The XTERRA Southeast Championship race at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama produces some awesome elite races every year and the 10th edition on Saturday should be no different.
American star Josiah Middaugh has won the last two, but had to come from behind and take it on the run both times. This year he’s got Craig Evans with a gleam in his eye, with nothing more in the world on his mind but to take this race.
“I’ve been trying for a long time, and have been really close,” said Evans. “Last year it was 45 seconds, three years ago it was 47 seconds. I led all of last year until Josiah passed me with six minutes to go and I was so deflated I just started walking. I’ve put a lot into just this race, and nothing else really matters right now.”
To keep it interesting a pair of really fast Kiwi’s – Braden Currie and Olly Shaw from New Zealand – have come to the U.S. to take on the American’s and see where they stand. Currie, in particular, is having an incredible year. He’s already won the defacto adventure racing world title, and followed that with back-to-back crowns at the XTERRA New Zealand and Asia-Pacific Championship titles last month.
“I’m in really good shape,” said Currie. “I’ve had some good races early season and got in some really solid training the last few weeks in California so I’m feeling really good. It’s awesome here, my first time in Alabama. I didn’t know what to expect but it’s beautiful. Really green and lush, and I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
For Currie each race is a stepping stone to the big picture dream.
“The ultimate goal for me is to win, to try to take out the U.S. Champs, and I’d love to take out Worlds too. This year I’ve got five months focused on XTERRA and I’m really looking forward to seeing all the different abilities progress.”
First things first, and that’s contending with the champ, Middaugh.
“I’ve raced Josiah before so I know how he races. He’s an incredible mountain biker and real solid runner. I know how I’m going to race against him. Just can’t give him an inch. Push the limits as much as I can.”
Chris Ganter, coming off a career-best third place performance at the West Championship, cannot be overlooked, nor should Branden Rakita, Karsten Madsen, Ryan Ignatz, Brad Zoller, Alex Modestou, or Will Ross.
Bib No. - Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Josiah Middaugh – 36, Eagle-Vail, CO
2 - Chris Ganter – 36, Boise, ID
3 - Branden Rakita – 34, Colorado Springs, CO
4 - Karsten Madsen – 23, Guelph, Ontario, CAN
5 - Craig Evans – 37, Hendersonville, TN
6 - Brad Zoller – 37, Avon, CO
7 - Alex Modestou – 28, Durham, NC
8 - Ryan Ignatz – 36, Boulder, CO
9 - Braden Currie – 28, Wanaka, NZL
10 - Will Ross – 26, Anchorage, AK
11 - Olly Shaw – 23, Rotorua, NZL
The event is the second of four regional championship races in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series, and the course combines a 1.5km swim, 30km mountain bike and 10km trail run.
In the women’s race the dream match-up between reigning XTERRA World Champ Flora Duffy and two-time World Champ Lesley Paterson will have to wait for another day.
"I was hoping to get back to Alabama, I love that course and the Southern hospitality." said Duffy. "But this year it's really important for me to be smart about my schedule and manage all my 'want-to' races with my 'must-do' races wisely."
Duffy, of course, has had a really busy early season with a split focus on XTERRA and getting to Rio to represent Bermuda for the third time at the Olympics.
For Paterson, she’s thrilled to get back to ‘Bama, where she captured the 2012 and 2013 crowns.
She’ll be up against the speedy Emma Garrard, and a women’s elite field that’s nearly 20 strong.
“I’d love to win one of the U.S. Series races after coming in second at all of them last year,” said Garrard. “I’ll have to keep Lesley in sight on the bike, because I’m confident in my running right now. I feel I’ve done well on flat run courses where it’s high turnover rate, and of course I’ll have to push myself harder than ever before if I’m going to get it done.”
Suzie Snyder is in the field, fresh off a wild month of travel and racing and moving houses.
“Hopefully I’m rested up and ready to go again, but to win, that might take a miracle, to be honest. I’d have to have a big enough lead on the bike to not get caught on the run,” said Snyder. “Regardless, I really like this course because it’s fun, and that distracts your mind from the pain you’re going through. You’ve got to focus on the skills your using, which keeps you fresh throughout the race.”
Christine Jeffrey is back in the mix after anoff-season ankle injury kept her out of the opener in Vegas, and she also loves this place, so much so that she made Alabama her training grounds for a few years.
There's also a very intriguing new name in the women's elite field, who is no stranger to the XTERRA Tribe, and that's Hannah Rae Finchamp. Even though she's a freshman in college the NCAA declared she's eligible to race as an elite, she just can't take prize money.
Here’s a look at the elite women’s field:
Bib No. - Name – Age, Hometown
31 - Lesley Paterson – 34, San Diego, CA (Scotland)
32 - Emma Garrard – 33, Park City, UT
33 - Suzie Snyder – 33, Fredericksburg, VA
34 - Kara LaPoint – 28, Truckee, CA
35 - Sara Schuler – 34, Boulder, CO
36 - Katie Button – 29, Victoria, B.C., CAN
37 - Maia Ignatz – 34, Boulder, CO
38 - Debby Sullivan – 33, Rocklin, CA
39 - Sara McLarty – 32, Clermont, FL
40 - Caroline Colonna – 51, Taos, NM
41 - Rebecca Blatt – 35, Lakewood, CO
42 - Emily Bashton – 35, Richmond, VA
43 - Jaime Brede – 37, Breckenridge, CO
44 - Hannah Rae Finchamp – 19, Altadena, CA
45 - Christine Jeffrey – 42, Tucson, AZ
46 - Solana Kline – 32, Bend, OR
47 - Amelia McCracken – 31, Philadelphia, PA
48 - Catherine Sterling – 38, Ayer, MA