XTERRA Pan Am Champs Elite Race Preview
More than 30 elites from around the world are scheduled to compete at the XTERRA Pan American / USA Championship race in Ogden, Utah next Saturday, September 15.
As the culmination of a 12-stop series of off-road triathlons spanning South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and the U.S., the contenders are coming from near and far, and with $80,000 in prize money at stake and cameramen capturing all the action for a nationally broadcast one-hour TV show, the stage is set for XTERRA’s best to show what they can do.
The story lines run deep in the men’s elite race, and the best one belongs to Bradley Weiss. The 29-year-old from South Africa, once the prodigy of XTERRA Hall of Famers Conrad Stoltz and Dan Hugo, has an opportunity to do something neither of his fellow countrymen ever did – win the continental Grand Slam of XTERRA.
“So far in 2018 I have won the XTERRA African Champs, XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champs, as well as most recently the XTERRA European Champs, so if I could win the Pan American Champs and hold all the continental titles in one calendar year, that would be pretty special,” said Weiss.
It would also be unprecedented, but to do it the reigning XTERRA World Champion will have to get past the 2016 XTERRA World Champion, Mauricio Mendez from Mexico, and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion, Josiah Middaugh from the U.S.
“The competition will be fierce with the likes of Mau, Josiah, as well as Sam Long, all of whom are racing incredibly well this season,” said Weiss, who finished third at this race last year behind Mendez and Middaugh. “I’ve never won in Utah despite the course fitting me perfectly. The most challenging part for me is the altitude, which I should hopefully have a better handle on this year after spending some time in Livigno, Italy preparing at altitude for the European Championships.”
For Mendez, who led this race from wire-to-wire last year and posted the fastest run of the day to seal the deal, altitude is just another tool in his arsenal. He grew up in Mexico City at around 7,000-feet, so even the very top of the bike course in Utah, which peaks at 7,300-feet, is nothing out of the ordinary.
“What I love about this course is how honest it is in terms of your endurance. You need to play all your cards here. It’s going to be an amazing race, and I will give my everything, every second,” said Mendez, who is on a quest to defend his Pan Am title. “Last year I had one of my best races in Utah, but the competition is always getting stronger. Our sport is evolving, and I am happy to be part of it and help take XTERRA to the next level.”
Mendez has already taken his own game to the next level. He won XTERRA Chile to open the year, then XTERRA Tahiti, and even captured an Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship, but the most telling result was when he upset Middaugh to win the XTERRA Beaver Creek off-road triathlon in July. To best “Beast Mode Middaugh” in his own backyard is a rare feat, one that hadn’t been accomplished since Conrad “the Caveman” Stoltz did it in 2012.
And speaking of Beast Mode, he may be 40-years-old but he’s as fierce as ever, despite being the nicest, most knowledgeable guy in the sport. Nice or not, the 18-year XTERRA veteran is not ready to relinquish his place on the top step. The reigning and two-time XTERRA Pan America Tour Champion and 12x XTERRA National Champ won majors at XTERRA Oak Mountain, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Quebec this year, but it’s these next two races that really matter.
“The race in Ogden has always been a special race to me, and I have lots of memories from the course,” said Middaugh, who won here in 2012, 2015, and 2016. “The course suits my strengths well but is also typically the most competitive XTERRA outside of the World Championship. Going up against the top athletes bringing their "A" game is what I dream about all season. I have learned a lot about arriving to the race in peak form, sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don't, and sometimes there is just someone better on the day. To get that extra 5%, things really have to go well for 8-12 weeks leading in, and this year I feel like I am in a good place.”
For Middaugh, the key to success, although strategic, is straight forward.
“My best swim puts me within one-minute of the leader. To do this I need to keep my stroke rate high all the way through. If I let off, then I start bleeding the seconds,” he said. “Then I have put a little extra emphasis on the bike this season and I plan to race my strengths. That means pouring everything into those long climbs with no thought of the run to come.”
And ultimately, Middaugh continued, “I always say I swim with my arms, bike with my legs, and run with my heart. To run well on this course after such a demanding bike takes a huge aerobic engine. I'll be counting on my years of cumulative training and experience to get the job done.”
Outside of the big three, there are a lot of other men on the start list eager to get the job done.
