Xterra showdown takes place Saturday, Sept. 16
2017 Xterra Pan American Tour
1 Branden Rakita, 466 points
2 Josiah Middaugh, 450 points
3 Kieran McPherson, 320 points
4 Jean-Philippe Thibodeau, 282 points
5 Gonzalo Tellechea, 217 points
Points awarded Saturday
1st - 200
2nd - 180
3rd - 164
4th - 150
5th - 138
6th - 126
7th - 116
8th - 106 9th - 98
10th - 90
11th - 82
12th - 74
13th - 68
14th - 62
15th - 56
EAGLE-VAIL — Josiah Middaugh’s race on Saturday, Sept. 16, is going to prove to be one of his toughest.
The local has attained world-renowned status in the fringe sport of off-road triathlon, winning many of the top events in the annual Xterra series, which attracts athletes from around the globe.
But it’s the races that Middaugh hasn’t won which have him nervous for this weekend. Several of the competitors in the field at the Pan American Championships in Utah on Saturday have beaten him in previous contests.
Most recently, Ben Allen, of Australia, and Kyle Smith, of New Zealand, were third and fourth, respectively, to Middaugh’s fifth at the cross triathlon world championships in Canada on Aug. 23. They will both be competing on Saturday.
They’ll join Bradley Weiss, a South African athlete who has beaten Middaugh in the past, and Marcio Mendez, of Mexico, who defeated Middaugh last year at the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii.
Middaugh says his advantage on Saturday will lie in the fact that he knows the Utah course well, and it plays to his strengths as an Eagle-Vail resident who trains in similar conditions. The Ogden, Utah, course will start at 4,900 feet and climb to 7,300.
Speaking from Utah on Thursday, Middaugh said the course was looking good.
“It’s been really dry for a couple of weeks and they just got a little rain last night and it’s supposed to rain more tomorrow, so the trails are in good shape right now,” he said. “It’s a really good course for me. It’s a mountain course like Colorado and has some good, long climbs,” Middaugh said.
Middaugh won this year’s Colorado Xterra race in July, beating the world champion Mendez. While he says he’s going for the win on Saturday as it would guarantee him an overall win for the series, Middaugh has other pathways to the Xterra Pan American Tour overall title that don’t involve winning on Saturday.
Right now Middaugh’s main competitor is Branden Rakita of Colorado Springs, who is 16 points ahead in the series. The winner on Saturday will receive 200 points, with second place receiving 180, third place receiving 164, descending all the way down to 15th place which will receive 56 points.
“Branden is a really consistent racer, he’s quite often in the top 5, a veteran on the circuit for sure,” Middaugh said.
This season, Middaugh has beaten Rakita in Xterra races in Costa Rica, Alabama, Colorado, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, where Middaugh won every race and Rakita’s highest finish was fourth. Rakita, however, also competed in races in Argentina, Chile and Canada, giving him a total of 466 points to Middaugh’s 450.
“It will be a monumental task to hold on to the No. 1 position by the end of the race,” Rakita said. “The easiest way to do that is to win the race. Anything can happen, right, I just need to race to my strengths and stay relaxed going into it.”
If Middaugh finishes second and Rakita third, then they will be tied for the overall. If Middaugh finishes third and Rakita fourth, Rakita wins.
“If I would have finished just one place higher at each event I would have had some breathing room going into the finale, but the fields were strong at every event and that was good to see,” Rakita said.
ULTIMATE MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE
In an interesting twist, Rakita visited Vail in June to compete in the GoPro Mountain Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge, an event Middaugh has dominated in the past but opted out of this year.
Middaugh, however, did compete in the mountain biking and road biking competitions at the Mountain Games, beating Rakita in both. Rakita also competed in the Enduro race, a 10K trail run, a 5K trail run and the Pepi’s Face Off, an event in which competitors attempted to climb Pepi’s Face as many times as they could in 30 minutes.
Middaugh did not compete in the Pepi’s Face Off, but his sons Porter, 11, and Sullivan, 13, did see how many laps they could do.
The Middaugh boys completed seven laps, the same as Rakita.
In the end, Rakita finished second in the 2017 Ultimate Mountain Challenge to Ryan Petry, who competed in six events.
Follow Middaugh and Rakita’s Xterra Pan American Tour showdown live on Twitter @xterraoffroad and find live video look-ins on Facebook.com /xterraplanet starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Organizer Rob Simon: It’s such a steep and notorious climb, you’re hitting grades of up to 14 percent, so that’s going to be an intense climb that’s going to …