Josiah Middaugh gets 5th at Xterra World Championship in Hawaii
Eagle-Vail athlete Josiah Middaugh took on the most difficult Xterra World Championship course he has ever seen on Sunday, Oct. 28, and lived to tell the tale.
With broken bones reported on course in Sunday’s race, an annual event on Maui’s northwest coast, survival wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
Middaugh, who finished fifth, said the waves in the swimming portion of the triathlon were enormous.
“The swell came in today a lot bigger than it had been all week, there were some pretty scary sets that were rolling through,” he said. “The whole way, it’s like being in a washing machine. Even when there’s no breaking waves it’s still really choppy. It was wild today.”
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‘EVEN MORE MUDDY’
Middaugh exited the swimming portion of the race about 3 minutes behind the lead group and was forced to play catchup for the remainder of the race.
With heavy rains hitting the area all week, and all summer, the swimming portion of the race wasn’t the only part where athletes were getting wet.
“The course was really overgrown, really saturated,” Middaugh said. “In 2016, the course was really muddy, and I had a rough run that year. This year it was even more muddy.”
To prepare for the muddy course, Middaugh made some equipment adjustments.
“I had a mud tire called the Maxxis Beaver on the back, and a Maxxis Forekaster on the front, it was a pretty good setup for mud … but the problem is the mud is so sticky — a lot of clay in there — and then there’s all the grass,” Middaugh said. “Most of the course they have to have freshly cut, and so all that grass just falls into the course, and the problem is the mud sticks, and it’s full of grass, and then the grass gets pulled through your drive train and clogs up your pulleys and your cassette and everything just starts jamming up.”
Middaugh said all athletes, even the best in the field, were dismounting their bikes on portions of the course.
“It was just how many times does that happen to you — are you lucky enough to only be off your bike five times, or are you off your bike 20 or 30 times?” Middaugh said.
The winner, Rom Akerson, of Costa Rica, enjoyed his first ever top finish at the Xterra World Championship.
“This was my 10th year of racing here, and it’s been so hard,” Akerson said following the race. “I gave it everything I had in the swim, everything I had on the bike and I couldn’t believe that I felt good running. I didn’t know I was going to win until I crossed the finish line.”
Akerson became the first athlete from Costa Rica ever to win the Xterra World Championship.
Middaugh, a frequent visitor to Costa Rica, said he expects the country will celebrate Akerson immensely when he returns.
“What I have seen with Costa Rica is that they really rally around their athletes, and a world championship, from a small country, no matter what sport it is, it’s going to be a really big deal,” Middaugh said. “I was definitely happy for Rom … he works hard and he had a good day.”
Middaugh plans to head to Costa Rica himself after leaving Hawaii, with the intent of racing in the prestigious LaRuta mountain bike race. Akerson, who finished second in the LaRuta in 2011, says he doesn’t intend to do it this year after the punishing Xterra. Middaugh, who has never raced in the LaRuta, calls the stage race a bucket list competition.
“I don’t really have any expectations going into it,” Middaugh said. “I hear the Costa Ricans are highly favored in the race … they’re really hard to beat. I just want to do it as a fun, end-of-the-season adventure.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.