There’s Kieran McPherson, who is poised to win the XTERRA Pan American Tour title this year. The 26-year-old from New Zealand has proven he’s got one of the fastest runs in all of XTERRA. As proof, he chased Middaugh down to win at XTERRA Victoria. He’s also got wins at XTERRA Argentina and XTERRA Brazil, and despite being a Kiwi he’s been living and training in Colorado, so altitude is in his favor as well.
Karsten Madsen, also 26, is Canada’s best, and he got the better of McPherson to win XTERRA Uruguay this year. He’s also been training with Middaugh in the Rockies, with his eye on securing his second-place position in the Pan Am Tour rankings with his best championship season yet.
“For me, post Quebec (where he was second to Middaugh) things have really started to tick along,” said Madsen. “I’m back to putting in some of my best work and my health is really back under me once again. It’s going to be a stacked race and for me, I’m fully aware of what I must do if I want to stay second in the Tour. I’ve been in Colorado in the high mountains building big fitness and a good adaptation to the elevation, exceeding the demands of the course day in day out.”
Then there’s the kid, Sam Long. He’s 22, even younger than Mendez, but has eye-opening power, as evidenced at XTERRA Beaver Creek where he out-paced both Mendez and Middaugh heading into the run. Those two caught him on the run, so he settled for third, but a statement was made.
“At Beaver Creek, I learned I truly can hang with them,” said Long. “That race went exactly how I visualized it except I fell apart on the run. However, that time around I was in in IM build. This time, I am altitude training. I am also doing a strength/hill work phase for running to try and improve that part of my races. I can only prepare to the best of my ability. Then it comes down to race day and going to battle with some serious warriors.”
Long continued, “Ogden is a chance for me to show what I am made of. The competition this year is the best it has seen and beating guys like Mau, Josiah, and Weiss is going be a serious task. Yet, they can be beaten: they have beaten each-other, right?”
Other veterans of note in the race include Brian Smith, who was 6th last year, and Branden Rakita, who was 9th on the day and finished second on the XTERRA Pan Am Tour.
“I love the Ogden race, it's been my favorite for many years now,” said Smith. “The race suits my strengths and has some of the best views. My body is feeling good and I have had some good training sessions at 7700 feet and higher. I would love to finish on the podium this year, as I was just over a minute out last season. I need a good swim to set myself up for a good chase and a top 3 bike and run split to seal the deal. I just set up a full suspension and made it very light, which should give me better legs for the run.”
As for Rakita, a true student of the sport, he provides this great insight on the course, competition, and his personal goals.
“The course is demanding, the swim is calm and easy, then once you start climbing it seems to never stop on the bike,” he explains. “The Middle Fork descent can be rough depending on how much trail maintenance has been done and how the rains have treated the course as well. The drier weather the dustier the course and the looser it will be, and rockier as well, so if you aren't careful it can end your day. It is going to be a very hotly contested race. Everyone wants to come out on top in Utah and the level of racing keeps getting faster and faster. And for those of us that raced the series there is still a lot up for grabs and anything can happen on race day. It has been a very good year for me, the number of guys and the level of racing is higher this year on the Pan Am Series and though I am not as high in the rankings this year I have had some of my best races and am looking forward to putting it together and seeing what happens.”
The XTERRA Pan American Championship is a 200-point scale race for elites, so the winner will earn 200 points, second 180, and so forth.
Kieran McPherson holds a near insurmountable lead atop the men’s standings heading into the finale in Utah. To secure the Tour title he needs to finish 13th or better. Karsten Madsen, who sits in second with 579 points, would top out at 779 points with a win. McPherson, with a 13th place finish, would end up with 781. Josiah Middaugh, the reigning and two-time XTERRA Pan Am Tour champ, is just five points behind Madsen and in position to take advantage of any miscues from McPherson or Madsen ahead of him.
