The annual summer classic attracts the best elite racers from the U.S. and around the world.
In the men’s race all eyes are on the highly anticipated showdown/rematch between 38-year-old XTERRA legend Josiah Middaugh, the 2015 XTERRA World Champion who lives and trains right here in Beaver Creek, and 21-year-old phenom Mauricio Mendez, the 2016 XTERRA World Champion from Mexico City.
“Having Mauricio here changes the dynamics of the race and will make it a suffer-fest right from the start,” said Middaugh, winner of the last four races at XTERRA Beaver Creek. “I’m going to have to go hard and make up time early on the bike because with a guy like Mauricio if I don’t make the catch by the run, it’s not going to happen. Mau has raced here before and is not afraid of the altitude since Mexico City is at similar altitude, and he’s one of the fastest all-around guys in the game right now.”
For Mendez, who finished third the last time he raced here back in 2014, having the opportunity to compete against “the master” in his own backyard is a dream opportunity.
“I am craving the dirt as never before,” said Mendez. “To be here in Josiah's hometown is very special. I have always admired Josiah, and learned a lot from him over the years. For me, I just want to cross the finish line knowing that I gave it my all and see where I stand. I’ve learned that everything is about the moment, the opportunity, and I am here to make something special happen.”
Other big names in the men’s race include a pair of Boulder’s best with Ben Hoffman, who has placed in the top four here five years in a row, and Sam Long, a 21-year-old who finished runner-up to Middaugh in his XTERRA debut last year.
"I always love to include a little XTERRA during my season, and the race in Beaver Creek is the perfect option to throw my hat in the ring against some incredible athletes close to home,” said Hoffman. “With both World Champions from the last two years toeing the line in the mountains of Colorado, I'll have a perfect opportunity to test myself against the best off-road guys, and jump start the second half of my season. The XTERRA atmosphere always gets me fired up and it's the perfect change of pace for me during a season of long course racing. It's the ideal balance of pain and pleasure racing with such a beautiful backdrop while the legs and lungs burn in the thin air. With an eye on defending my Kona-Maui Double crown yet again, I wanted to punch my ticket in Beaver Creek and get a little more experience before the big race in Hawaii later this year."
As for Long, who is in his last semester of college (CU) as a double major in physiology and psychology (he threw in a business minor for fun), he’s just “stoked” to do this race again.
“I love XTERRA’s, they really are kinda my thing since I grew up as mountain boy and still love nothing more than spending time up high in the mountains. When I race XTERRA I find I can push myself harder and get into a flow state very easily. I just spent two weeks in Crested Butte doing a high-altitude camp so I am feeling prepared. I also feel my mountain bike skills are dialed in, so hopefully I can do as well, if not better : ) than last year. I'm up against the best in the world with Josiah and Mauricio and Ben and all the other guys. I love racing Josiah, he is one of my idols both in and outside of the sport. I dream of having a similar career and lifestyle as him (personal trainer/triathlete).”
While Josiah, Mauricio, Ben, and Sam are the “favorites” there are a dozen other elite men in the field with big credentials and possibility, including but not limited to Pan Am Tour No. 1 Branden Rakita from Colorado Springs, who finished second here in 2013, Veit Hoenle, a German star from the European Tour, the reigning XTERRA Thailand Champ Kieran McPherson from New Zealand, and perennial XTERRA mountain specialists like Ryan Ignatz and Brian Smith.
“With all the talent in this field on Saturday I’m going to have to be on,” said Middaugh. “To have the best racers in the sport come to your home turf and have the chance to race them here, that’s what athletes dream about. Now I just have to rise to the occasion.”
Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name, Age, Hometown
1 - Branden Rakita, 36, Colorado Springs, Colorado
3 - Josiah Middaugh, 38, Eagle-Vail, Colorado
7 - Kieran McPherson, 25, Matamata, New Zealand
10 - Ian King, 27, Virginia Beach, Virginia
11 - Ryan Ignatz, 38, Boulder, Colorado
13 - Cedric Wane, 31, Papeete, Tahiti
17 - Brian Smith, 41, Gunnison, Colorado
20 - Michael Nunez, 36, Salt Lake City, Utah
24 - Veit Hoenle, 25, Savannah, Georgia
NR - Taylor Charlton, 25, Brisbane, Australia
NR - Mario de Elias, 32, Boulder, Colorado
NR - Ben Hoffman, 33, Boulder, Colorado
NR - Sam Long, 21, Boulder, Colorado
NR - Mauricio Mendez, 21, México City, Mexico
NR - Joshua Merrick, 35, Fraser, Colorado
NR - Brad Zoller, 39, Avon, Colorado
STACKED WOMEN’S FIELD SET FOR SATURDAY
The women’s elite field is filled with intrigue as last year’s surprise winner Julie Baker returns to defend her title against two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson, reigning Pan America Tour Champion Suzie Snyder, and a long list of other contenders.
“I'm excited to race at Beaver Creek again,” said Baker, a soil scientist by trade who won the amateur XTERRA world title in 2015 then turned in a stunning performance to win this race in her pro debut last summer. “It was amazing to do so well last year and if it was a big surprise to my competitors, it was an even bigger surprise to me.”
