Eagle-Vail’s Josiah Middaugh earns Xterra overall tour win
OGDEN, Utah — Josiah Middaugh didn’t beat his new rival Mauricio Mendez, but he did race well enough for the Xterra Pan American Tour overall win at the championship race on Saturday, Sept. 16.
Middaugh, of Eagle-Vail, was the Xterra World Champion in 2015, which is about the highest honor an off-road triathlon racer can receive these days. In 2016 he lost the title to Mendez, but earlier this year Middaugh was able to take down the Mexican world champion at the Xterra race in Beaver Creek.
As the Xterra circuit shifted into different tour-style disciplines in recent years, the Pan American Tour was created, and Saturday’s race in Ogden was a culmination of a series of off-road triathlons spanning South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada and the U.S.
With $80,000 at stake, Saturday’s race was one of the true marquee events of any off-road triathlon race. Fortunately for Middaugh, he did not need to beat Mendez for the overall tour win, simply fellow Colorado resident Branden Rakita.
“Mauricio was out in front from the get go and he put an attack early on the bike and you know I did everything I could to try to reel him back in but I just wasn’t making back the time very quick,” Middaugh said, who exited the water about 1:40 behind Mendez. “I was pushing hard but not making the time. Hats off to him, he was riding really strong and had just a killer pace up that climb and it was everything I could do to just keep it close.”
Middaugh posted the fastest bike split of the day (1:24:37), but couldn’t catch the 21-year-old world champion.
“When I hit the run, and someone told me I was leading by one minute I just knew that — I mean, I am so used to chasing Josiah the whole time and now that I had him behind me — I knew that I had made a good effort on the bike but now I was worried to be caught by him,” Mendez said. “I felt good on the swim, we worked at having a good pace. When we were out of the swim, and we noticed we had a big gap — Ben Allen and me — I was just feeling confident about it and when we hit the dirt I did an attack and I felt great.”
Asked if he thought he could catch Mendez on the run, Middaugh added, “Yeah, I thought ‘you never know what can happen.’ Maybe somebody gets tired or pushed too hard on the bike but Mauricio, I’ve never seen him give up a lead so I knew it was a tall ask but I thought if I kept my head down and ran hard I’d make back a little bit of time.”
WEISS RIDING NICE
Bradley Weiss, two weeks removed from winning the Xterra European Championship in Denmark, rode with Middaugh practically the whole bike portion and was second into the second transition just ahead of Middaugh.
“Coming into altitude I knew it was going to be tough to reach that top 5% you need racing against these guys,” Weiss said. “I had no pressure on myself and I’ve never been so relaxed before a race. I was super chill. Coming in with that relaxed mindset did help me a little, but still the swim was such a shamble. Swimming at altitude you can’t breathe. So, I just tried to limit my losses a bit but I was within a minute of the leaders so I’m pretty happy with that. Considering I didn’t feel like I was moving very well. Onto the bike I settled into a pretty good pace and then Josiah caught me super early so I was like quite surprised about that. When he came past I thought ‘OK this isn’t too bad I can hang on to this’ and then we rode together all the way to the end. Then he caught a rear flat on the last descent so that slowed him down a bit, that’s how I got past, otherwise we would have come in together which we did basically.”
Weiss finished third nearly two minutes behind Middaugh.
“Starting the run, I felt like my run legs were pretty descent,” Weiss said. “I had a little bit of a lead on Josiah going up and I thought, ‘hey, maybe second place is in the cards’ but then once he got going, I was like, OK. I’ll settle for third today. And Mauricio, coming from Mexico City, had been training at 3,000 meters so he’s very well acclimatized to altitude. It’s always going to be tough to race against them but it’s very promising leading into Maui.”
In fourth was another young-gun, a 20-year-old from Taupo, New Zealand, by the name of Kyle Smith and in fifth was Ben Allen, from Australia.
PATERSON DOMINANT, AGAIN
In the women’s elite race Lacy Paterson, a two-time Xterra World Champion, was the sixth elite female out of the swim, passed all five riders in front of her by mile five of the bike and never looked back. Her winning time of 2:51:13 was a full seven-minutes ahead of runner-up Jacqui Allen, from Great Britain.
“I came out of the water in second place, two-minutes down, got up into second place just after Wheeler Canyon, probably about half a mile into the next trail. I passed Julie about another mile after that but she’s strong, you know and kept with me for a bit,” Paterson said.
Known as the “Scottish Rocket,” Paterson posted the fastest bike and run splits of the day, and looked dominant.
“Yeah, man, I was really going for it today,” Paterson said. “The bike felt great, I attacked the whole time and just went for it. I felt strong so wanted to push it and keep those girls honest. And the conditions were just supreme. That descent was amazing on the bike, and I’ll tell ya, if I didn’t have to run I might have enjoyed that.”
MIDDAUGH THE COACH
Julie Baker, who works full-time as a soil scientist, had a brilliant race and the lead through the first five miles of the bike.
“I was in front for a little bit which was fun, but I kept waiting for Lesley to steamroll by me,” she said. “Lesley came by me by the bridges at mile five I guess, and she opened up a little gap on me and then on that little rocky mountain hill I caught her again. Then as soon as we started up again, she took it away. She just goes insanely hard, and she breathes like a freight train coming by and I don’t know how she goes that fast and that hard for so long. It’s incredible.”
The former amateur Xterra World Champion gives a lot of credit to her coach, none other than Josiah Middaugh.
“That was a really strong field this year, and I have to thank Josiah for being my coach,” Baker said. “I’ve learned a lot about bike training and how to balance everything. On the bike, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.”
Jacqui Allen is also in fine form, and finished in second place about one-minute ahead of Baker.
“I felt really, really good, like I got past this altitude stuff,” Allen said. “I was pretty confident going into the race actually. I was on the course the other day and felt good and I probably rode it faster in practice than I did in the race a few years ago. Today I had a really good swim. It took a bit of time on the bike to get going and Julie passed me early on and then Lesley came past and after that I got into my groove and passed Julie back and towards the end I could push on a lot more, I was out of the saddle, really ripping it. I love the downhill here, and then on the run I said in my prerace thing that as soon as I got off the first hill I’d smile, so I just kept reminding myself of that. But that’s the longest, hardest downhill I’ve ever done I think. But it was amazing. I felt awesome.”
Suzie Snyder was solid in all three disciplines to finish in fourth and secure her second straight Xterra Pan America Tour championship, and Morgane Riou, from France, rounded out the top five.
Middaugh and Baker earned Xterra USA Champion honors as well on Saturday for being the top Americans in the race.
Next up is the Xterra World Championship on Oct. 29 in Kapalua, Maui.
This story contains reporting from Xterra writer Pamela Hunt.