The seventh of 10 stops on the 2019 XTERRA Pan American Tour heads to the thin air of the Colorado Rockies for one of sports’ toughest challenges at the XTERRA Beaver Creek off-road triathlon this Saturday, July 20, in Avon, Colorado.
Host to XTERRA Championship racing since 2009, the Beaver Creek course boasts the highest elevation of any major on the XTERRA World Tour and starts with a one-mile swim in the cold waters of Nottingham Lake situated at 7,400-feet elevation.
The next step involves 15+ miles of mountain biking that climbs 3,500-feet up a famous ski slope which hosts FIS World Cup Super G, Downhill, and Giant Slalom races in December. The very first climb on the bike gains 2,000 vertical feet in five miles, and the course peaks out at 9,400 feet before transitioning to well-maintained single-track trails that weave through white aspen trees to Beaver Creek Village.
Then it’s on to a calf-burning, six-mile trail run which breaks down into essentially two big 500-foot climbs (roughly 1,050ft for the run course). “The course at Beavercreek is a tough one, no doubt about it,” said 2015 XTERRA World Champ Josiah Middaugh, who lives nearby and helped design the course.
Middaugh, a Suunto Multisport team member, won five straight races at Beaver Creek before 2016 XTERRA World Champ Mauricio Mendez stole the title away from him last year.
“Even though I love my home course, I have to be firing on all cylinders. If you’re having a bad day there is no way to hide it,” explained Middaugh, who will be racing his third XTERRA in 20 days on Saturday following XTERRA Victoria on July 7, then XTERRA Quebec on July 14.
“This is always the first big mountain race of the year and in my mind kicks off the second half of the season with the big three races Beaver Creek, Ogden, and Maui all with similar course profiles. It takes a different kind of conditioning and more attention to pacing, nutrition/fueling, and perseverance. If your preparation has any deficiencies, they will show.”
While Mendez will not be racing on Saturday, current XTERRA Pan American Tour leader Sam Osborne from New Zealand, who has won his last four races including three in a row on the Pan Am Tour, will provide all the challenge Middaugh could ask for.
“Every year there’s somebody that brings me up to another level, and that guy is Sam this year,” said Middaugh, who has 35 career wins since his debut in Keystone in 2000, including his most recent one in Quebec on Sunday. “He beat me at Worlds the last two years, and at Oak Mountain and Victoria so far this year. He’s on fire and will be hard to beat.”
Osborne, winner of the last two XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour titles, moved to the U.S. and based himself in Boulder, Colorado for the 2019 season with the goal to win the Pan Am Tour this year.
“I would have loved to have raced last weekend in Quebec, the course there looks truly amazing, but made the decision to come back to Boulder and get into my routine again before Beaver Creek,” said Osborne. “Had I not thought the altitude in Beaver Creek would be such a big factor I would have happily raced the three back to back like Josiah, but I also wanted to avoid over racing.”
Saturday will be Osborne’s first crack at XTERRA Beaver Creek and the unique challenge it provides.
“It’s going to be a very different style of racing from what we have done so far this year,” he explained. “The high-altitude deserves a lot of respect. You can’t take that aggressive approach, it’s more about finding your limit and playing around that, but not going over it. If you redline too early up that high, it’ll be hard to recover.”
Spectators can count on Osborne, a super-fast swimmer, coming out of the swim with the leaders and charging hard up front on the bike early. They can also count on Middaugh doing everything in his power to reel Osborne in on the bike before they get to the top of the climb and turning the run into a total suffer-fest.
“I’m sure it’ll be a tough one,” said Osborne. “It’s Josiah’s home course and that always brings out a little more in someone. We’ve had some good races against each other in Victoria & Alabama, and I’m looking forward to another good battle on Saturday.”
While Osborne and Middaugh are no doubt favorites, there are a dozen other elite men on the start list who’d like to be called the king of the mountain including a bunch of Coloradans who excel at altitude like veterans Brian Smith, Branden Rakita, and Ryan Ignatz. There’s also Karsten Madsen from Canada who was second last week at XTERRA Quebec.
“Recovery, recovery, recovery,” said Madsen, a Suunto Multisport team member, about racing his third XTERRA in as many weeks this Saturday. “With the damage I took on I need to be careful and make smart calls this week. Going into the thin air worries me but this year it’s a bit of, ‘it is what it is.’ Just need to prepare well, sleep great, and put forth a good effort on race day. The rest will take care of itself.”
