XTERRA Pan Am Powers Collide in Costa Rica
An awesome early season showdown between America’s best off-roader, Josiah Middaugh, Canada’s fastest man, Karsten Madsen, and Costa Rican star Rom Akerson will take place Sunday at Playa Reserva Conchal in Costa Rica’s northwest province of Guanacaste.
“Rom and Karsten will be very strong in this race,” said Middaugh, the reigning Pan Am Tour Champion who enters his 18th season of XTERRA racing this weekend. “Rom won here a couple years ago and is motivated after missing most of last season due to injury. He has the locals advantage with the terrain and climate. It will be great to catch up with him. I also think this course suits Karsten well and he was very close to me in Alabama last year. So, I'll try to tire him out on the pre-ride.”
Those three power-houses will be joined in the elite men’s race by Sebastian Neef from Germany, who is the reigning German long-distance national champion, home country favorite Andres Zuniga, and Americans Will Kelsay, who was 5th in the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour last year, Ian King, who was a top 20 performer on the Pan Am Tour last season, and Humberto Rivera, who will be making his elite debut.
“This is a tough race because of the climate which is such a contrast to the mountains of Colorado in March,” explained Middaugh. “The bike course has a steep climb in the beginning and then follows some fast jeep roads where you can draft. A couple years ago there was a lead pack of four guys who got out of the water ahead of me and they were working well together so it took a tremendous effort to make the catch.”
Middaugh won this race last year, his first XTERRA Costa Rica title in four tries following three straight runner-up performances. “Hey, that’s better than 15 tries,” he said after the race, referencing the 2015 XTERRA World Championship he won on his 15th attempt.
“I am always pumped to travel to my first race of the year, especially when it is in Costa Rica,” added Middaugh. “This year I am traveling with my whole family, so it will be a memorable trip regardless of how the race plays out. And yeah, 18 years now. Time flies when you are having fun. And I think the fact that my stoke level remains high after all this time says a lot for the sport of XTERRA.”
Middaugh added that his goal this year is simply to be “the best version of myself. I have years of experience behind me and physically I feel great. It takes a huge commitment and daily drive to achieve the pinnacle of this sport and I am still motivated to put in the work. As for Sunday, we’ll see. I have only had one day on the dirt so far this year, but I feel very strong and fit from my indoor training at the Westin Riverfront in Avon.”
Another man coming in hot is Madsen.
“I’m coming to Costa Rica to race the best,” he said. “I know Josiah and Rom will be there, two guys I’ve never beat. The goal is simple, and it’ll be the same theme all year, I want to win. I’ve changed a lot in my life to respect a statement like that.”
Madsen had a rough swim at XTERRA Worlds last year, felt shaky early on the bike and pulled. The DNF haunted him in the days and weeks to follow.
“After another unsuccessful race in Maui last year, and a December that had me contemplating retirement, I knew I needed to make some major changes,” said Madsen, the reigning and two-time XTERRA Victoria Champ. “I got accepted back into training with the Canadian National team program coached by Jono Hall and I got new training mates that race ITU WTS level events to push me. This year is about getting back to turning over every stone and doing the sport the way I know it needs to be done … along with having fun again.”
Madsen has been training in Phoenix, Arizona since early January, which should serve him well in the heat and humidity of Guanacaste.
“With the new training program, I’ve found myself back to doing a lot more top end quality work,” he said. “I’ve been working out at a consistency like never before. I’ve run my biggest run weeks ever this year and with a small body mass drop all that should help me on the bike and up the steep climbs. Thanks to my support team and sponsors, this year is my most ambitious yet with a whole lot of racing and travel, and I’m looking forward to having another crack at the XTERRA Pan Am Tour.”
In the women’s race local standout Adilia Jimenez, who won the overall amateur title at XTERRA Costa Rica last year and most recently finished 4th elite female at the Central American Games in Nicaragua, is hoping to take the top step in front of her family and friends.
Americans Rebecca Blatt, who placed sixth at this race two years ago, and Jessie Koltz, who finished 11th on the XTERRA Pan Am Tour in 2017, are also in contention for the title.
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All-Time XTERRA Costa Rica Champions
2014 – Leonardo Chacon/Shonny Vanlandingham
2015 – Rom Akerson/Lesley Paterson
2016 – Karl Shaw/Myriam Guillot-Boisset
2017 – Josiah Middaugh/Suzie Snyder