It all comes down to this. The XTERRA USA Championship next Saturday, September 19, in Ogden, Utah will determine this year’s National Champions and XTERRA U.S. Pro Series winners.
There is a lot to be excited about for off-road triathlon fans with compelling match-ups in both the men’s and women’s elite races.
The headliner in the men’s race is Josiah “Beast Mode” Middaugh, a 36-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colorado. He has been the grimacing face of XTERRA in the U.S. for more than a decade now and has 10 XTERRA National Championships to prove it.
He enters the race as the points leader and two-time defending champ of the U.S. Pro Series, and winner of the last two regionals at the East Championship in Richmond and Mountain Championship at Beaver Creek.
Since Nationals moved to Utah in 2009 Middaugh has been in the top three at every race and took the title outright in 2012. To repeat that performance he’ll have to get past a determined Kiwi named Braden Currie, a world-class mountain biker named Todd Wells, and the top six ranked men in the Pro Series.
“The USA Championship always draws people out of the woodwork and I am excited to see a very strong start list,” said Middaugh. “Braden Currie is always a tough competitor and self-proclaimed that one of his goals was to win the US series. There is a group of about five or six strong Americans that all have a shot at the podium. I am also excited to see Brian Smith back in the mix and the wildcard will definitely be the Olympian and National Champion mountain biker Todd Wells. This should be exciting racing all around.”
For Currie, a Red Bull sponsored athlete that made a name for himself as one of the biggest stars in adventure racing, the goal from day one this year was to win the XTERRA USA Title, Pro Series, and World Championship in that order. He proved he could race with and even go faster than Middaugh in a thrilling toe-to-toe race he won at the Southeast Championship in Pelham, Alabama earlier this season.
Since finishing third behind Middaugh and Ben Hoffman at the Mountain Championship in July, Currie placed 2nd to Tim Don at 70.3 Ecuador, was top 10 at Timberman a week later. Here he explains how his build-up to Utah has been…
“Training has been going well. I took on a new mountain bike coach three weeks ago. He just coached Anton Cooper to win the under 23 Cross country world champs. I have made some huge progress on the bike since then and I’m feeling excited about seeing how that transfers to the race. The USA XTERRA Championship course is well designed for me. I like to climb on the bike and the course looks fast and flowing. I have been riding with good riders in Canada so I think my technical skills on the downhill should have improved since Beaver Creek. My running is back in form and I have climbed quite a few peaks around the Rockies over the last few weeks whilst living in Alberta, Canada. This is how I like to train and I’m hoping this sort of prep work will play out for me as it has in the past when it comes to race day. It will be great to have a race where I feel strong in all three disciplines and I am looking forward to racing Josiah in form. It will be my last race in the USA and then I will fly with my family back to NZ, after having 5 months in North America. We are looking forward to getting home and I am looking forward to the final XTERRA build of the year, towards the XTERRA World champs.”
As for Wells, an unknown in XTERRA but absolute legend in mountain biking, he said he’s just “hoping to survive swimming in a wetsuit and get to the finish line.” Awfully modest for a two-time Olympian and winner of a ton of major mtb races and there are more than a few people out there who think he has a legitimate shot at taking the tape.
While Middaugh, Currie, and Wells grab the headlines there are a wealth of fast racers in the field who could make some noise themselves. Guys like Chris Ganter, Branden Rakita, Ryan Ignatz, Olly Shaw, Brian Smith, Matt Lieto, and Andrew Russell have all proven themselves through the years and are capable of coming up with big performances.
Here’s a look at the tentative men’s elite start list:
No. - Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Josiah Middaugh – 36, Eagle-Vail, CO
2 - Braden Currie – 29, Wanaka, NZL
3 - Chris Ganter – 36, Boise, ID
4 - Branden Rakita – 34, Colorado Springs, CO
5 - Ryan Ignatz – 36, Boulder, CO
6 - Alex Modestou – 28, Durham, NC
8 - Brad Zoller – 37, Avon, CO
9 - Karsten Madsen – 23, Guelph, Ontario, CAN
12 - Chris Foster – 33, Redondo Beach, CA
16 - Olly Shaw – 23, Rotorua, NZL
NR - Matt Lieto – 36, Bend, OR
NR - Kieran McPherson – 23, Waikato, NZL
NR - Will Ross – 26, Anchorage, AK
NR - Andrew Russell – 35, Victoria, B.C., CAN
NR - Walter Schafer – 24, Centenniel, CO
NR - Brian Smith – 39, Gunnison, CO
NR - Todd Wells – 39, Durango, CO
NR - Noah Wright – 41, Austin, TX
In the women’s race Park City’s own Emma Garrard is in position to win the USA Championship and the Pro Series in one fell swoop next Saturday.
