Middaugh top finisher from US at Xterra Worlds
Bradley Weiss from South Africa and Flora Duffy from Bermuda captured the 24th Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon elite titles Sunday in Maui.
Josiah Middaugh, of Eagle-Vail, was the top-finishing American for the ninth straight year and 12th time overall.
It’s the second title in three years for Weiss, who won it in 2017 and was second last year, and the unprecedented fifth Xterra World Championship crown for Duffy, who won four straight from 2014-2017 before sitting out last year due to injury. Both earned $20,000 for their respective victories, their share of the $100,000 elite purse.
More than 600 endurance athletes from 42 countries and 42 U.S. states competed in the event, which started with a 1-mile rough water swim at D.T. Fleming Beach, continued with a grueling two-lap 20-mile mountain bike ride that traversed the West Maui Mountains and finished with a 6.5-mile trail run through forest trails and beach sand. There was nearly 4,000 feet of combined climbing on the technical bike and run courses, which were dry all week before a heavy downpour on race morning made the early riding slick and challenging.
“Typical Maui,” said Weiss after the race. “When I went down to transition this morning, I didn’t even look at the sky because the weather was perfect all week. Then true to form, the heavens opened. The course was dry and fast all week, but that rain added a slick layer on top.”
The morning rain served up a traditional Hawaiian blessing on the day then quickly gave way to bright sunshine and super-fast racing among the best off-roaders on the planet, including six past world champions and a wealth of young, talented competitors from more than 40 countries.
Sam Osborne from New Zealand was first out of the water, followed closely by Duffy of Bermuda, Maxim Chane of France, and Weiss.
“I had a really good swim,” said Weiss. “My swimming has come on nicely, and now I’m much more confident and calmer on race day. Today, I made sure I was in control and stayed in front.”
Once on the bike, Weiss and Osborne took to the front and three-time Xterra World Champ Ruben Ruzafa from Spain joined them soon after. It was on the uphills where Weiss was making his mark.
“I couldn’t believe how strong I felt on the climbs,” said Weiss, who was in the lead after the first lap 10-miles into the course with Ruzafa right on his wheel, Osborne five seconds back, Arthur Serrieres 28-seconds behind in fourth and Cedric Fleureton in fifth one-minute back.
True to form, Ruzafa posted the fastest bike split for the seventh straight year and caught the pair.
“I made a few mistakes at the end of the first lap and had a few bobbles and Sam and Ruben closed the gap that quickly,” said Weiss. “That’s how this race is. You make a few mistakes and lose your rhythm and the other guy is on you. When Sam and Ruben and I started the second lap together, my game plan changed. I decided that I needed to ride with these guys and get to the top while conserving as much energy as possible. Ruben was pushing really hard on the downhill, but the problem with this type of slick course is that there is a fine line between going hard and making mistakes.”
‘I hit a tree’
Ruzafa, who is one of the best technical mountain bikers in the world, had three crashes on the course.
“Finally, I realized I had to save some energy for the run,” said Ruzafa, who was pushing hard on the descents to close the gaps Weiss created on the way up.
“Look,” said Osborne, “I’m not sure today’s conditions on the fast tires we all had favored the good bike handlers. Ruben proper launched himself and I hit a tree mid-air trying to cut a corner. I think I burned a few matches doing that, and when Brad attacked on the first climb, I didn’t have the legs to go with him.”
Coming out of the bike to run transition, Weiss and Ruzafa began the run together, with Ruzafa displaying some quick foot speed.
“Finally, I was happy today with my run,” said Ruzafa. “It wasn’t enough to be a world champion, but I have to know I did well.”
At about the 4-kilometer mark, Weiss made his move but couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.
Behind him, with Osborne, was 25-year old Arthur Serrieres, who won this year’s Xterra European Tour with victories at Xterra Greece, Czech Republic and Denmark. He has been running incredibly fast this season, and Weiss knew that he had to keep pushing if he was going to hold onto his lead.
“I knew Arthur was coming on strong,” said Weiss. “I hadn’t pushed as hard as I had to push on today’s run in a long time. I just told myself, ‘Keep digging, keep digging, there’s only 20 minutes left.’”
Coming off the bikes, Serrieres was fourth behind Weiss, Ruzafa, and Osborne.
“It took some time to catch Sam, because he runs really strong off the front,” said Serrieres. “On the first kilometer, I was not so good, but I kept getting better.”
Serrieres pulled away from Osborne at kilometer three and then caught Ruzafa before the 8-kilometer mark. Serrieres posted the fastest run split of the day, just four seconds faster than California’s Chad Hall, who finished 13th overall.
Meanwhile, just ahead, on the beach, Weiss had flashbacks to his win in 2017.
“I didn’t know I would ever win again, so today’s win today was incredibly wonderful,” he said. “It’s such a unique race and special race and something that so many athletes put time and effort into and that makes it all the more sweet to win, knowing that everyone arrives here in the best shape on race day. You have to make it count. I couldn’t be happier.”
Serrieres finished second overall with a time of 2:34:56 and was thrilled.
“On the bike course, I couldn’t catch the leaders, and I told myself, ‘Come on Arthur, save some energy for the run and maybe you can finish fourth. That would be a great performance.’ To finish second with today’s competition, I think I am entering another dimension. Next year, I really want to be an Xterra World Champ.”
Ruzafa was third in 2:35:26, his sixth top three finish over the last seven years (he was 4th last year), Osborne came in fourth and Cedric Fleureton from France was fifth for the second time in three years.