Strong, deep elite fields are set for XTERRA’s biggest race in North America as the Pan Am Championships storm into Ogden, Utah this weekend.
The below preview of the pro races comes courtesy of XTERRA
Forty-six of the top elite off-road triathletes in the world are in northern Utah for the inaugural XTERRA Pan America Championship race on Saturday.
The men’s race features reigning XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh from Eagle-Vail, Colorado, Canada’s best off-roader Karsten Madsen, Great Britain’s Karl Shaw, last year’s XTERRA USA and World Championship race runner-up Braden Currie of New Zealand, and Costa Rican great Rom Akerson.
The women’s race is highlighted by American XTERRA Warrior Suzie Snyder, winner of four Pan Am Tour races this season. She will have plenty of competition from the likes of XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour Champion Lizzie Orchard of New Zealand, Brazilian star Sabrina Gobbo, rookie pro sensation Julie Baker of the U.S., and nine of the top 10 ranked women in the XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series.
Follow the elite race live on twitter @xterraoffroad starting at 9am on Sept. 17.
Women’s Elite Race Preview
Julie Baker, a 39-year-old out of Sonora, California, was asked how it feels to be considered one of the favorites to win the elite women’s race at Saturday’s XTERRA Pan America Championship.
“Wait, I’m one of the favorites??” was her reply.
While it may come as a surprise to Baker, it’s no surprise at all to those who follow the sport nor the women who have raced against her.
Baker won the 30-34 XTERRA National Championship on this course in 2013 and last year finished fourth overall as the top age grouper. A month later she won the amateur XTERRA World Championship and this year, in her elite debut at XTERRA Beaver Creek, she won by nearly two minutes over Pan Am Pro Series leader Suzie Snyder.
Her strength is in the swim. A collegiate water polo star, Baker swam more than one-minute faster than Snyder at Beaver Creek and to put that in perspective, Snyder swam four-minutes faster than the rest of the field at XTERRA Oak Mountain back in May.
“Swimming is definitely my strength so I will try and get some time there,” said Baker. “I keep hoping for someone who is a fast swimmer (but not too fast) so I can draft in the swim.”
It’s unlikely that will happen, unless XTERRA newcomer Amanda Felder fills that role, and what that means is the first women out of the water and on to the bike will be wearing a rather plain looking blue racing kit, in stark contrast to the colorful logo-strewn jerseys of her fellow elites.
“No sponsors yet, so yes, the tri suit is still blue and pristine,” she exclaimed.
Attribute the lack of sponsors to her focus on another profession in the dirt, that of a soil scientist. The Stanford grad has been working on a soil survey of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for the last couple of years.
“We have one more year of field work scheduled and then a lot of database and manuscript work,” explained Baker, who admits the full-time work has led to some unorthodox training methods.
“I haven’t really had a training plan. Basically my strategy has been to train hard when I’m home, and not worry about it when we’re out working. Sometimes if there’s a good hike at work a couple of the guys and I will race each other up the hill, with packs and tools and all. I like to think of all those rocks and steps with weight on your back as strength training. I also try to do some running when we’re out in the backcountry but the footing is usually pretty bad so it’s hard to go fast.”
The rugged course here in Utah has a similar profile to that of XTERRA Beaver Creek – in terms of altitude and amount of climbing – which bodes well for Baker.
“I like this course a lot and it’s similar in style to Beaver Creek, so it was encouraging to have a strong bike there. I think I was so excited to be in the lead there that I kept pushing a little too much on the bike and then was more tired than I wanted to be for the run. I’ve done a lot more bike to run work this summer, but I think I’m still learning how to train so I hope to keep improving,” she said.
Holding off the rest of the field on the bike and run will be no easy task for Baker, as several of her competitors had breakout seasons in 2016.
Among them is the Kiwi Lizzie Orchard, who was fifth at XTERRA Worlds last year and won the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship race in Australia this year. Her strength is on the run and if she is in striking distance at the bike-to-run transition, it could spell trouble for whomever is in front of her.
Then there is Snyder, just a year removed from crushing her pelvis in a pre-ride accident in Mexico, who has four Pan Am Tour wins to her credit this season.
