The penultimate event on the XTERRA Pan America Tour takes place at Casa Bonita in the beachside town of Barahona in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
Reigning Pan Am Tour elite men’s champion Josiah Middaugh has returned to race in the second-edition of XTERRA Dominican Republic in search of redemption and the chance to close the gap on Branden Rakita in the points series chase before the tour finale in Utah on September 16.
Last year at this race, while riding in the lead, Middaugh suffered a series of rather comical mechanicals on the bike that derailed any chance for a win.
“I was having a good time for a while,” he quipped after the race last year. “And then I got a puncture. I tried to plug it. I used my first CO2 to find the hole, but the hole was too big. So, I put a tube in and inflated it with my other CO2, but that tube had a hole in it, so then I had nothing. I started running with the bike. Rom Akerson and Braden Rakita went by and didn’t have anything to give me…then finally somebody had a tube. I put that in and then I couldn’t find my thru-axle. It was a half a mile back up the hill. I left the bike and ran up the hill but couldn’t find it. I ran past it, looked everywhere and then finally, found it and ran back to the bike.”
Akerson went on to win the race, Rakita finished second, Kieran McPherson was third, and Middaugh finally got himself together to finish in fourth. Akerson is not in the DR to defend his title as he is still recovering from recent surgery to fix a pinched artery in his leg, but Rakita and McPherson will be on the start line. Other contenders include Panamanian standout Billy Gordon, Frenchman Julien Buffe, and two-time Olympian Leonardo Chacon from Costa Rica.
“I’m still on my way back from almost eight months of suffering through injuries but enjoying my time training for XTERRA again,” said Chacon. “To get ahead of Josiah on Sunday I’d need to be in the best form of my life, which right now I’m still training for. For this race, I just need to be smart, execute the course as best I can, and get used to the feeling of racing again.”
For Rakita, racing is a lifestyle. The 11-year veteran of the sport has competed in seven of the eight races on the Pan Am Tour since the season which kicked off in Argentina back in March. He has placed in the top seven at each event and sits atop the Pan Am Pro Series standings with 410 points.
“I originally was not going to race this weekend because the ITU Cross Tri World Champs is 10 days from now and I wanted to focus a bit more on that, however, once I learned Josiah was headed to DR I knew I had to go if I wanted any chance at keeping the Pan Am series lead,” he said.
There are two races left, and Rakita is 35-points ahead of Middaugh. Baring a DNF, he’ll keep that top billing heading into Utah and it’ll all come down to the XTERRA Pan American Championship race on Sept. 16 in Utah. See standings.
“I am very happy to be here racing in DR again,” added Rakita. “It’s a challenging race and the venue at Casa Bonita is stunning. Staying there is what people think all of the trips I take are like, which is far from it, but I will definitely take staying at a gorgeous resort for at least one race! It is hard to pick the most challenging part of the course, the swim last year was brutal, the swells and current made it a tough swim. We will see how angry it may be this year. The bike is tough as well, the climb is beastly, it is steep and exposed. We got lucky last year with some overcast weather that helped but the heat and humidity constantly beat you down. I really enjoy the run. It is a gradual uphill the whole way out and well-shaded as it traverses along a crystal-clear river the whole way. One of the best things about this race is that it’s off the normal beaten path away from any American tourist trap places and you get to see and have the opportunity to experience the local scene.”
Middaugh agrees, adding “it’s starting to become known for adventure and ecotourism. There are turquoise waters, surfing beaches, forests, and a developing mountain bike destination.”
In the women’s race reigning Pan Am Tour Champ and current Tour leader Suzie Snyder, who won this race last year and XTERRA Mexico last weekend, will not be in the line-up.
“I’m not racing this weekend because of the ITU Cross Tri World Champs on Aug 23rd in Canada,” said Snyder. “I feel pretty confident that my point lead is solid enough to skip DR so I can go into ITU Worlds more fresh.”
Indeed, Snyder’s series lead looks untouchable at 582-points, 145-points in front of Kara LaPoint who sits in second with just two races to go.
What that mean is there are butterflies everywhere as someone is going to win their first major XTERRA title on Sunday. In the hunt for that elusive career win are the 2nd thru 5th place women in the standings: Kara LaPoint from the U.S., Morgane Riou from France, Laura Mira Dias from Brazil, and Annie Bergen from Canada. Others in contention include Jessie Koltz and Genevieve Evans.
The frontrunner may be Riou, who finished nearly three-minutes ahead of LaPoint in Mexico last week and more than two-minutes in front of her at XTERRA Beaver Creek last month. LaPoint (pictured), however, has the benefit of experience having finished third here last year behind Snyder and Myriam Guillot-Boisset.
“I’m so happy to be back in the DR for XTERRA,” LaPoint posted to her social media accounts yesterday. “I love this place and every single thing about it! I had a great course recon this morning, with some exciting changes to the course from last year, even if I was sweating out my eyeballs!”
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