The 2016 XTERRA Beaver Creek Championship race on Saturday will host perhaps the most competitive elite field in race history.
“The top 10 is going to be the strongest ever at this race I think,” said reigning XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh. “It’s a super talented, deep field, which we don’t always see here. Some are new to XTERRA, some dabble in it, and there are a few XTERRA veterans here as well. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all pans out.”
Among the XTERRA vets in the men’s elite field you have Middaugh – winner of three straight and four of the last five here on his home course. There’s Brian Smith, an exceptional mountain biker, Branden Rakita, the runner-up on this course in 2013, and mountain dwellers like Cody Waite, Brad Zoller, Joshua Merrick, and Thomas Spannring.
Those that “dabble” in the sport – and do quite well when they do – include IM star Ben Hoffman who has been the runner-up here the last two years and in the top three for four straight years, Rom Akerson from Costa Rica, who was 4th here last year, Kiwi Kieran McPherson who is ranked 6th in the Pan Am Tour, Mario de Elias who was 6th at his home country race at XTERRA Argentina, and Austrian Michi Weiss, a former XTERRA World Champ.
Perhaps the most intriguing racers, however, are the XTERRA first-timers which includes Greg Bennett, an Olympian (4th in Athens) with more than 100 international wins in his storied career.
“Got on a mountain bike for the first time in 28-years back in November, and Laura and I have been having a ball,” said Bennett. “We feel like newbies starting a brand new sport with so much to learn. This will be our first XTERRA so our expectations are low, but we can’t wait!”
Other newbies to XTERRA include accomplished roadies Leon Griffin, the 2006 World Duathlon Champ, AJ Baucco, Sam Long, and Patrick McKeon.
“The podium is going to be mixed up a bit, that’s for sure, and I’m curious to see how Greg and Leon perform,” said Middaugh. “I know Ben and Michi will be strong. I know Rom and the other Colorado guys like Brian and Branden will be strong, but it’s hard to say how the other guys will do so it’ll be interesting.”
Middaugh, who sits in the 2nd position in the Pan Am Tour rankings after six events (trailing only Karsten Madsen who won the last two Pan Am Tour races in Canada), has victories at XTERRA Argentina, XTERRA Tahiti, and XTERRA Oak Mountain so far this season. He said this one matters the most.
“There is a lot of pressure for this one. I definitely put it on myself, and would say this is the most important race so far this year,” said Middaugh. “I want to win this one. It’s the best case scenario for me to race big names at home, and a great test to see where I’m at. This type of race is reflective of nationals and worlds, so far as course profiles, so if I don’t perform well I’ll have to go back to the drawing board, and if do well, it means I’m on track.”
SNYDER LOOKS TO MAKE IT THREE IN A ROW IN WOMENS RACE
Suzie Snyder has successfully overcome a prolonged rehab assignment after crushing her pelvis in a bike crash while pre-riding at XTERRA Mexico last summer.
She won XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Mine over Matter in convincing fashion to start the season, sits in 3rd position in the Pan Am Pro Series, and hopes to improve on her best-ever finish here in the mountains which was her 3rd place showing in 2013.
“I'm keeping a positive attitude and embracing the challenge,” said Snyder, who moved to Reno last year and for the first-time in her career had better altitude training options heading into this race.
“I've never had my best races here, whether it be the altitude or what, but I should be better prepared this year. Last year I had only been in Reno for a couple months and hadn't fully acclimated or been able to take advantage of the training opportunities the area has to offer. Though Reno is only 5000ft, I'm better acclimated to some altitude and have done a lot of climbing and training with great riders like Matt Balzer and feel much stronger in that aspect this year. This is a difficult course and always pushes your physical and mental strength but is a good progress test for Ogden which poses very similar challenges.”
In Suzie’s way of a breakout day are six girls ranked in the top 10 of the Pan Am Pro Series (Caroline Colonna, Maia Ignatz, Kara LaPoint, Rebecca Blatt, Debby Sullivan, and Sara Graves), the overall amateur XTERRA World Champion making her pro debut Julie Baker, 3x age group World Champ turned pro Elizabeth Gruber, Canadian Katharine Carter who feels right at home in the mountains, and a trio of XTERRA first-timers with Julie Stupp from Austin, Mayalen Noriega from Spain, and the most notable of the bunch – two-time Olympian Laura Bennett.
For Bennett, she says the hardest part is just letting go…
“My biggest setback so far in picking up the mountain biking component to XTERRA is thinking too much,” she exclaimed. “I am working really hard on that, but what I have come to realize is that the less fit you are the more calculative you are and therefore are counterintuitive to what you are trying to achieve…letting go! So I am most worried about not being fit enough to allow the bike to do what it does best…roll over everything and let it be in control. Worried or not, I am sure it will be a great experience and I look forward to it!”
Three-time XTERRA World Champ Julie Dibens will also be racing, but likely as part of a relay team with IM great Cait Snow. “Just not sure my knees are up to that run, but we’ll see,” said Dibens.
All-in-all a fantastic collection of elites set to take on one of the XTERRA World Tour’s toughest challenges. Follow the elite race live on twitter @xterraoffroad, #xterrabeavercreek, starting at 9am MST on Saturday, July 16.
XTERRA BEAVER CREEK ELITE START LIST
Rank denotes current position in XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series after six events.
NR = Not ranked
Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
2 - Josiah Middaugh – 37, Vail-Eagle, CO
4 - Ian King – 26, Virginia Beach, VA
5 - Branden Rakita – 35, Colorado Springs, CO
6 - Kieran McPherson – 24, Matamata, New Zealand
15 - Mario de Elias – 32, Boulogne, Argentina
16 - Rom Akerson – 32, Tambor, Costa Rica
19 - Cody Waite – 38, Lakewood, CO
29 - Thomas Spannring – 40, Longmont, CO
34 - Michael Nunez – 35, Salt Lake City, UT
38 - Jimmy Archer – 43, Denver, CO
NR - Rodrigo Acevedo – 30, Boulder, CO
NR - AJ Baucco – 30, Boulder, CO
NR - Greg Bennett – 44, Boulder, CO
NR - Leon Griffin – 36, Longmont, CO
NR - Ben Hoffman – 33, Boulder, CO
NR - Sam Long – 21, Boulder, CO
NR - Patrick McKeon – 28, Philadelphia, PA
NR - Joshua Merrick – 35, Alamosa, CO
NR - Brian Smith – 41, Gunnison, CO
NR - Michael Weiss – 35, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - Brad Zoller – 39, Avon, CO
Rank – Name – Age, Hometown
3 - Suzanne Snyder – 34, Reno, NV
4 - Caroline Colonna – 52, Taos, NM
5 - Maia Ignatz – 36, Boulder, CO
7 - Kara LaPoint – 30, Truckee, CA
8 - Rebecca Blatt – 36, Lakewood, CO
9 - Debby Sullivan – 35, Stafford, VA
10 - Sarah Graves – 39, Ballantine, MT
21 - Katharine Carter – 30, Vancouver, BC, Canada
NR - Julie Baker – 40, Sonora, CA
NR - Laura Bennett – 41, Boulder, CO
NR - Elizabeth Gruber – 27, Colorado Springs, CO
NR - Mayalen Noriega – 34, Mataro, Spain
NR - Julie Stupp - 30, Austin, TX
(7.15 UPDATE: Laura Bennett withdraws due to injury)