“I’m feeling good, maybe not 100% since I’ve been nursing a back issue for the past few weeks, but at least the pelvis is 100% and that chapter is behind me. It’s been a really long road (which I’m still on) to regain the running fitness I lost due to that injury, but I do think that my swim and bike are stronger than ever and I’m only going to get stronger from now until Worlds.”
Last year’s race here in Utah was a painful one for Snyder, who was still suffering from injures at the time and in the unenviable position of having to finish the race in order to secure her No. 2 spot in the Pro Series.
“I have not erased last year’s memory of this race, I think about it a lot. I actually swam well, and rode fairly well considering I’d been off the bike for the previous six weeks and had to walk 99% of the run. I can’t believe I actually ran some of that first climb with a broken pelvis, but Kara (LaPoint) was right in front of me and I felt like if I could run with her and give her some encouragement and support for a little while, that maybe it would help her finish out the day strong…and that was well worth any pain and discomfort I was feeling at the time.”
It’s a different story for Snyder this year as she can claim the inaugural XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series title with an 11th place finish or better.
“Without Mimi racing (Myriam Guillot-Boisset, who is second in the Pan Am Pro Series) the Tour title win is achievable with much less pressure. It doesn’t change the fact that I still want to win the race outright, but not worrying about the Tour title allows me to stay relaxed and focused on the process of having my own best race. Of course, Mimi would not have been the only threat for the race win; Julie Baker, Lizzie Orchard, Kara LaPoint, Maia Ignatz and Liz Gruber are all strong, capable women who may very well challenge me for it.”
As for her strategy on race day, Snyder said “my personal mantra has always been “race your own race.” It helps me stay focused and in the moment, and not think about who I’m chasing, who might be coming from behind or how much the effort hurts. I feel like I have fun when I’m relaxed and make fewer mistakes, which translates into a faster performance. Overall, I’m just really excited to be leading the Pan Am Tour coming into the Championship, after not knowing if I’d even be able to participate in the Tour this year when the season started. I’m grateful for my health and ability to race and owe my entire support network of family, friends and sponsors a tremendous amount of thanks and gratitude.”
Maia Ignatz had the best showing of her career earlier this season when she finished 2nd behind Snyder at XTERRA Oak Mountain. She is ranked 3rd in the Pan Am Pro Series and is the top returning pro in this year’s field. Saturday’s race is big for both her and Kara LaPoint, currently ranked fourth in the series, as those two battle for the second spot in the final standings. The payout for 2nd is $6,000, 3rd is $3,600. Ignatz is 11 points ahead of LaPoint heading into Saturday’s race.
“I’m feeling really good heading in to Utah, and I’m super excited to race,” said LaPoint. “After such a busy season with a ton of travel, I’ve been home since XTERRA Dominican Republic and it’s been so nice to be able to be in one place and really put in a solid training block. I did have a pretty hard crash last week that injured my knee, so I haven’t been able to do much running yet and it’s still pretty sore, but I’m hopeful that with another week to recover it will be good to go by race day. No big secret tactical strategies…just push hard, be bold, keep believing, stay positive, don’t back down, race with heart and courage, have fun, and finish knowing I left it ALL on the course.”
That would be a good mindset for everybody, including the other women in contention which include three-time XTERRA Brazil Champion Sabrina Gobbo from Sao Paulo, Katharine Carter from Canada, and rookie pro Liz “MacGruber” Gruber – who finished fifth overall here last year and has three age group national titles from Utah in her trophy room.
Follow the women’s elite race on twitter @xterraoffroad starting at 9am MST.
Bib #/Rank – Name, Age, Hometown
51/1 – Suzie Snyder – 34 – Reno, Nevada
53/3 – Maia Ignatz – 36 – Boulder, Colorado
54/4 – Kara LaPoint – 29 – Truckee, California
55/5 – Sabrina Gobbo – 39 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
56/7 – Katharine Carter – 29 – Vancouver, BC, Canada
57/8 – Debby Sullivan – 35 – Stafford, Virginia
58/9 – Caroline Colonna – 52 – Taos, New Mexico
59/10 – Rebecca Blatt – 36, Lakewood, Colorado
60/12 – Sarah Graves – 39 – Ballantine, Montana
61/13 – Julie Baker – 40, Sonora, California
62/17 – Liz Gruber – 27, Colorado Springs, Colorado
63/28 – Lisa Leonard – 28 – Aberdeenshire, Scotland
64/36 – Amanda Felder – 34, Del Mar, California
65/NR – Lizzie Orchard – 31 – Auckland, New Zealand
66/NR – Annie Bergen – Kelowna, B.C., Canada
Men’s Elite Race Preview
For Josiah Middaugh, XTERRA has always been about the adventure. In 2016, however, the reigning World Champion may have gotten more than he bargained for.
