Kiwi power couple, Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford, look for clean sweep of U.S. majors next Saturday, Sept. 25, in Utah.
With Tuesday’s announcement that the swim portion of the XTERRA USA Championship race was canceled and replaced with a new run-bike-run format and never-ridden before mountain bike course, the elite race took on a whole new level of mystery.
One thing remains unchanged, however, and that’s the dogged determination of the reigning Pan Am Tour Champions, Osborne and Kingsford, to finish what they started and win all three XTERRA majors in the continental U.S. this season. They’ve already knocked out two wins apiece, at XTERRA Oak Mountain in Alabama and XTERRA Beaver Creek in Colorado.
“To come all the way from New Zealand and commit to a trip like this with all the travel restrictions now, and the requirements for us to isolate in New Zealand, the eyes are firmly on the top step,” said Osborne, who won this race in 2019, and as one of the best mountain bikers on the XTERRA Planet, looks well positioned to take the tape once again.
“Duathlon changes the game a bit, it will bring in some guys very early on who aren’t usually factors until the back end of races, which I am sure will create some fireworks early. I haven’t been in a match race with big Joe since XTERRA France so looking forward to going head-to-head with him from the gun, and I’m sure Brian Smith is thinking all his Christmas’ have come at once. If there is one silver lining to the change, the talk is big that we have an incredible new mountain bike course so I’m really looking forward to that.”
The “big Joe” Osborne is referring to is none other than 14-time XTERRA USA Champion, Josiah “Beast Mode” Middaugh.
“I am feeling charged to race a new format and new course route,” said Middaugh, who won four titles at Snowbasin Resort through the years, his last in 2018. “I used to race a lot of duathlons and they are tough, the run on the front end can really do some damage later in the race and make for a very tough second run. It’ll be a different dynamic for sure. Hard to say how it will all play out, but it’ll be hot from the gun and make for some exciting racing.”
At XTERRA Beaver Creek in July, Sam Long posted the fastest run split of the day, followed by Osborne, Middaugh, Colin Szuch, and Brian Smith. The latter four are likely to set the tone next Saturday in Utah. Szuch, who was racing as an amateur in Beaver Creek, finished 5th overall that day ahead of a dozen elites. He since earned his elite license, and will be making his pro debut at Snowbasin.
“I am eager to toe the line with Josiah and Sam, and thrilled to hear the course will be a duathlon. I think this format will really mix things up,” said Szuch, a 19-year-old sophomore at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he is majoring in Aviation and Aerospace Science. “My plan for the race is really simple. I plan on going hard from the gun, and leave everything out there.”
Brian Smith, the two-time XTERRA Winter World Champion, has made a career out of “leaving everything out there,” and is super strong on the bike and run. This format could suit him better than anyone, except maybe the 2018 XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champion, Kieran McPherson, who also boasts one of the sports’ fastest runs and is fearless on the bike, which will come in handy on some of the gnarly new downhill sections.
“The course looks awesome,” said Branden Rakita, the reigning XTERRA U.S. Elite National Champion, who is questionable for next Saturday’s race after amputating the top of his left index finger in a bike crash a few weeks ago.
“The finger is healing, and the fact that it’s a duathlon gives me a chance to race, but it also hurts me in that the swim is probably my strongest asset,” said Rakita. “A duathlon completely changes the way the field will look. Josiah and Brian Smith will not be playing catch up after the first leg, and there are others who will be behind after that first run that would normally be in the front pack. I expect Osborne, Josiah, Brian, Eric Lagerstrom, and Kieran to be in T1 very close together and there will be others for sure. It’ll be a fight on the bike and getting out front will be key to control the race.”
Lagerstrom, who was by far the fastest swimmer in the first two U.S. XTERRA races this season, will face a new challenge with the duathlon format.
“I actually have no idea what to expect since I haven't raced these guys that much, and I don't know what will happen on that opening run,” said Lagerstrom, who is racing IM 70.3 Worlds this Saturday in St. George. “I've been putting decent time in on the mountain bike, but after Beaver Creek I definitely dialed it back a bit and focused on getting really strong hill reps in on the road, balanced with some easier rides focusing on tech trails.”
Perhaps the most interesting newcomer in the men’s elite field is 18-year-old Keller Norland, who has been around XTERRA his whole life because his mom, Melissa, was an accomplished age group racer and the family took part in XTERRA weekends since he was old enough to ride a bike.
“I grew up on the XTERRA scene, went to Worlds with my family four times, did XTERRA Hagg Lake, Wild Ride. I grew up on the trails, mountain biking and trail running,” said Norland, a member of Project Podium, USA Triathlon’s Olympic Development team.
Norland won the USATF 5K National Championship (15-18) last December, so you know he can fly.
“Competing at this caliber will definitely help to build my race experience, considering this is only my second Olympic distance race,” said Norland. “I think the duathlon will play to my favor so I’m excited to see how well I’m able to perform.”