Race title, Tour title, it’s all up for grabs. Here’s a look at who’s in it to win it…
Elite Men’s Start List, Tentative as of 9.6.18
XTERRA Pan Am Tour Rank – Name, Age, Hometown
1 – Kieran McPherson, 26, Matamata, New Zealand
2 – Karsten Madsen, 26, Kitchener, ON, Canada
3 – Josiah Middaugh, 40, Eagle-Vail, Colorado
4 – Branden Rakita, 37, Colorado Springs, Colorado
6 – Rafael Juriti, 34, Brumadinho, Brazil
8 – Brian Smith, 42, Gunnison, Colorado
10 – Mauricio Mendez, 22, Mexico City, Mexico
12 – Sam Long, 22, Boulder, Colorado
13 – Will Kelsay, 37, Denver, Colorado
31 – Brad Zoller, 41, Avon, Colorado
45 – Hans Ryham, 40, Houston, Texas
NR – Michael Nunez, 37, Salt Lake City, Utah
NR – Humberto Rivera, 28, San Diego, California
NR – Walter Schafer, 26, Englewood, Colorado
NR – Bradley Weiss, 29, Stellenbosch, South Africa
In the women’s elite race all eyes are on the Scottish Rocket, Lesley Paterson.
Her credentials tell you why. She won here last year, and three times total. She’s a two-time XTERRA World Champ, the reigning and two-time ITU Cross Tri World Champ, and won both U.S. stops on the Pan Am Tour this year at Oak Mountain and Beaver Creek. She’s also a model, film producer, coach, and wrote the book on the mental game in this sport; The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion.
“Love Utah,” exclaimed Paterson, who will be there all week enjoying the trails before the race. “I’m stoked on the course as it suits me as a climber. It’s also one of the most beautiful courses out there, especially when the leaves are turning for fall. I’m fit and healthy and super stoked to be out there racing. I’ve also been preparing at altitude in Boulder with other pro athletes, Will Kelsey and Humberto Rivera, so the game plan is to hit it hard and never look back and see where my fitness is at!”
While odds are Paterson makes her move early and never looks back, America’s Julie Baker has proven she belongs and led this race through the first five miles of the bike last year.
“I was in front for a little bit which was fun, but I kept waiting for Lesley to steamroll by me,” she said after the race. “Lesley came by me by the bridges at mile five I guess, and she opened up a little gap on me and then on that little rocky mountain hill I caught her again. Then as soon as we started up again, she took it away. She just goes insanely hard, and she breathes like a freight train coming by and I don’t know how she goes that fast and that hard for so long. It’s incredible.”
As for this time around, Baker said “I really like the Snowbasin course. I like the climbing and that the first little descent has some rocky spots. I also seem to do well with high altitude swims. Of course, there are other people that are even better at climbing, so it will be a good challenge.”
Reigning XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champ Suzie Snyder is also hoping to put in a good effort, despite spending the season recovering from injury.
“I am planning on racing in Utah, but a little frustrated that the fitness isn’t where I had hoped to be,” she said.
Fitness is a huge part of the challenge in Utah. The race starts with a one-mile swim in Pineview Reservoir (4,900-feet elevation), follows with an 18-mile mountain bike leg that climbs more than 3,000-feet to the top of Sardine Peak (7,300-feet elevation) and culminates with a 7-mile trail run featuring another 700-feet of climbing on trails around Snowbasin Resort in the Wasatch Range. The course, they say, is best-suited for mountain goats.
The story-within-the-story for the women’s race is the chase for the XTERRA Pan American Tour title. Mexico’s Fabiola Corona sits on top the standings with 604 points, but Kara LaPoint is just 34 points behind in second.
“This is the big event, so all the best athletes will be there, and we will fight with all we have left. I know the race venue, I raced there in 2010, so I know what to expect. It is a hard course but a beautiful place, I like it in Utah even though it will cause us pain and make us suffer,” said Corona, who has notched wins at XTERRA Argentina, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Quebec so far this year.
“This is it, the most important race for the Pan Am Tour. I feel prepared, in shape, and confident. I have learned and gained experience, enjoyed this season, met wonderful people, and the XTERRA family has made me feel at home this year. Now, I am part of this world and it is amazing, all the venues, the places, the single tracks, all those miles have been incredible. I am really grateful and feel so blessed to be part of this.”
For LaPoint, who did eight races across the Americas this season, the opportunity to travel, race, and experience the Tour was equally as rewarding.
