Dancing done, Middaugh ready for Beaver Creek | VailDaily.com

Dancing done, Middaugh ready for Beaver Creek

Local off-road triathlete Josiah Middaugh rides his way to victory at a race in Alabama. The defending national and world champion of the Xterra triathlon series competes on his home turf on Saturday at Beaver Creek.
Jesse Peters | Xterra |

BEAVER CREEK — This is the conundrum in a busy week for local off-road triathlete Josiah Middaugh.

The defending national and world champion of the Xterra triathlon circuit not only is preparing for Saturday’s Xterra Beaver Creek race, but was also all set to participate in the Vail Valley Foundation’s 2016 Star Dancing Gala on Thursday down in Gypsum.

“I’m definitely more nervous about the dancing,” he said.

That’s because Middaugh is kind of used to doing a 1-mile swim, a 15-mile trek on his mountain bike and 6 more miles of running.

“We’ve done a series of practices and couple of rehearsals. It’s going well,” he said. “But who knows what’s going to happen? It’s not like you can send in a tape.”

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Thursday night’s gala benefited the VVF’s YouthPower365 project, whose purpose is to work with youngsters in Eagle County’s schools, which Middaugh rightly pointed out, includes his three kids. So he’s more than willing, perhaps, to make a fool of himself for a good cause.

New format and new role

Off-road triathlons are simply easier than dance steps for Middaugh.

He finally captured the great whale last year that he had been chasing for 15 years — the Xterra World Championship in Hawaii.

Having run (and swam and biked) down the ultimate goal, Middaugh finds himself in a new place.

“My ultimate goal is to repeat as world champion, but I’m also trying to take on the responsibilities of being the world champion,” he said. “I’m trying to do a bit more for sponsors and do more for the sport. I’m traveling to races I might have said no to in the past. I’m trying to say yes more.”

A busier schedule has affected his training, Middaugh said, but it might turn out well in the end.

That’s because the old Xterra America Tour is now the Xterra Pan-American Championship with nine regular season events scattered all around the hemisphere capped by the national championship in Ogden, Utah, in September.

Although only a triathlete’s best four results plus nationals go toward the season title, races in new places mean more competition and new courses, which Middaugh likes.

Middaugh is sitting in second place in the points, having recorded wins in Argentina, a new site, and at Oak Mountain in Alabama, previously known as Xterra Southeast, as well as a second-place finish in Costa Rica.

Middaugh trails Canada’s Karsten Madsen, 322-267, though the latter will not be competing this weekend in Beaver Creek.

Game plan meets reality

Whether it’s called the Xterra Mountain Championship, as it was in the past, or simply Xterra Beaver Creek, it’s a familiar track for Middaugh. It’s two laps or 1 mile in Nottingham Lake in Avon. The racers then hit the bikes for 15 miles, cycling up to Beaver Creek and then out to Arrowhead and back. The 6-mile run centers on the Centennial area with two figure-eight loops that have a total elevation gain of 1,000 feet.

Middaugh has a distinct home-lake/trail advantage, having trained up here for years and a game plan for each of the legs of the race. He wants to be within 1 minute, 30 seconds of the leaders after the swim, not his strength. Ideally, he catches the leaders on the first uphill on the bike and builds a lead and then maintains it during the run.

And that said, all these carefully laid plans went out the window from the start in last year’s race. Middaugh was 2:30 out after the swim, didn’t run down the leaders until the 11th or 12 mile of the bike leg and then held on for dear life in the end for his third straight win on his home course and fourth victory here in the past five years.

The field has a lot to do with that. It’s stacked. Branden Rakita is a familiar Xterra foe as is 2011 world-champ Michi Weiss. This race is also attracting on-road triathletes such as Greg Bennett and Ben Hoffman, just to name a few of those who will be pushing Middaugh to his limits.

“The way I approach it, I’ve got to pour everything into each discipline,” he said. “I’m going to have to rely on fitness. Sometimes, I have it. Sometimes, I don’t. But I’ve got to bring it.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.

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