His adventures started even before his season did when he got caught in a nasty snowstorm on the drive from his home in Eagle-Vail, Colorado to the airport in Denver to catch his flight for XTERRA Costa Rica.
“Had to pull over and wait it out,” he said. “Lucky it cleared enough to get through and make the flight.”
Then on his way out of Costa Rica there was a fire on the runway, followed by a President Obama encounter upon his arrival in Argentina, and a memorable Taxi cab ride with “Kahuna Dave” to another local airport for the jump to San Juan.
On his next trip he and his wife Ingrid found themselves dancing with dozens of Polynesian entertainers directly upon arrival. Then it rained, and rained, and the race turned into one of pure survival … or as Middaugh put it, “the most challenging trail loop I’ve ever done, it was diabolical.”
After the race he took time to swim with manta rays before heading to XTERRA Oak Mountain, where he once broke his knee-cap in a pre-ride, the very next weekend.
In July it was back home to the calm, controlled environment of his hometown in Colorado for XTERRA Beaver Creek, unless of course your wife signs you up for a celebrity dance gala right before the race, and then you get sick.
Later that month he traveled to XTERRA Dominican Republic where he was leading the bike and… “I was having a good time for a while,” he explained. “Then I got a puncture. I tried to plug it. I used my first CO2 to find the hole, but the hole was too big. So I put a tube in and inflated it with my other CO2, but the tube had a hole in it, so then I had nothing. I started running with my bike in one hand and wheel in the other. Rom and Braden went by and didn’t have anything to give me…then finally somebody had a tube. I put that in and then I couldn’t find my axle. It was a half a mile back up the hill. I left the bike and ran up the hill but couldn’t find it. I ran past it, looked everywhere and then finally, found it and ran back to the bike.”
Middaugh went on to post the fastest run of the day to finish fourth.
The next weekend was XTERRA Mexico where he suffered an acute case of appendicitis on the eve of the race on August 6. Organizers drove him two hours from the remote mountain countryside of Tapalpa to the specialist in Guadalajara where he had emergency surgery to remove it.
Through it all Middaugh has kept his incredible sense of humor and big smile, even won a couple races to put him atop the Pan Am Pro Series standings. And while it was not quite the ideal build-up to the XTERRA Pan America Championship, Middaugh says he’s feeling good.
“Like a million bucks…all green and wrinkled,” he joked. “Actually, I’m feeling pretty good and had a couple good weeks of training. It’s a good, deep start list here in Utah with plenty of guys that will be going for it. My plan as always is to race my own race and hang it all out there in all three disciplines. I think I can be within a minute on the swim, but it’s possible Karl Shaw could push the pace of that front pack and some guys might be able to go with him and put a bigger gap on me. I’m really looking forward to the bike but I know from last year that to get to the front I will have to be pushing very hard from the start, and the run could be interesting if there are 4 or 5 guys really close.”
Branden Rakita, who is 5th in the Pan Am Pro Series and a student-of-the-game, is quick to agree with Middaugh’s assessment of how the race might play out.
“It is going to be a very exciting race,” he said. “With the big field it will add a bit of a dynamic that we haven’t seen this year that could affect the standings. There are a number of strong swimmers – Braden Currie, Karl Shaw, Karsten Madsen, Brad Zoller, Felipe Barraza, Matt Lieto, Jean-Phillippe Thibodeau, Rom Akerson – and we should have a good group at the front to push the pace. We will try to get away and a gap could form. Once we are in Wheeler (the first big climb) the group will thin and spread out some, but even if you are in the front group with Josiah Middaugh, Brian Smith, and Sam Long coming up from behind, there is a lot that could still happen to mix things up.”