Other notables include Will Ross from Alaska, who had a career-best third place finish at Quebec on Sunday to move into the top five on the Tour. It’ll also be fun to see the young gun Benny Smith, who is just 19, make his elite debut in the mountains, but perhaps the most intriguing entry is Elliot Bach, a road triathlete by trade who finished fourth in his XTERRA debut at Oak Mountain in May.
“I’m feeling good,” said Bach. “I moved to Boulder five weeks ago and training is going great. I raced a half Ironman in Mexico at 7500 feet last weekend and got 2nd overall. My game plan is another podium, and to enjoy it!”
Bib# - 2019 XTERRA Pan Am Tour Rank - Name, NAT
1 - 1 - Sam Osborne, NZL
2 - 2 - Josiah Middaugh, USA
3 - 5 - Will Ross, USA
4 - 6 - Branden Rakita, USA
5 - 10 - Karsten Madsen, CAN
6 - 11 - Evan Pardi, USA
7 - 16 - Elliot Bach, USA
8 - 18 - Brian Smith, USA
9 - 22 - Ryan Ignatz, USA
10 - NR - Mike Meehan, USA
11 - NR - Benny Smith, USA
12 - NR - Alex Willis, USA
14 - NR - Brad Zoller, USA
The women’s elite race is much harder to predict with several candidates in contention for the title, including the current XTERRA Pan Am Tour leader Samantha Kingsford from New Zealand, the reigning XTERRA USA Champ Suzie Snyder from Nevada, and the 2016 XTERRA Beaver Creek winner Julie Baker from California.
Kingsford won XTERRA Brazil, was third at XTERRA Oak Mountain behind Snyder and Lesley Paterson and won XTERRA Victoria on July 7 ahead of Snyder.
“Beaver Creek is going to be another tough race,” said Kingsford, who is based in Boulder with Sam Osborne. “Everyone I’ve spoken to about this race says it’s not technically hard, you just keep going up and up, to higher and higher altitude – which should result in some interesting racing. Although I have been living at altitude and came back to it straight after Victoria, it's raced at a lot higher level than what I have been living and training at.”
Like Osborne, it’s the first time Kingsford has taken on the Rockies.
“I have never raced at altitude before, so I guess I just have to pace myself, so I don’t come undone,” she said.
“I think all of us girls are going to be in the same boat with the altitude though; we will all be exposed to it roughly at the same time. For this race I want to have another consistent race. My last race in Victoria was my first well-rounded race, so it’s good to see some of my training starting to come through. Hopefully I can continue that for this weekend, but I know Suzie and Julie are going to put up a good fight for the top step, so hopefully we can put down some good racing on the girl’s side.”
With Lesley Paterson who won the last two races here at Beaver Creek sitting this one out, Julie Baker is the top returner.
“I'm definitely excited for both the mountain races, Beaver Creek and Utah, they're fun, challenging, and beautiful courses,” said Baker, who finished second last year.
“It's always great to really have to earn your fun after all that climbing. Suzie and Samantha have been riding well of late so it will be a challenge to stay close enough to be in contention by the run. For whatever reason (I blame my swimmer's chicken legs) I am usually stronger at climbing courses than flatter courses, but I am feeling a bit tired after some back to back races, so this will be a good test of my training so far.”
Other notables include Kara LaPoint, who was third last year and will be racing her first XTERRA of the season, Deanna McCurdy – who was second on Sunday at XTERRA Quebec and has excelled on this course in previous years, Maia Ignatz from Boulder who is a force, and Anne Nevin, a Norwegian who won the amateur title last year (6th woman overall) and is racing elite this year.
All the elites on the start list will be gunning for top spots and big points as just four races remain in the XTERRA Pan American Tour. After Beaver Creek, it’s on to XTERRA Mexico on August 3, XTERRA Dominican Republic on August 31, then the finale in Utah on September 7.
2019 XTERRA Pan Am Tour Rank - Name, NAT
31 - 1 - Samantha Kingsford, NZL
32 - 3 - Suzie Snyder, USA
33 - 5 - Julie Baker, USA
34 - 7 - Deanna McCurdy, USA
35 - 13 - Maia Ignatz, USA
36 - NR - Jamie Chapoteau, USA
37 - NR - Kara LaPoint, USA
38 - NR - Michelle Mehnert, USA
39 - NR - Anne Nevin, NOR
All-time XTERRA Beaver Creek Elite Champions
Year - Man/Woman
2018 - Mauricio Mendez/Lesley Paterson
2017 - Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson
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