The numbers all lined up in 2015. It was XTERRA's 20th year, Josiah Middaugh won his first XTERRA World Championship in 15 tries, Ruben Ruzafa had his 15-race win streak snapped, and Conrad Stoltz retired after 15 years in the sport.
Those are just a few of the biggest story lines from a sensational season of XTERRA racing around the world this year. Here we give you our top 10 tails from the trails in 2015...
This year’s top story was 15 years in the making.
Flashback to 2000 when a 21-year-old Josiah Middaugh moved from Michigan to Colorado, bought a mountain bike at a pawn shop, side-stroked his way through his first XTERRA race in Keystone and thus embarked on his childhood dream “to be great at something.”
Of course Middaugh was great long before he won XTERRA Worlds. The sports nicest guy won the overall amateur XTERRA National Championship in 2002 then went on to win 11 national titles as an elite. He also won snowshoe titles, USAT long course tri and winter tri titles, Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon and Ultimate Mountain Challenge titles, etc, etc…
Interestingly, when Middaugh won the 20-24 national championship as an amateur in ‘02 he was quoted as saying, “excited to go pro, not sure if I can keep up with those guys now but realistically I won’t hit my peak for another 10 years.”
He hit his first “peak” a lot sooner than that, as evidenced in his third-place finish at Worlds in 2004.
“Sure, I was close that year but the sport got faster as well,” said Middaugh. “Looking back, that third-place performance in ’04 probably would’ve landed me in about 15th place this year.”
Through the years Middaugh faced all kinds of adversity and injury, and he finished 2nd more times than he’d like to remember.
“It seems like I had all these failures but I never thought about it like that,” he said. “All those stumbles just made me want to figure out how to do better.”
Indeed Middaugh got better, and he made a lot of other people better, and it was this attitude, his relentless smile and ever-humble demeanor that endeared him to the XTERRA Tribe. Never in the 20-year history of the sport had there been such an overwhelming ground swell of support for a single racer than there was for Middaugh heading into Worlds this year.
“It was palpable,” explained Dave Nicholas. “You could feel it in the air, everybody was cheering for Josiah this year.”
Despite all the perceived pressure Middaugh pulled it off, overcoming crashes on the bike and the run to make up nearly two minutes on the two-time defending champion Ruzafa to take the title.
“They believed in me, I believed in myself and I believed in all the training I’ve done and I felt like I could do it.”
And he did.
- End of an Era
The Caveman called it a career in 2015.
He was quickly inducted into the XTERRA Hall of Fame and given a standing ovation by the worldwide XTERRA Tribe in appreciation of all he has done for the sport.
The reception he received at his final stop in England, where he nearly took down Ruzafa in his last race, and his ceremonial trip to Maui - where he led course recon rides for all who were interested and did the live race commentary for the web stream - was goose-bump worthy.
“XTERRA has been an integral part of my life,” said Stoltz. “We always talk about XTERRA being family, and it is. It really is.”
Stoltz collected an unprecedented 53 career championship wins and seven world titles (4 from XTERRA and 3 from ITU) in his illustrious 15-year career but as impressive as his credentials are, he is more beloved worldwide for his warm smile and welcoming demeanor than his fearless downhill skills.
Alas, we’d be remised to not mention a stable of XTERRA stars that “retired” from the sport this year with Stoltz, to include Craig Evans, Dan Hugo, Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey, Shonny Vanlandingham, and Sara Schuler. We wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors and trust you’ll live on forever in XTERRA lore…
- Euphoria in Europe
XTERRA managing director Dave Nicholas took in just about every European Tour race this year, and was the driving force behind its rise in prominence through the years. Here he looks back on what he calls the best season yet…
“This year saw the European Tour enjoy its biggest year since the start of the Tour in 2003. 12 Championship races starting in Malta in March and ending in England at the end of August.
The big story has to be the first time winners and young stars making their mark on the sport. We had Nicolas Fernandez, Kris Coddens, Sam Osborne and Arthur Forissier win their first European Tour events for the men and Brigitta Poor broke through for her first win. Along with new winners we had new venues – the Island of Malta held its first race and Spain moved its Championship to Pasencia.