Currie Coming to Utah
Last year’s XTERRA USA and World Championship runner-up Braden Currie of New Zealand is headed to Utah to give Josiah Middaugh another run for his money at the XTERRA Pan America Championship next Saturday, September 17.
Last year’s race in the Wasatch Range was a thriller between those two as they traded leads on the bike and run until about mile four of the run when Middaugh opened a little gap and held on for a 26-second margin of victory.
“Braden Currie just never gives up, and I was really wishing he would have, but he didn’t. It was never over, I just kept having to dig deeper and deeper,” said Middaugh after the race last year.
Currie, who has been rehabilitating a calf strain, is hopeful to push the pace once more.
“This race is my only lead-in event to the XTERRA World Champs, and I am hoping for a good day out,” said Currie. “If anything the injury only fueled my fire and increased my commitment to my main goal of becoming a World XTERRA Champion this year. I intend to put everything into the next seven weeks and our plan to stay in Lake Tahoe after the Pan Am Champs and train is the best possible training environment I could hope for going into this event. Each year we learn a little bit more and make better decisions about my training and racing and I really feel as if I am making the right steps towards this goal.”
Currie isn’t the only racer for Middaugh to worry about. Karl Shaw from Great Britain, who got the better of Middaugh at the Pan Am Pro Series opener in Costa Rica back in March, will toe the line and so will Rom Akerson, who upset the champ at XTERRA Dominican Republic (thanks in part to an epic mechanical on the bike for Middaugh).
Another guy to look out for is Karsten Madsen, who is having the best season of his life.
“This season has been a massive breakthrough that I didn’t really expect,” he said. “I have gotten strong in every race since Alabama. My goal in Utah is simple. I want to win. I have found when I shoot for the stars I have reached them this year (he won both XTERRA Mine over Matter and XTERRA Victoria) and I respect everyone I race with and this will be the biggest field yet, but I have bested some pretty amazing athletes this year and I want to keep that going in Utah. I have a massive amount of trust in the training I have done leading into this race. I will be racing with an eye over my shoulder as Josiah will be a man on a mission and he can never be counted out so many people have over the years and he proves them wrong. To beat him on this course you need a day where everything goes perfect and in XTERRA that’s far from reality. The game plan is simple on my end swim hard and get away early. Then back up the bike with one of the day’s fastest run splits. I look forward to putting the fitness to the test.”
Matt Lieto is back as well, looking to improve on his 5th place showing last year.
“I love this race because it suits my strengths (fitness and power) and limits my weakness (you know, riding down the hills),” Lieto joked. “Seriously though, since most of my time spent training is on a TT bike having a mostly uphill time trial on the mountain bike is pretty great for me. Also, it’s freaking beautiful, and at a good time of year to get in the dirt. Last year I made the podium with a 5th, and this year I’ll be looking to be top three. It’s a BIG ask, but this race rewards an athlete willing to hurt, and that’s what I’m best at. Embrace the pain. I’ll be riding an MTB about 6-8 times before the race, but focusing on sustained climbs and hour efforts in my training. Should set me up well.”
With so much talent on the start line including 20-year-old rookie pro Sam Long, who was second at XTERRA Beaver Creek, looking to make his mark on the sport and 41-year-old veteran Brian Smith – looking to be one of the top Americans and grab a spot on Team USA for Cross Tri Worlds – one thing is for certain … this race is going to be exciting.
We also caught up with International pros: Rom Akerson, Karl Shaw, and Sam Long to get their thoughts…
“I am feeling great, we have had a great tour this year and every race was super fun and challenging,” said Akerson, who won the last two races on the Pan Am Pro Series at XTERRA Dominican Republic and XTERRA Mexico. “I expect to give it my best on Saturday and hope it puts me on the podium. I have been up in Vail for the last two weeks training and thinking about that climb. The goal is always the same, and that’s to WIN. I just need to feel good and make no mistakes.”
For Shaw, who is coming over from Europe, this race is a building block to Maui.
“I will be happy with a top 5 at this race, just four weeks before XTERRA Worlds,” said Shaw, who won XTERRA Costa Rica to start the season. “It’ll be my first time to Utah but my trainer lives here in Salt Lake City and I wanted to do one more tough race before Worlds. After this I will head back to Europe for some more hard training and some races.”