“It’s been phenomenal to once again have the opportunity to experience so much of the Pan American Series, see different parts of the world, and meet incredible people all along the way,” she said. “Above all, despite so many months of racing behind me, I am as motivated as ever, and really just thrilled for another race experience out in Utah. While the season has gone well, I think I’m still waiting for that real break-out performance that stands out above the rest, and I feel poised to execute that here, where I’ll be thriving on all the good vibes around this special venue and the confidence I feel with this course. I know the competition will be incredibly stiff. Everyone will be ready to bring their ‘A game,’ which will certainly make for a tough battle, but I am someone who tends to rise to the challenge, so when those around me are at their best, it helps push me to be better too. There are a lot of possibilities for me in this race and I will certainly be pushing for the podium, but ultimately, I know that I can only control myself, so my focus will be on doing everything in my power to be at my absolute best out there. My goal is to finish the race feeling like I completely fulfilled my potential, and ideally knowing that on a personal level it was my best performance of the year, as that is what I have been preparing for, and what I am ready to do!”
Other contenders in the women’s elite race include Allison Baca, who won at XTERRA Chile in March then spent the rest of her spring recovering from injury.
“I am excited to test myself and feel ready to race,” she said. “The game plan? Go really, really hard.”
Kelli Montgomery is making her ninth start of the season and looking to secure her third spot in the rankings, adding “I’m excited for it, hope to hold my 3rd place in the Series, and most of all finish the season with a strong race.”
Katie Button, who sits in eighth place in the Tour standings, can move up considerably with a strong day in Utah.
“I'm not that familiar with the course but doing it for the first-time last year was enough to appreciate the difficultly level,” she exclaimed. “I plan on being a bit more rested than I was last year here and motivated to move up in the standings. I'm flying in last minute and do not intend on pre-riding or running the course. I don't have a lot of experience racing at altitude (or being at altitude!), so going to test out the last-minute approach this year.”
And making her elite debut is Tess Amer, who won the overall amateur titles at each of the last two XTERRA Beaver Creek off-road triathlons, and at each of those races, she would have finished second if she was racing in the elite field. She very well could prove to be Lesley's toughest competition on the day.
The wild card in the women’s race is Magali Tisseyre, who has won 17 Ironman 70.3 races in her illustrious road triathlon career. She finished sixth at XTERRA Worlds back in 2012 and says she’s ready to give off-road another go.
“I’ve had XTERRA in the back of my mind for a while now,” said Tisseyre. “I absolutely loved racing in Maui and am very interested in discovering more of the XTERRA Series. First Utah, then Maui, then we’ll see what next year brings.”
Elite Women’s Start List
XTERRA Pan Am Tour Rank – Name, Age, Hometown
1 – Fabiola Corona, 38, Queretaro, Mexico
2 – Kara LaPoint, 31, Basalt, Colorado
3 – Kelli Montgomery, 45, Wallingford, Connecticut
5 – Julie Baker, 41, Sonora, California
6 – Allison Baca, 28, Boulder, Colorado
7 – Lesley Paterson, 37, San Diego, California
8 – Katie Button, 33, Sechelt, BC, Canada
9 – Rebecca Blatt, 38, Denver, Colorado
10 – Jessie Koltz, 29, Reno, Nevada
12 – Heather Zimchek-Dunn, 32, Olympia, Washington
33 – Emanuela Bandol, 38, West Kelowna, BC, Canada
NR – Erin Ray, 36, Las Vegas, Nevada
NR – Magali Tisseyre, 36, Mont Tremblant, QC, Canada
NR – Suzie Snyder, 36, Reno, Nevada
NR – Anne Usher, 38, Portland, Oregon
NR - Tess Amer, 27, Boulder, Colorado
All-time XTERRA Utah Results
Year Men/Women Race
2017 Mauricio Mendez/Lesley Paterson Pan Am Champs
2016 Josiah Middaugh/Suzie Snyder Pan Am Champs
2015 Josiah Middaugh/Emma Garrard USA Champs
2014 Ruben Ruzafa/Flora Duffy USA Champs
2013 Leonardo Chacon/Lesley Paterson USA Champs
2012 Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson USA Champs
2011 Nicolas Lebrun/Melanie McQuaid USA Champs
2010 Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid USA Champs
2009 Nicolas Lebrun/Melanie McQuaid USA Champs
2008 Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid Mountain Champs
2007 Seth Wealing/Jamie Whitmore Mountain Champs
2006 Mike Vine/Melanie McQuaid Mountain Champs
2005 Robert Walsh/Toni Axelrod Points Series Race
2004 Anthony Johnson/Amber Monforte Points Series Race