Middaugh ready for Lake Tahoe
To conquer the Xterra USA Championship this weekend on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Nev., Josiah Middaugh needed to conquer Canada first.Last weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia, the local triathlete won his second Xterra pro race in convincing fashion, finishing almost two minutes ahead of Canada’s Stefan Jakobsen with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 5 seconds.Middaugh’s first Xterra win as a pro came on familiar turf this past July when he won the Xterra Central Championship at Keystone by a mere 15 seconds. Now, after two wins, as well as two top-threes this season, and in only his second year on the pro circuit, Middaugh has his focus directly trained on standing atop the podium this weekend in Nevada. “I’m going for the win, but I mean it just all depends,” he said. “I really consider it a race against the course. I’m going to do my best and I’ll see where I end up.”The field at Lake Tahoe – where Middaugh finished seventh last year – will be the deepest he has seen yet in the 2004 season. He will again be up against his three major rivals in this year’s U.S. pro series in LeBrun and series-leader Sylvain Dodet, both of France, as well as South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz.There is also American Steve Larsen – last year’s runner-up at the U.S. championship – who is coming out of retirement for this race and Europeans Olivier Marceaux and Enoko Llanos. Marceaux of Switzerland was the Xterra European series champion this season and is recently coming off a dominating win at the German championship two weeks ago.
Llanos of Spain won the Xterra World Championship in Maui, Hawaii,last year, but like Larsen hasn’t competed in any Xterra events this season.Middaugh hasn’t competed against Larsen and Llanos since last season, and has finished ahead of Dodet, who finished fourth at Keystone, only once in three attempts so far this season. Also, in his only head-to head with Marceaux this year in April at the Saipan championship in the Mariana Islands, the Swiss Olympian crushed him, winning in more than 13 minutes. Despite the head-to head breakdown, the 26-year-old local, known as “The Kid” in pro circles, is still one of the favorites for a first-place finish and a possible U.S. series crown this weekend. He may not be the odds-on favorite, given the way that Marceaux has owned the competition this season and that Dodet is the current U.S. series points leader. But, definitely a name that deserves to be mentioned in the group of serious contenders. Peak formThe main reasoning behind that speculation is that the Tahoe race is at high altitude and features a steep, technical 32-kilometer bike ride which ascends a total of 2,000 feet. Both of those factors should play to Middaugh’s strengths since he is a fierce climber who trains year-round in the rarefied air of the Vail Valley.Even though Dodet won last at the west championship at Big Bear, Calif., in August, which was held at altitudes between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, Middaugh said he still isn’t convinced the Frenchman is bulletproof when it comes to competing at high elevations.
The most incriminating piece of evidence to support that argument is Dodet’s Keystone result: a fourth-place finish in which he barely made it in under the 2:10 mark. “He didn’t have a very good race at Keystone,” Middaugh said. “I’d like to think that I have an advantage when it comes to competing at altitude. He is known as a good climber.”If he is to make a run at the U.S. title and the series title, Middaugh will have to have a strong showing in the mountain-biking leg, which has been his strongest discipline this year.In Vancouver, Middaugh took the race over on the bike leg after emerging from a chilly swim in Buntzen Lake in third place, and in Keystone it was the mountain biking again which proved to be the difference. “In this race, the mountain biking is a lot more important than some of the other Xterras,” he said. “In other races, the mountain biking usually takes about one hour and ten minutes, but in Tahoe it will be probably be more like 1:15. There’s a little more climbing, which is good for me. I’ve had the fastest mountain-bike splits in the last two races, so I should be able to make some good time there.”The usual suspects
Stoltz, despite being in third place in the points series, is more of a sure thing at Lake Tahoe than Dodet. The “Caveman” has won the last three championships there, and taken home the pro series title each time. This year he grabbed second-place finishes at the east championship in Richmond, Va., and the west championship in Big Bear and was sixth in Keystone. He can lock up a four-peat this year in the series championship if he finishes in first and Dodet slips to fourth place or farther. As for Marceaux and Llanos, Middaugh doesn’t know if either man has any weaknesses. “As far as Olivier and Llanos, they pretty much win at everything they do.” he said, “Short course or long course, Olympic or Ironman, climbing or flat, they’re just good at everything. Olivier was the first guy off the bike at the Olympics. … And, both have proven their mountain bike skills.”Middaugh also isn’t surprised with Larsen’s decision to return to pro racing after an abrupt retirement following the 2003 competitive season. The former American pro mountain-bike champion is rumored to be in top shape, having been training in Bend, Ore., with Stoltz and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”He was kind of at the top of his game when he retired,” Middaugh said. “I’m not surprised that he’s coming back.”Other names that could end up in the top-three are LeBrun and David Henestrosa, also of Spain, who finished third at Keystone this year.A good answer to a good question
Despite all the pre-race hype, the speculation on the Xterra Web site and the hundreds of possible outcomes, Middaugh definitely has thought about one ideal scenario this week as he gears up for his trip to Nevada. If he is to win the race and Dodet finishes in third or worse, then Middaugh will take home a combined $19,000 – $5,000 for the race and $14,000 for the series.When asked about that fact, Middaugh didn’t shy away from a straight answer. “It crossed my mind,” he admitted. “That would be nice.”Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com