but it took the whole bike section for me to get back in contact with the lead."

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When the trail run section started for Middaugh, he could see the two competitors ahead of him, and he knew they would be tough to catch. So he ran as fast as he could, and as he attempted to overcome the two athletes in front of him, Middaugh said he employed an old veterans' trick — acting.

"You gotta look like you're fresh when you make the pass, even if you don't feel like it," he said with a laugh. "Karsten Madsen, who got second, if he would have thought he could win, then maybe he would have."

Middaugh was beginning his Xterra career 17 years ago when Madsen was 9 years old. Madsen said he bled everything he had into Saturday's race.

"I'm runner-up, but to the classiest guy in the sport," Madsen said. "You always wonder when it's going to be your time and I just missed it by a bit with Josiah today but I gave literally everything I possibly could and that is just so satisfying."

Middaugh said he was surprised to be able to overtake not just Madsen, but Francisco Serrano, who was leading the race heading into the run.

"Francisco beat me a couple of years ago in a race, and I knew he would be strong," Middaugh said. "He's a really fast runner on a flat course, and this was a pretty flat course. When I saw he was ahead of me to start the run I thought, 'Oh no.'"

It was hot on Saturday and by the time his feet hit the trail, Serrano said he was running on fumes.

"(Middaugh) was running so fast and on my best days I feel I can run with him," Serrano said on Saturday. "I thought today was going to be one of those days … I thought I might have the legs for the run today, but I didn't. My energy levels were toasted."

EUROPEAN RIVALRY

Middaugh will head to Paris next to pursue a bucket-list race, Xterra France, on July 2. He will get to face a long time rival, Ruben Ruzafa, who has traded wins with Middaugh here in North America for years. While the two have been competitive on this side of the pond, Middaugh says he's looking forward to finally facing Ruzafa in Europe, where Ruzafa will have more of the home-field advantage which Middaugh usually enjoys during their races. Ruzafa is a three-time Xterra world champion and also an Olympian mountain biker; last year he finished second at the world championships.

"He usually wins Xterra France by about 10 minutes, so I figure he needs somebody to race with over there," Middaugh said.

Following the France race will be the annual Beaver Creek Xterra on July 15, where Middaugh will attempt to win on his home trails for the third straight year. In addition to racing his best on that day, he hopes all other competitors will be in top form, as well.

"You always want to beat somebody when they're having a good day, not just when you're having a good day," Middaugh said. "In this sport, just when you think you can beat someone is when they take you down. That's what keeps me coming back."