As for her thoughts on “defending” the crown, Baker said “I think Suzie and Leslie are kind of in a class above me right now, but you never know what can happen if someone has a bad day or a mechanical. So, I would be surprised to win again, but don't think I'll just give up and roll over! I think I've been training well with some help from Josiah and Middaugh Coaching this year and my bike is probably the strongest it's ever been. I've also been getting in some serious heat training (not by choice) here in California, and I've been healthy leading up to this race, so I hope I won't feel as miserable on the run as I did at Oak Mountain. I think the Beaver Creek course is more suited to me, with more climbing than Oak Mountain. I remember when I first started competing as an amateur a few years ago I would compare my times to the pro women and every single one had way faster bike times than I did. I mean like 20 minutes faster. I'm still amazed that I am competing against these women and not doing too terribly. I don't know exactly who else will be there on Saturday but the other U.S. girls who are consistently on the podium like Maia Ignatz, Kara LaPoint, Emma Garrard, and Liz Gruber are also strong and I expect a good challenge from them.”
Suzie Snyder, who was 2nd here last year, has been on fire this season and sits atop the Pan America Tour standings once again following wins at XTERRA Argentina, Costa Rica, Oak Mountain, and just last weekend, XTERRA Victoria.
“Vail is going to come quick, and I don't know I'm ever REALLY ready for it, but I'm going to do the best I can to recover over the next few days and go into it with as much energy as I can find,” said Snyder. “I'm mentally preparing for a tough day as usual. Beaver Creek is a race that always brings out some surprise competitors who do really well, in addition to the usual suspects who are strong climbers. For me, the most challenging part of the course is the altitude. Racing above 8,000ft just makes me feel like I don't have the same strength and power so it can be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Fortunately, I've gotten pretty good at overcoming mental race frustrations and pushing through so I don't let that affect me too badly during the race...it just makes me dread the lead up to it!”
When it comes to the mental aspect of the profession, Lesley Paterson wrote the book on it … literally, it’s titled “The Brave Athlete” and is a brain training guide for athletes. She’ll do a book signing for all those lucky enough to be in Beaver Creek on Friday at 4pm. This will be her first time on this course, however, so she may have to write another chapter after Saturday’s race.
“I’m so excited to race here in Beaver Creek as its my first time! Can you believe it? From all I’ve learned it’s the most brutal and gorgeous course ever and I think the type of terrain that suits me - steep climbs and dry rocky descents,” said Paterson. “Suzie has been killing it this year so she will be hard to beat but I’m up for the challenge! The mind and body have been doing better this last month so I’m ready to fight it out true Braveheart style :)"
2015 XTERRA USA Champion Emma Garrard is back in the mix after another couple months of training (she gave birth to her second child in January) and is always a threat, Maia Ignatz has risen to the level of serious contender over the past two seasons, and Kara LaPoint sits second in the Pan Am Pro Series standings.
"Beaver Creek is a beautiful but very difficult race because of the altitude and elevation gain," said Garrard. "I have been training the past two months at altitude and am fitter than Oak Mountain and ready to push myself harder, which is easy to do on this course. Although I still have a ways to go in my return to racing postpartum. The last time I raced it was in 2015 and it was my best performance that year, so if I could be less than 10 minutes slower than my time then I will be happy."
The dark horse has to be Morgane Riou from France, who finished second at XTERRA Victoria last weekend and has finished in the top four at all seven races she’s done this season.
The elite race starts at 9am MST on Saturday, July 15, and you can follow it live on twitter @xterraoffroad #xterrabeavercreek
WOMEN’S ELITE START LIST
Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name, Age, Hometown
1 - Suzie Snyder, 35, Reno, Nevada
2 - Kara LaPoint, 30, Woody Creek, Colorado
5 - Morgane Riou, 31, Fontenay, France
8 - Annie Bergen, 41, Kelowna, British Columbia
9 - Maia Ignatz, 37, Boulder, Colorado
10 - Lesley Paterson, 36, Sterling, Scotland
11 - Julie Baker, 40, Sonora, California
12 - Caroline Colonna, 53, Taos, New Mexico
23 - Emma Garrard, 35, Park City, Utah
24 - Jessie Koltz, 28, Reno, Nevada
25 - Anne Usher, 37, Portland, Oregon
26 - Heather Zimchek-Dunn, 31, Olympia, Washington
NR - Allison Linnell, 27, Boulder, Colorado
ALL-TIME XTERRA BEAVER CREEK ELITE CHAMPIONS
Year Man Woman
2016 Josiah Middaugh Julie Baker
2015 Josiah Middaugh Flora Duffy
2014 Josiah Middaugh Chantell Widney
2013 Josiah Middaugh Shonny Vanlandingham
2012 Conrad Stoltz Shonny Vanlandingham
2011 Josiah Middaugh Danelle Kabush
2010 Nico Lebrun Shonny Vanlandingham
2009 Nico Lebrun Shonny Vanlandingham