Vail’s Josiah Middaugh shoots for Xterra crown
Josiah Middaugh is on the brink.
The 35-year-old off-road triathlete from Edwards was heading out Wednesday on Interstate 70 to Ogden, Utah, for Saturday’s Xterra USA Championship.
Middaugh is 3-for-3 in Xterra races in 2013 and is the points leader in the series. He can win what has been a very elusive series title for the first time in his prolific endurance-sports career.
“I actually haven’t done the math,” Middaugh said. “I’ll have to look into it. I think if (South Africa’s) Dan Hugo were to win and I were out of the top five, he might win. I haven’t figured it out. I definitely have some plan Bs if I have some mechanical problems or a flat tire on the bike. I will have to know what it takes.”
Ninth Place or Better
Here’s the math, according to Xterra’s Trey Garman. Middaugh has 300 points with wins at Lake Las Vegas, Nev., Pelham, Ala., and the Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek in July. Hugo is in second with 248 points. If the South African were to win, Middaugh would need to finish in ninth place or better. Ninth place for Middaugh would be worth 49 points and that would give him the series by a count of 349-348.
Normally, Middaugh finishing ninth or better would be a foregone conclusion. His Xterra resume is littered with single-digit place finishes. However, Saturday’s USA Championship is replete with a who’s who of worldwide triathletes. What’s more, Middaugh is the defending champion of this race — last year was the first time he won the USA Championship, another big step in his Xterra career. He would like to defend that title, and put an exclamation point on his campaign to capture the series crown.
Yet, this is the first time he enters this event with the series lead, and does not have to depend on someone else’s performance (usually South Africa’s Conrad Stoltz) to try to win the overall title.
“I take this race very seriously,” Middaugh said. “It’s the most important race this year. I want to have everything in place. There’s a lot of hype with it. Mentally, I’ve got my strategy. My body knows what to do when the gun goes off. The preparation is done. Yes, it’s a key race, but it’s not going to take an exceptional performance. It’s going to take a performance I’m capable of.”
Middaugh took a bit of time off after his win in Beaver Creek two months ago, including a family vacation. Not that he’s ever really out of shape, he competed in August’s installments of the Vail Beaver Creek Mountain Bike Series. Middaugh also took a cruise in the Vail Victory Race, a 100-kilometer bike race, two weeks ago. (He won in 4 hours, 35 minutes.)
Altitude a non-issue
The Ogden course is one of Middaugh’s favorites. It has steep climbs and tops out a 7,000 feet. Remember that most of the field is coming from sea level, while Middaugh has been known to run up Simba on Vail Mountain. (That run takes a person from 8,120 feet at Lionshead to 10,350 feet at Eagle’s Nest.) So, altitude advantage to Middaugh.
What is always an issue is the 1,500-meter swim. He hopes to stay relatively close to the leaders there, before hopping on the bike. Pedaling is always Middaugh’s strength, but it may be more crucial on Saturday. Enter Costa Rica’s Leonardo Chacon. He’s an Olympic mountain-biker who finished fourth last year at the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii in his first race in the series. There’s also Spain’s Ruben Ruzafa who was a World Cup mountain biker after winning the 2008 Xterra World Championships.
“I’m going to try to do as much damage on the bike as possible, especially with Ruben in the field,” Middaugh said. “We’ll get out of the water at about the same spot. I definitely will play all my cards.”
That twosome is just a little bit of the big field assembled in Utah. Stoltz, who has won the series multiple times, is back and healthy after an injury earlier this season. There’s Hugo, as well as Nico LeBrun, who defeated Middaugh at Beaver Creek a few years ago. From Australia comes Ben Allen who leads the Xterra World Series in wins this season.
“It’ll be a good way to see where everyone is at,” Middaugh said.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.