There are a lot of contenders in the elite men’s field set for Saturday’s XTERRA USA Championship race – Middaugh, Ruzafa, Hugo, Mendez, Allen, Weiss, Ignatz, Petry, Evans, Rakita - but of that impressive collection two names stand above the rest.
Middaugh and Ruzafa. The best in the U.S. vs. the best in Europe.
Last year at this race those two came off the bike together (along with Leo Chacon who eventually won) but Middaugh ran 30 seconds faster. The last three meetings, however, have all belonged to Ruzafa - from Maui where he won his second world title to this August at XTERRA Czech and XTERRA Germany where Middaugh finished runner-up each time. In Germany, Middaugh ran two-minutes faster but Ruzafa put away the win.
“I’d like to take the lead before the run on Saturday, but even if I don’t, on this course I think I can run with Josiah,” said Ruzafa. “I’m prepared to suffer, a lot.”
Brad Weiss, ranked 2nd in the Pro Series and a contender in his own right, said “on the day the men to watch will be Ruzafa, Middaugh, Hugo and Allen but the man to beat will most definitely be Ruzafa who has yet to lose an XTERRA race this year.”
Indeed, Ruzafa is perfect with seven straight wins on his way to collecting the XTERRA European Tour Championship crown.
“That amount of net elevation gain on the bike suits Ruzafa and Middaugh. I believe they will be hard to match, judging by recent Zittau form,” said Dan Hugo, who handed Middaugh his only regional defeat in two years at the XTERRA East Championship in June. “The big Jo will get this one done. He’s my favorite XTERRA athlete, a humble gentleman, fierce racer, and a family man with great perspective. He is the multiple world champion that is yet to be.”
As for Middaugh, he says “The competition looks tough for Saturday. I think Ruben will be the guy to beat but there will be some good racing all around with Dan Hugo, Bradley Weiss, Ben Allen, and a group of strong Americans. The course suits me well, but my strengths are very similar to Ruben's and we both thrive on tough courses.”
Putting it all in perspective is Mauricio Mendez, the youngest elite in the field at just 18-years-old (who might just have the fastest swim and run times on Saturday).
He said “The man to beat.... I think is between Josiah and Ruben, but I'm sure that everyone is going for it.”
WOMEN’S FIELD IS STACKED
Flora Duffy has been dominant this season, winning all three regionals she entered and the XTERRA South Africa and Asia-Pacific Championships. Her only blemish was a runner-up finish to XTERRA European Tour Champion Kathrin Mueller last month on a muddy day in Germany.
On Saturday she’ll be in good company. Consider this, Lesley Paterson (defending champ), Duffy, Barbara Riveros, Emma Garrard, and Chantell Widney finished 2nd thru 6th at XTERRA Worlds last year and they're all here…along with Suzie Snyder, Shonny Vanlandingham, and Carina Wasle.
“With Lesley Paterson returning to the start line, I think all eyes are on her,” said Duffy, a two-time Olympian from Bermuda. “Of course there is also Barbara Riveros, who I know is a good rider- an especially strong climber and runner, so she will be a heavy favorite too. Another to look out for is Emma Garrard. I think there are two races within next Saturday’s USA Champs- the race to cross the line first and the series win.”
Indeed. With a perfect 300 points heading into Saturday, Duffy needs to finish fourth or better to win her first XTERRA U.S. Pro Series title.
Garrard is second in the Series standings with 270 points and could capture the crown with a win and a 5th or lower showing from Duffy.
“It feels pretty great to come into this race believing I can win the whole thing,” said Garrard. “I raced in Ogden for the first time in 2006, when it was the Mountain Championships. I was an age grouper and placed 4th in my division and was bummed out that I did not make it on the podium and had zero aspirations of being a professional athlete so I have come a long way. The majority of the pros I compete against in XTERRA had success from their first XTERRA, usually coming from ITU or pro mountain biking, but for me I worked my way up slowly through the age group rankings and training specifically for XTERRA so I hope I can inspire other age group athletes to pursue the sport.”
Garrard, who is fresh-off her first big win at the XTERRA England Championship last month, is also the local favorite as the only elite in the field from the home state.
“It is a huge honor to have the XTERRA National Championships in my backyard and at altitude, and I have done my best to use it to my advantage. Specific training is key to be successful as an elite athlete in XTERRA and having the Nationals course close to home means I can train on the course and on similar trails and altitude close to home. I really like the course at Snowbasin and I believe it suits my strengths, it's got a lot of climbing, some fun descents and is beautiful especially in the fall, which can take your mind off the pain of racing or hard training. I loved getting to go and race in Europe for two weeks and we rode some great trails but it really made me realize how lucky I am to live and train in Utah, we have so much singletrack you will never get bored of riding the same trails,” said Garrard.
“I feel much more relaxed and confident after getting a win under my belt at XTERRA England. That being said I am coming into XTERRA USA Champs with higher expectations than last year but also more confident. Last year I really felt like I had something to prove after a lot of patience missing a season being pregnant and spending the most of 2013 trying to get back to where I was before I became a mom. I feel really fortunate to have had a good race last year, had it gone badly no one would have known. Some people feel more pressure being 'a favorite' or whatever but when you spend a lot of years being the only one believing in yourself and often not living up to your own expectations it's actually feels like a weight off my shoulders.”