The XTERRA Mountain Championship on July 14 is the last of four regionals in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series, and also the first major in the mountains where climbing strength is at a premium.
The first three races were at low-altitude courses in Nevada, Alabama, and Virginia; and while every destination has its own set of unique challenges – the Mountain Champs is all about big climbing in the thin air of the Rockies.
“Josiah’s playground,” said Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz, who will be making his first appearance at Beaver Creek Resort – hosts of the Mtn Champs since 2009.
“I realize the courses on the East Coast don’t suit him (Middaugh) that well, they suit me better. So, now we’ll go to his turf, and I know it’s going to be a lot harder for me to just walk away with it. The Mountains is where he really comes into his own,” explained Stoltz, who won the first three races of the Series.
Indeed, Middaugh is a man of the mountains. He won this race last year, won six straight ultimate mountain challenge races, the last two XTERRA Canada titles (in the mountains), and dozens of national championship snowshoe races.
“It’s the start of a new season,” said Middaugh, who lives literally two miles from the course and helped design its features years ago. “The next three big races (Mtn, USA, and Worlds) are very similar to each other in that you have to have climbing legs, and that’s right up my alley. There’s a lot less left up to chance, it’s more about fitness.”
With Stoltz in the mix this season, Middaugh has the chance to take on the sports’ biggest star on his home course. “It’s no fun winning it without the champ (Stoltz’) there.”
A victory for Middaugh, who sits in second place in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series, would be more than just fun, it would also give him a puncher’s chance at the Series crown. While Stoltz is already assured a perfect score of 300 heading into the XTERRA USA Championship at Snowbasin Resort (Sept. 22), with a win Middaugh would have 280 points. Thus, setting up a situation where a win at Nationals coupled with a 4th or lower finish from Stoltz would swing the Series crown Middaugh’s way for the first time in his career.
While the Stoltz-Middaugh duel is the marquee match-up; the stars are coming out in force for this race. Foremost, every man ranked in the top 10 of the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series will toe the line, including third-ranked Tennessean Craig Evans – a self-proclaimed “fish out of water” at altitude.
Branden Rakita – the latest in a string of XTERRA athletes to model for Triathlete Magazine’s swimsuit issue – has been top 5 at BC each of the last three years.
The mountains mark the return of Brian Smith, third at this race last year and one of those gnarly high altitude / supreme endurance / mountain bike madmen from Colorado. Put Travis Macy in that category as well.
The Boulder contingent is deep, led by Will Kelsay who’s having a breakout year. Two-time Ironman World Champ Tim DeBoom is back, armed with XTERRA learning experiences from last year while yet another IM standout – this time 2012 St. George Champ Ben Hoffman – will give the dirty side of tri a try.
There is great international flare in the fray as well with Aussie Chris Legh (albeit he lives in Lyons, Colorado), Spaniard David Henestrosa (who resides in Clearfield, Utah), and South African youngster Bradley Weiss – who has been in the U.S. since winning the U23 ITU Cross Tri World Title in May.
Add top 10’ers from 2011 Cody Waite and Patrick Valentine, along with overall age group national champ Ryan Ignatz, Alaska’s-own Will Ross and Adam Wirth from Boise and the cast is set.
With nearly 5,000 feet of climbing in a race that combines a mile swim with a 16-mile bike and 6-mile trail run, the real competition is Mother Nature. For all, a grueling challenge awaits and who wins may just be a matter of who can suffer the best. We’ll find out July 14.
VANLANDINGHAM RETURNS TO DEFEND WOMEN’S TITLE
2010 XTERRA World Champion Shonny Vanlandingham will look to extend her win streak at the XTERRA Mountain Championship to four, having won every year at Beaver Creek since 2009.
It will be her toughest challenge yet, however, as she is still not 100% since the ACL surgery she had in the off-season.
For Melanie McQuaid and Renata Bucher it’s all about the points.
Lesley Paterson, who leads the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series with 272 points, will not race as she enjoys some holiday time in Scotland. That leaves McQuaid (2nd with 259 points) and Bucher (3rd with 235 points) in prime positions to gain ground. Regardless of what happens on July 14, a nail-bitter is sure to ensue at Nationals.
Other contenders in the women’s race include Danelle Kabush, Suzie Snyder, and Sara Tarkington – who was fourth last year.