A pair of road triathlon’s biggest names, Eric Lagerstrom and Andrew Starykowicz, are headed to Shelby County, Alabama to do their first XTERRA on one of the sports’ toughest courses and against a stacked line-up of XTERRA greats on May 8, 2021 at XTERRA Oak Mountain.
While both men have proven their worth time and again on the road, can they XTERRA?
“It is not going to be pretty, but it will be a learning experience for sure,” said Starykowicz, who is one of the best cyclists in triathlon history. “Just because your good in one sector of triathlon does not necessarily mean you will be successful at another. Then again, there are guys (& gals) that are a jack of all trades. All that jargon aside, I am glad the field is loaded. I love racing these types of fields because you get no bullshit results of where you truly stack up.”
With reigning and two-time XTERRA World Champion Bradley Weiss (pictured), 14x XTERRA U.S. Champ and 2015 XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh, reigning XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champion Sam Osborne who won six majors in 2019 including Oak Mountain, and Canada’s best Karsten Madsen among others – the elite men’s field is indeed loaded.
“I know how next-level these guys are, and I'm prepared to be in awe,” said Lagerstrom, who won Ironman Santa Cruz and Ironman Steelhead 70.3s in 2018. “My hope is that I can hang with one of them who is having an off day, follow their lines, and make it to the run within a couple minutes of whoever is leading. I don't know how fast these guys can run on trail, but I do 90% of my running on trail and I absolutely love singletrack, so hopefully I can hang. Ultimately, I'm just hoping to have fun racing, see what I can accomplish without any specific training, and use that to gauge how much focus I should put on Maui.”
Middaugh, with 36 big wins in his illustrious 20-year XTERRA career - including 5 of the last 7 at Oak Mountain - has raced against a lot of top-notch roadies through the years and has a good idea of what to expect out of Lagerstrom and Starykowicz.
“It's great those guys are racing, and fun to see some surprises and a pretty deep pro field with so many eager to race,” said Middaugh. “Those two are definitely in good half ironman shape, having already raced and proven themselves. Starky is known as the strongest cyclist in Ironman so it will be interesting if he can lay down that power between the corners. I think they will both be in the mix with strong swims and great bike power.”
Branden Rakita, one of XTERRA’s best swimmers who finished third in the Pan Am Tour standings in 2019, is quick to agree.
“Both will be front pack, and Eric could lead out of the water with Starky on his heels,” said Rakita. “The trails will make it tough for them, though. One thing I’ve always loved about Oak Mountain, is you need mountain bike skills to go well there and maybe they have been mountain biking more, but I don't think either has experience on these types of trails.”
That is most certainly true for Starykowicz, who lives and trains in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
“I live in flat lands,” said Starykowicz. “I ride dirt double track in the form of snowmobile and ATV trails along with farm pastures, and the longest “climb” within an hour drive is 1-minute. I am in over my head on a mountain bike.”
Only time will tell how “over his head” Starykowicz will actually be on the mountain bike come May 8, after all – he has been following the sport for a long time.
“When I got into triathlon I followed Conrad Stoltz & Melanie McQuaid religiously, yet I was chasing success in other sectors of triathlon,” he said. “Now it is time, I see huge growth coming in the adventure sports category post pandemic and I want to be one of the driving factors getting road Tri people to get muddy.”
For Lagerstrom, XTERRA seemed like a logical evolution for a triathlete who grew up on a BMX bike.
“I've always wanted to do XTERRA, but it's been very challenging to fit it into my schedule, at first when I was chasing the Olympics, and more recently focusing on 70.3,” said Lagerstrom. “Now with covid, and ironman purses constantly shrinking, it's easier to justify putting some time into mountain bike training. That, and I actually have easy access to mountain biking since we moved to Bend a month ago.”
In addition to Lagerstrom and Starykowicz, there are several other strong road triathletes in the mix this year including Daniel Reyes – who won the USAT Ultra-Distance National Championship in October – and Lagerstrom’s friend, Curtiss Feltner.
“So this is my first XTERRA, but I've done a fair bit of mountain bike racing on the side from the road triathlons over the years, so not really sure why it took so long to finally put it all together and race XTERRA,” laughed Feltner. “Definitely looking forward to some Alabama trails. I've been in Bentonville/Bella Vista for the last month having a blast, so looking forward to seeing some other offerings from the Southern part of the country!”
Other notables on the elite men’s start list include Kieran McPherson, who won the XTERRA Pan Am Tour a couple years ago and was 3rd at Oak Mountain in 2019, Elliot Bach who was 4th at Oak Mountain in 2019, Will Ross – who was 5th in the Pan Am Tour two years ago, plus Will Kelsay, Barret Fishner, Hans Ryham, Humberto Rivera, Garen Marter, and more to come for sure.
The women’s elite field is welcoming some newcomers as well with the likes of Nickie Luse and Brandi Swicegood. They’ll have a tough challenge on the trails against Suzie Snyder, has been the top American elite woman finisher at the XTERRA World Championship for four straight years, is a two-time XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champion, and has won nine majors on the XTERRA World Tour, and Samantha Kingsford, who won three races on her way to winning the XTERRA Pan Am Tour title in 2019.
Learn more at xterraplanet.com/oakmountain.
Photos of Lagerstrom and Starykowicz courtesy Eric Wynn
All-time XTERRA Oak Mountain Elite Champions
Year – Men’s Winner/Women’s Winner
2006 – Brent McMahan/Melanie McQuaid
2007 – Conrad Stoltz/Jamie Whitmore
2008 – Conrad Stoltz/Shonny Vanlandingham
2009 – Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid
2010 – Conrad Stoltz/Shonny Vanlandingham
2011 – Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid
2012 – Conrad Stoltz/Lesley Paterson
2013 – Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson
2014 – Josiah Middaugh/Flora Duffy
2015 – Braden Currie/Lesley Paterson
2016 – Josiah Middaugh/Suzie Snyder
2017 – Josiah Middaugh/Suzie Snyder
2018 – Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson
2019 – Sam Osborne/Suzie Snyder