The mountain men are out in full force for tomorrow’s XTERRA Mountain Championship, led by Josiah Middaugh and a strong contingent of Colorado’s finest elite triathletes.
The top five from this race last year were all from Colorado, and all five are back on the start list. Middaugh, who won it for the second-time in three years last season, is a hometown favorite who helped design the course for the inaugural championship race at Beaver Creek Resort back in 2009.
Branden Rakita, who was 2nd last year, has been in the top five four times in five years at this race. Ben Hoffman, known more for his exploits on the road, grew up mountain biking in Western Colorado and feels right at home on the trails. He’s finished 3rd in each of the last two years here.
Cody Waite, XTERRA's in-house training tips guru, was fourth last year and in the top five here four times since 2009. Ryan Ignatz, who was fifth last year, is always a threat.
In addition to those guys Middaugh says to watch out for young gun Mauricio Mendez from Mexico. Mendez won the XTERRA amateur World Championship title last year and this year, in his first season as a pro, has finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th in the first three regionals and posted jaw-dropping swim-and-run splits in the process.
“Excited to see how he’ll do because I think this is a really good course for him,” said Middaugh. “He shouldn’t have any problems with the altitude as he lives in Mexico City which is at the same elevation and he’s a good climber.”
Other racers to keep an eye on include Ryan Petry, a rookie pro from Arizona who just recently graduated from college and moved to Boulder; and rookie pro Alex Modestou from Washington DC who was ninth overall (top amateur) here last year and has been in town for a month training and preparing for the race.
In the women’s chase Emma Garrard, perhaps for the first-time in her career, is considered the favorite to take the title.
“I don’t know if I’d call myself the favorite but this course does suit my strengths pretty well,” said Garrard, a 32-year-old from Park City, Utah who has been the fastest American in the sport since the USA Championship last year. Garrard finished 2nd to only Flora Duffy at the first three regional championship races this season, but Flora won’t be on the start line Saturday.
“It's an honor to be seen as a favorite after a lot of years racing XTERRA, and it’s exciting to think about potentially winning, it would mean a lot, but there are a lot of strong women to compete against.”
Indeed the field is stacked with the top five from last year’s race back including the defending and four-time winner on this course Shonny Vanlandingham, the 2012 Mtn Champ Danelle Kabush (2nd last year), Kelley Cullen (3rd last year), Suzie Snyder (4th last year), Sara Schuler (four times in top 4 here including runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012), Canadians Chantell Widney and Christine Jeffrey and a wealth of fast Coloradoans.
“This race is hard. It’s got a lot of climbing but not too technical. I think it's a good course for me as climbing on the bike & run are my strengths but it will still kick my butt!” exclaimed Garrard.
Middaugh, who has been coaching Garrard, said “I don’t want to say this could be a breakout race for Emma because she’s had great performances before, but it’s certainly a great chance for her to be on top of the podium. Her background in Nordic skiing is perfect for XTERRA racing, especially on a mountain course like this. She’s always had the engine and it’s really been starting to show.”
XTERRA MOUNTAIN CHAMPIONSHIP ELITES
Elite start list for the XTERRA Mountain Championship. Rank denotes current standing in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series after three events. Pros count their best 3-of-4 scores in the regionals plus whatever they get at the USA Championship race to determine Series winners.
Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Josiah Middaugh – 35, Vail-Eagle, CO
5 - Mauricio Mendez – 18, Mexico City, Mexico
6 - Branden Rakita – 33, Colorado Springs, CO
7 - Chris Ganter – 35, Boise, ID
8 - Jeff Smith – 31, Portland, OR
9 - Ryan Ignatz – 35, Boulder, CO
12 - Ryan Petry – 23, Boulder, CO
17 - Alex Modestou – 27, Washington, D.C.
NR - Gavin Anderson – 35, Boulder, CO
NR - Joshua Merrick – 32, Alamosa, CO
NR - Thomas Spannring – 38, Longmont, CO
NR - Louis Tafuto – 26, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - Patrick Valentine – 28, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - Cody Waite – 35, Lakewood, CO
NR - Brad Zoller – 36, Palatine, IL
NR - Alex Libin – 23, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - John O’Neill – 24, Edwards, CO
NR - Ben Hoffman – 30, Boulder, CO
Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
2 - Emma Garrard – 32, Park City, UT
3 - Suzie Snyder – 32, Fredericksburg, VA
4 - Shonny Vanlandingham – 45, Durango, CO
5 - Kara LaPoint – 26, Truckee, CA
6 - Christine Jeffrey – 41, Tucson, AZ (Canada)
7 - Amelia McCracken – 30, Philadelphia, PA
8 - Chantell Widney - 34, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
9 - Danelle Kabush – 39, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
10 - Debby Sullivan – 32, Rocklin, CA
11 - Jaime Brede – 37, Breckenridge, CO
12 - Caroline Colonna – 50, Taos, NM
13 - Rebecca Blatt – 34, Lakewood, CO
NR - Kim Baugh – 34, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - Rachel Challis – 38, Carlsbad, CA (NZL)
NR - Maia Ignatz – 34, Boulder, CO
NR - Kelley Cullen – 33, New Castle, CO
NR - Heidi Rentz – 30, Moab, UT
NR - Sara Schuler – 33, Boulder, CO