Tackling snow on all fronts | VailDaily.com

Tackling snow on all fronts

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado

OGDEN, Utah ” In the world of winter endurance sports, sometimes a triathlon just isn’t enough.

Enter last weekend’s inaugural Xterra Winter World Championships ” a four-legged adventure through Snowbasin Resort in Utah.

The Xterra off-road triathlon series, which attracts the top triathletes and endurance athletes in the world, entered the winter foray this season, attracting some stiff competition.

“This is the biggest winter event I’ve had on my calendar probably ever,” said Avon resident and triathlete Josiah Middaugh. “I felt like I had to come to a little bit of a (training) peak for it because I knew the competition was going to be good. Usually in winter events, I train with the summer in mind, but this added a dynamic to my training.”

While many winter triathlons include biking, running and Nordic-skiing portions that loop through similar terrain, the Xterra race offered a twist on the typical events through some varied terrain.

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The competition featured a 10-kilometer mountain bike, a 5-kilometer snowshoe, a 5-kilometer run and an 8-kilometer mountaineering portion, all on separate tracks.

“It’s really a lot of fun when you mix those four sports into an event,” Vail adventure athlete Mike Kloser said.

As is the case in most endurance events, the Vail Valley and Colorado reigned supreme. Former Vail resident Sari Anderson, just eight months after giving birth to her first child, won the women’s division with a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 47 seconds, almost two minutes ahead of second-place finisher Rebecca Dussault, of Gunnison. Vail racer Lisa Isom, in her return from a long absence on the racing scene, took third.

On the men’s side, Middaugh looked like he had the edge on Gunnison’s Brian Smith until an equipment problem allowed Smith to pass Middaugh about 50 meters from the finish line. France’s Nicholas Lebrun was third, while Kloser took fourth.

Middaugh, who earlier this winter won a Pedal Power winter triathlon thanks to a great race and some good gear choices, wound up on the wrong end of an equipment problem in the final stretch of last week’s race.

“Mountaineering definitely is not my specialty,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping to make on the uphill part and not loose too much time on the downhill part. I opted for Nordic skis as opposed to randonee gear.”

Randonee skis ” a lightweight setup with heels that detach for climbing and lock in for downhill skiing ” came in handy for Smith as he entered the final part of the mountaineering section ” a giant slalom course. As Middaugh struggled to keep his balance on Nordic skis without metal edges, Smith quickly navigated the course and passed Middaugh on the second-to-last gate.

“I thought I had wrapped it up,” Middaugh said. “If I would have crashed one less time, I would have won. It was an event that had a lot of unknowns. I’ll definitely be more prepared for it next year.”

While those without randonee skis had trouble on the final leg, Vail Valley competitors flew through the snowshoe portion thanks to some grueling preparation.

“They called it an extreme snowshoe, but it was only half as extreme as Bruce Kelly’s (Pedal Power) snowshoe events,” Isom said. “It seemed like butter. It was steep in some places, and the girls weren’t used to it. That’s where the locals tore it up.”

Kloser, who excelled on the mountain-biking portion along with Smith, loved that a large pack of racers were within an earshot of one another nearly the entire race.

“An event like this leads to a lot of lead changes throughout because of the different strengths they have. It kept for an interesting race,” he said. “I felt like, for me, it was going to come down to being fleet enough on my feet.”

While veterans like Kloser and Middaugh embraced the winter extension of Xterra, newcomers, like Wolcott’s Linda McDonald, were quick converts.

“It was awesome,” said McDonald, who had raced in the Pedal Power winter triathlon earlier this winter. “I want to do it again and try to do better.”

McDonald, like Middaugh, had trouble on the mountaineering portion.

“Coming down was a nightmare,” she said. “But the snowshoe was great ” it was a total single track, and I didn’t see another person the entire time.”

For Isom, the event, and her result, marked her return to the competitive ranks.

“It went a lot better than I expected,” Isom said. “Two years ago, I had a baby, and last year, I had been battling a long-term illness. It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy enough to race.”

Isom competed at the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii late this fall with a fair result ” 30 minutes slower than she expected.

“It was more symbolic for me,” she said. “It pushed me over the top and made me feel like I was on my way back.”

By virtue of her finish last week, Isom captured the combined summer and winter title, edging out the next finisher by just less than two minutes.

One day after Middaugh’s heartbreaking finish, he found redemption with a resounding win in U.S. National Snowshoe Championships.

“I was feeling a little bit of frustration and wanted to prove something,” said the good-natured Middaugh. “Usually in a snowshoe race, I wait until halfway to make a move. I went right out of the gate and wanted to make people suffer a bit. I kind of redeemed myself a bit.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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