With Suzie Snyder still recovering from a fractured pelvis and no Flora Duffy or Lesley Paterson in the line-up, Garrard is the clear-cut favorite in the women’s elite race. For Garrard, who has finished 2nd to those three at five races this year and all eight regional championship events over the past two seasons, being labeled the favorite is just fine.
“I've done the training, it will just take me having a good clean race and being healthy,” said Garrard. “I do not know what Suzie has been able to do training wise but I imagine she has lost some fitness. I hope she is healed enough to race. Sara is a strong climber and runner and usually comes out of the water in front of Jaime and Maia but they are also strong on the bike. It would be really special to win this race because it is in Utah but also having placed 2nd in every regional race for the past two seasons! This would be the race to win for me. It's also special because 10 years ago I watched my first XTERRA, so I would be thrilled to win both the pro series and the USA Championships, as it was something that never crossed my mind that day, but this year it is possible so I hope the stars align!”
Sara Schuler of Boulder, Colorado, who like Garrard has a toddler to take care of along with a full workload, is also hoping for some magic next Saturday.
“To come out on top I will need to have a solid race in all three legs,” said Schuler, who placed third at the Mountain Championship in July. “I've been swimming in a faster lane than I ever have so that bodes well for a good swim. I know I am capable of riding and running with Emma and will need to keep her in sight on the bike and push hard to try and get ahead before the run. I think the race will come down to who has more left in the engine on the run and we all know Emma has some speed and power in her legs. Historically, I have struggled on the run at Nationals but I'm running more than ever and doing "real" workouts thanks to coaching by Josiah Middaugh. To come out on top would be the optimal end of my XTERRA career. This is my last year balancing being a mother, wife, social worker and 3-sport athlete so being on top with my family watching would be an ideal way to finish my last XTERRA Nationals. I haven't been getting up at 5am (or earlier) all year for nothing! I'm excited for the race and it is bittersweet knowing that it is the last year I make the trek out to Snowbasin.”
In an interesting twist, men’s favorite Josiah Middaugh just so happens to be the coach for both Garrard and Schuler. We asked him what he thought of the looming showdown at Snowbasin between those two…
“Crazy right?” said Middaugh. “Actually, I haven't thought much about it. They are competitors, but also a lot of mutual respect there. My hope is that they both have the performances they are capable of and the results will sort themselves. Both are super talented moms with busy schedules and I am excited to see them race their own strengths in Ogden.”
While Garrard and Schuler seem the favorites there are a handful of elite women who have had breakout seasons this year and two months to fine-tune their endurance. Put Maia Ignatz, Kara LaPoint, Catherine Sterling, and Jaime Brede in that conversation and the top five spots are certain to be hotly contested.
Here’s a look at the tentative women’s elite start list:
No. - Name – Age, Hometown
1 - Emma Garrard – 33, Park City, UT
2 - Suzie Snyder – 33, Fredericksburg, VA
4 - Sara Schuler – 34, Boulder, CO
5 - Maia Ignatz – 34, Boulder, CO
6 - Kara LaPoint – 28, Truckee, CA
7 - Catherine Sterling – 38, Ayer, MA
8 - Debby Sullivan – 33, Rocklin, CA
9 - Sara McLarty – 32, Clermont, FL
11 - Jaime Brede – 38, Breckenridge, CO
12 - Rebecca Blatt – 35, Lakewood, CO
15 - Caroline Colonna – 51, Taos, NM
NR – Jenny Fletcher – 39, Santa Monica, CA
NR – Genevieve Evans – 42, Carnelian Bay, CA
Follow the elite race live on twitter @xterraoffroad, #xterraUTAH starting at 9am MST on Sept. 19.