XTERRA USA Championship Elite Men, as of 9.16.21
Position at 2019 USA Championship – Name, NAT
1 - Sam Osborne, NZL
3 - Branden Rakita, USA
5 - Brian Smith, USA
15 - Andy Lee, USA
NA - Nathan Cohen, USA
NA - Steve Croucher, USA
NA - Eric Lagerstrom, USA
NA - Daniel Reyes, USA
NA - Garen Marter, USA
NA - Kieran McPherson, NZL
NA - Josiah Middaugh, USA
NA - Keller Norland, USA
NA - Hans Ryham, USA
NA - Colin Szuch, USA
The women’s elite race is full of intrigue. Lesley Paterson is back to defend her title, Suzie Snyder is eager to steal a win, Amanda Felder is fresh off her first XTERRA World Tour win in Victoria, and Kingsford is on a mission.
“In 2019 I wanted to win the tour, this year I want to win all three of the U.S. races. To take three would be absolutely amazing,” said Kingsford.
“A duathlon is not my first pick to be racing for the title, I think my one and only attempt at a du was about 10 years ago! But as elite athletes we have to learn to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever is thrown at us, and I can’t wait to see the new mountain bike course! If rumors live up to what is being said, it will be a fun technical mountain bike course which will be awesome because I think XTERRA needs to showcase proper mountain biking in our racing.”
At the XTERRA USA Championship two years ago, Kingsford took a big lead into the run, but Paterson, aka the “Scottish Rocket,” kicked it into another gear to take the win, her fifth in Utah and third straight. Last weekend she won XTERRA Laguna Beach in her first race since Worlds in 2019.
“It was just so fun to be back in the community,” said Paterson, who wrote a feature film for Netflix, All Quiet on the Western Front, that is in post-production and will debut next summer. “With the focus on our film career, I’m not going to be racing and training full time anymore, but with races like Utah, I just love the location and miss my XTERRA peeps so much that I said f%*# it!”
The three-time XTERRA World Champ is just about to start production on another film, but rest assured she’s still in racing shape.
“I’ve been biking and running, though not with the same intensity and commitment as previously so not at my usual spunky fit self, but also, not unfit either. I’ll be breathing out my arse, no doubt, but will just be so happy and content to be out there suffering with my fellow gals and guys!”
For Snyder, the three-time XTERRA U.S. Women’s Champ, the switch from an off-road tri to a run-bike-run duathlon doesn’t change her mindset much.
“I’m approaching it the same as every race- focus on the process, control my own effort and have the best performance I can,” said Snyder. “I’m not putting as much pressure on myself to win anymore, since life is very different for me these days, but I would like to win the U.S. Title.”
Amanda Felder, meanwhile, is riding high after winning XTERRA Victoria earlier this month and hopes to take that momentum into the USA Championship.
“I feel like everything is coming together really well for me right now,” said Felder. “I don't have the rustiness that I had going into Alabama, and I've had a much better lead up than I had going into Beaver Creek. I know the bike fitness is there, and I had a great run in Victoria a couple weeks ago, so I feel like I'm ready to go.”
XTERRA USA Championship Elite Women, as of 9.16.21
Position at 2019 USA Championship – Name, NAT
1 - Lesley Paterson, GBR
2 - Samantha Kingsford, NZL
5 - Suzie Snyder, USA
NA - Amanda Felder, USA
NA - Kirsty Jahn, USA
NA - Jessica Koltz, USA
NA - Irena Ossola, USA
NA - Brandi Swicegood, USA
All-time XTERRA Utah Results
Year – Elite Champs (Race Designation)
2019 – Sam Osborne/Lesley Paterson (Pan Am/USA Championship)
2018 – Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson (Pan Am/USA Championship)
2017 – Mauricio Mendez/Lesley Paterson (Pan Am/USA Championship)
2016 – Josiah Middaugh/Suzie Snyder (Pan Am/USA Championship)
2015 – Josiah Middaugh/Emma Garrard (USA Championship)
2014 – Ruben Ruzafa/Flora Duffy (USA Championship)
2013 – Leonardo Chacon/Lesley Paterson (USA Championship)
2012 – Josiah Middaugh/Lesley Paterson (USA Championship)
2011 – Nicolas Lebrun/Melanie McQuaid (USA Championship)
2010 – Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid (USA Championship)
2009 – Nicolas Lebrun/Melanie McQuaid (USA Championship)
2008 – Conrad Stoltz/Melanie McQuaid (Mountain Championship)
2007 – Seth Wealing/Jamie Whitmore (Mountain Championship)
2006 – Mike Vine/Melanie McQuaid (Mountain Championship)
2005 – Robert Walsh/Toni Axelrod (Points Series Race)
2004 – Anthony Johnson/Amber Monforte (Points Series Race)