Our new Men’s European Champion is the bearded Spanish star, Roger Selgado Serrano. Rogelio became the European Champion despite not having a win, but with a great series of podiums and never finishing lower than 3rd. Helena Erbenova had a superb year with 6 wins to capture another Women’s European Championship.
While the top spots in the tour standings showed familiar names, the young twenty-somethings are coming strong. Serrano, Forissier, Bradley Weiss, Tomas Kubek, Albert Soley, Henry Sleight, Arthur Serrieres and Yeray Luxem are all in their 20’s. Brigitta Poor, Elizabetta Curridori, Sandra Koblemuller and Jessica Roberts are all in their 20’s. From those facts it is clear our sport is healthy and attracting some very fast young stars. Don’t rule out the “elders”. Ruzafa is only 31 with Ben Allen and Francois Carloni at 30.
Many of the races this season had great competition with furious action. I marveled how Brad Weiss and Ben Allen rode and ran shoulder to shoulder the whole race to the final few hundred yards in Germany. Conrad Stoltz gave Ruben all he could handle in England and if it were not for a mud bog pulling his shoe off, Stoltz may very well have won his last race. The women’s races were just as competitive. How many times did Helena have to run like the wind to take the lead? What a fabulous run for Les Paterson to win England and Carina in Switzerland.
2015 will go down as truly a year that has to be considered a tour for the ages. Beyond all the new winners, new places, and great competition was the fact we had a superb, if a bit hot, summer and very little rain to challenge the athletes. A great year for racing, a great year for weather.
- Soule of the Sport
The spirit of XTERRA shines brightest in the smile of Janet Soule.
The 15-year veteran of the sport was honored this year, along with her husband Cliff Millemann, as Mrs. and Mr. XTERRA for their unwavering commitment to the “Live More” lifestyle (watch the video).
Soule would be the first to tell you, however, that she’s not the only one that feels this way. The amateurs of XTERRA are the foundation of the sport. This year there were literally thousands of amazing examples of awesome amateurs, but we do have a few favorites…
Clark Griffith – We crack up every time we watch it. When the XTERRA TV crew was interviewing 72-year-old Clark Griffith from Tennessee before the USA Championship in Utah this year they asked him what his doctor thought about him racing XTERRA.
“I don’t see a doctor very much, and if I do I don’t tell ‘em because they seem to frown on that,” said Griffith. “My doctor died, and he was younger than me … my wife’s doctor told me 30 or 40 years ago that if I didn’t stop doing this my knees would give out. He’s dead too.”
Deanna McCurdy – The 41-year-old mother of two and founder for Team Miles for Smiles is proof positive that attitude is everything. Her 7-year-old daughter has a rare genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome. She can’t speak, has balance and coordination issues, and suffers from seizures and sleep disorders. It does not limit Deanna or her family, rather it empowers them to impact others and show how a disease does not have to define your life (read her story and 40 others here).
Carl and Heather Horton – A dad-and-daughter story to inspire and celebrate. Carl was falling into a mid-life sedentary lifestyle before he turned it all around to embrace the healthy, active lifestyle. His daughter Heather grew up outside, running and biking and following her Dad in active motion. She’s now a rising star, but more importantly – a happy, healthy teenager.
Daryl Weaver – It was a perfect year for Daryl Weaver. He won his division in all seven races he entered, won the overall amateur USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championship in Alabama, finished 8th overall behind only the top seven pros in Richmond, and won the 40-44 XTERRA National Championship in Utah. For his efforts he was named the ENVE Performer of the Year.
Steve Tarpinian – Steve Tarpinian, one of the true legends of triathlon, passed away this year at the age of 54. “Tarp” was an XTERRA original. In that first race in 1996 he was one of the fastest swimmers in the field and ultimately finished on the podium in the 35-39 division, placing 36th overall.
For more than a decade Steve was the only competitor from the continental U.S. to have competed in each XTERRA World Championship, as he made the long trip to Maui every year for 17 seasons in a row. He’ll forever be part of the XTERRA Tribe.