And for Sam Long, the 20-year-old who finished 2nd in his XTERRA debut at Beaver Creek in July, it’s all about the experience.
“Beaver Creek was the first race that I had a major breakthrough and I think I have been able to carry that intensity over,” said Long. “Since then I got second place at 70.3 Calgary (another improvement for me) and have noticed myself believing in what I can do more. I finally find myself believing that I can actually make a living as a professional triathlete and that I have a future in this sport. Also, because of Beaver Creek I can justify more mountain bike training and trail running. This has been awesome. I love being out in the mountains and on the trails. This truly has made life more enjoyable.”
In addition to the race itself, there is also a battle for the top spots in the Pan Am Pro Series that dishes out $60,000 to the top 10 men and women in the final standings.
This is the last of 10 events, and with 342 points Middaugh is the Pan Am Pro Series leader. Karsten Madsen from Canada and Rom Akerson from Costa Rica are close behind with 322 points apiece. Middaugh needs to finish top 3 to secure the crown, however, if (hypothetically speaking) Karsten or Rom win in Utah and Josiah finishes fourth or worse, they could take the title.
“My number one goal is to win the race and the only time I will think about the tour title is if something goes wrong like a flat tire, then I might be forced to do some math,” said Middaugh.
For Akerson and Madsen, a win coupled with a fourth-place finish or worse for Middaugh would give either of them the Pan Am Pro Series title (one of a million potential scenarios) and the second-spot will likely come down to who finishes higher between the two of them.
The battle for fourth is equally close with the Kiwi, Kieran McPherson, currently in fourth place, seven points ahead of Rakita.
“Main goal is top 3 in the race, but top 5 is still a stellar race with how deep the field is,” said Rakita. “If I take care of that then the next goal of getting back to 4th in the series is likely. I need to beat Kieran and have 1 person between us, which makes it difficult.”
Lots on the line this Saturday. Follow it as it unfolds on twitter @xterraoffroad starting at 9am MST.
XTERRA PAN AM CHAMPIONSHIP ELITE START LIST
Bib #/Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name, NAT
1/1 – Josiah Middaugh – 38 – Vail, Colorado
2/2 – Rom Akerson – 32 – Tambor, Costa Rica
3/3 – Karsten Madsen – 24 – Guelph, Ontario, Canada
4/4 – Kieran McPherson – 24, Matamata, New Zealand
5/5 – Branden Rakita – 35 – Colorado Springs, Colorado
6/6 – Chris Ganter – 37 – Boise, Idaho
7/7 – Ian King – 26 – Virginia Beach, Virginia
8/9 – Sam Long – 20 – Boulder, Colorado
9/10 – Thomas Spannring – 40 – Longmont, Colorado
10/12 – Cody Waite – 38, Lakewood, Colorado
11/16 – Karl Shaw – 36, Great Britain
12/21 – Ryan Ignatz – 37, Boulder, Colorado
14/37 – Brad Zoller – 39, Avon, Colorado
15/45 – Dan Molnar – Bismark, North Dakota
16/46 – Brian Smith – 41, Gunnison, Colorado
17/47 – Michael Nunez – 35, Salt Lake City, Utah
18/56 – Eduardo Marcolino – 36 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
19/62 – Patrick McKeon – 27, Philadelphia, Penn.
20/NR – Rodrigo Acevedo – 30 – Bogota, Colombia
21/NR – Felipe Barraza – 24 – Santiago, Chile
22/NR – Barret Fishner – 33, Blodgett, Oregon
23/NR – Matt Lieto – 37, Bend, Oregon
24/NR – Alex Martinek – 24 – Durango, Colorado
25/NR – Alex Modestou – 29, Durham, North Carolina
26/NR – Cameron Paul – 26 – Taupo, New Zealand
27/NR – Jean-Philippe Thibodeau – 25 – Quebec, Canada
28/NR – Walter Schafer – 25 – Centennial, Colorado
29/NR – Braden Currie – 29, Wanaka, New Zealand
30/NR – Alex Roberts – 26, Taupo, New Zealand
31/NR – JP Donovan – 29, Incline Village, Nevada