Perhaps nobody has had as consistent a rise on the XTERRA scene as Emma Garrard. She just keeps getting faster and faster.
In 2010 she jumped into the top 10 at XTERRA Worlds for the first time. In 2011 she was 8th. In 2012 she had her boy Torin. In 2013 she was the top American in fifth. Last year she was fourth. This year she was third behind only World Champs Lesley Paterson and Flora Duffy.
Last year Emma got the monkey off her back by winning her first major at XTERRA England. This year she won the XTERRA USA Championship and XTERRA U.S. Pro Series outright.
- Amazing Streaks
Ruben Ruzafa wrapped up his second straight perfect season in Europe when he won the XTERRA European Championship in August.
The Spaniard won a record and unprecedented 15 straight XTERRA majors since winning Worlds in October of 2013. He also won his second-straight ITU Cross Tri World title this year, and was one win short of a tying Stoltz record of four XTERRA World Championships (which he vows to come back and get next year).
Meanwhile in the women’s elite ranks Flora Duffy established herself as the dominant force in off-road racing by defending her XTERRA World Title and having a perfect season.
She won all five XTERRA races she entered this year (not including ITU Cross Tri Worlds) and since the start of 2014 Duffy has captured 12 of the 13 championship events she raced. Her lone blemish during the stretch was at the XTERRA Germany Championship, which doubled as ITU Cross Worlds last year.
This season she won the first two XTERRA World Tour races of the year in the Philippines and at her adopted second-home in South Africa, took the prestigious XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship title in Australia in April, and avenged some demons by winning the XTERRA Mountain Championship in Colorado this July (it was at that race in 2013 she finished 6th and vowed never to do another) then took the tape in Maui to defend her title.
Duffy also had her best year yet on the ITU World Triathlon Series with podium finishes in Abu Dhabi and Edmonton, and a seventh-place ranking in the final standings that has all but assured her spot on Bermuda’s Olympic triathlon team for the third time.
- Braveheart Part II
Lesley Paterson made the top 10 list last year for her bravery in fighting Lyme disease.
She trumped that this year by doing more of the same all while posting dominating performances on the XTERRA scene with wins at Costa Rica, Vegas, Cali, ‘Bama, and England. Her only blemish was a runner-up showing in Maui at the hands of Flora Duffy.
She broke her shoulder, then won XTERRA Costa Rica with one-arm, beat all the boys at XTERRA Laguna Beach then broke her wrist and hand mountain biking, but followed that with a win at the June Lake tri 11 days later.
Simply amazing, and she’s leading a tight-knit group of warriors to be their very best.
- Amateur Greatness
Julie Baker and Liz Gruber finished 4th and 5th overall females at the XTERRA USA Championship race, and then went 1-2 in the amateur women’s field at XTERRA Worlds showing that the future of American women’s elite racing is in good hands.
Likewise the young guns in the men’s amateur division are on the rise. A pair of collegiate triathletes – Cole Bunn and Greg Schott – finished first and third overall amateurs at the USA Championship. In Maui, however, the top amateur spots belonged to Europe. In fact, the first six age groupers across the line at XTERRA Worlds were European with Christophe Betard (France), Martin Kostelnicak (Slovakia), Martin Flinta (Sweden), Thomas Kerner (Germany), Geert Lauryssen (Belgium), and Charly Sibille (France).
- International Trails
XTERRA off-road triathlons have made consistent progress in developing an international base over the years, and now the trail running series is following in those footsteps.
This year’s XTERRA Trail Run World Championship was truly an international event, with fast runners from six different countries landing in the top 10, and in 2016 XTERRA trail fanatics will find races on nearly every continent, all offering truly unique ways in which to explore the world.
2015 was an unabashed, year-long celebration for the sport of XTERRA.
From a one-off race held on the most remote island chain in the world XTERRA evolved into an endurance sports lifestyle with worldwide appeal. Online photo galleries and videos from the past 20 years filled the Tribe with fun flashbacks and memories and in Maui, old friends came back to share stories about the early days.
Thanks for being part of the Tribe, and here’s to the next 20 years!