Josiah Middaugh and Flora Duffy captured the ninth annual XTERRA Southeast Championship race at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County, Alabama amidst some wacky weather conditions that went from cool and cloudy to torrential downpours to bright sunshine over the course of three hours.
It was without a doubt the coolest weather XTERRA has ever experienced for this race, a wetsuit-legal event for pros and amateurs with Oak Mountain Lake reading 64F in the morning.
While the rain came down during the early morning hours it calmed enough for a dry start, but about 15 minutes into the bike leg an ominous black cloud came down dropping buckets of water and creating eerily dark conditions in the tree-covered forest.
“It was an adventure out there,” said Middaugh. “We thought the rain was done and all of a sudden it got really dark and the skies opened up and dumped rain for 20-30 minutes and then we went into the Blood Rock section with all that mud and rain, it was wild. Then the sun came out, it was a strange race.”
Strange, albeit fairly predictable race dynamics with Dan Hugo, Mauricio Mendez, and Craig Evans getting the early jump out of the water, Middaugh 2:20 back and charging hard, and Brad Weiss, Branden Rakita, Ryan Ignatz and company kind of in the middle of all that.
What seemed different was just how close the racing was today.
“Everything was so tight, and I think that’s a testament to the strength of the field, it was a battle out there for everybody. It was a true race, everybody was fighting hard,” said Middaugh.
Indeed the battles waged on at every turn. Hugo had 45 seconds on Craig Evans at Blood Rock, and 1:30 to Middaugh and Rakita. Evans passed Hugo not far after, and when Middaugh caught up to Hugo “he said Craig was about 20 seconds up but he was gone – he was more like 1:30 up,” said Middaugh.
Evans, who has proven himself time and again on this course, did it again today. He had 45 seconds on Middaugh, a little more than one-minute on Hugo, and almost two on Rakita and Weiss by T2.
“We all have favorite races and this is mine. My skills show on more technical courses and this was a dicey course today especially being wet, and I think on technical courses I can throw my hat in the ring,” said Evans.
“Today was a good showing for me. I had a perfect day, no crashes, I was railing corners, had the right tire selection, the right PSI, and I ran really well. I thought I had it. I was running scared, running for my life, I knew they were coming. Then the second lap Josiah caught me on the foot bridge and broke me.”
Not certain “broke” is the right word, as Evans ran strong into the finish for second-place, matching his career-best performance which was also on this course two years ago.
Even more excitement was taking place behind Evans as 18-year-old Mauricio Mendez was in primal-mode chasing down everything in front of him. He came off the bike in seventh before passing Nick Fisher early on, then Dan Hugo, and finally Branden Rakita in the home stretch while nearly catching Brad Weiss at the finish line. His 31:53 run split was two minutes better than that of the race winner Middaugh, and his time of 2:20:51 was only a second shy of Weiss, who held on for third.
“It was an amazing run for me, I was fighting so hard to catch Branden and I didn’t know Brad was that close,” said Mendez.
“I knew Mauricio was coming, he’s flying on the run, so you better not back it down too early,” said Weiss. “And somehow I looked down and ran past the turn off to the finish chute and had to turn around and get back which caused that sprint down the finish line…made for a fun ending.”
The race was Weiss’ eighth big XTERRA in 10 weeks and he finished no worse than 4th at any of them.
“Biggest block of racing I’ve ever done. It was pretty wild and I can feel it, it’s taking its toll,” said Weiss. “I’m looking forward to some down time. We’ll head to Boulder now and I’ll have three-and-a-half weeks of no racing until Richmond.”
Hugo, who won four majors (five total) during that same 10-week, 8-race stretch, will carry-on with the journey at XTERRA Brazil on June 8 before heading to Richmond to defend his title on June 15.
While still racing out front in the swim and more than halfway through the bike, it did appear that stretch of travel and bucket-list worthy adventures caught up with Hugo today. “I gave it everything I had, that was it,” he said on his sixth-place finish while humbly deflecting all attention to Middaugh, Evans, Weiss, Mendez, and Rakita.
For Rakita, it was a brilliant fifth-place finish as the level and spirit of the men’s elite race on the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series is as exciting as it’s ever been right now.
“It’s as tight as it has ever been I believe,” said Weiss.
“It was a lot closer than I realized,” added Middaugh. “I know Craig is stronger this year than ever but that was a big surprise to see him off the front and how hard and fast he was running. He was running fast, he was out of sight, and it took me a long time to catch him. It took everything I had today, and that’s the way it should be.”
Also of note two Canadians – Sean Bechtel and Jean-Philippe Thibodeau – both suffered race-ending flats. Bechtel’s happened as soon as the pavement met the single track just half-mile in (while he was with the leaders) and Thibodeau’s happened two-thirds through the bike while he was with the leaders.
The element that stuck out today was how freakishly dark it got when the storm cloud rolled in, “going up the climb it was so dark it was like riding at midnight, it was crazy,” explained Evans.
Despite the rain the trails at Oak Mountain were magnificent, a testament to the BUMP crew who have built and maintained one of the sweetest tracks in the nation.
“This course rides well with rain because it drains so phenomenally,” said Middaugh.
Also of note, last year’s amateur ENVE Performer-of-the-Year Alex Modestou who was forced to miss Nationals due to illness, made his elite debut and finished 11th – a result worthy of celebration for the adversity he has overcome to return to this level of fitness.
|1||Josiah Middaugh||35||Vail, Colorado||2:18:32||100|
|2||Craig Evans||36||Hendersonville, Tennessee||2:19:29||90|
|3||Bradley Weiss||25||Cape Town, South Africa||2:20:50||82|
|4||Mauricio Mendez||18||Mexico City, Mexico||2:20:51||75|
|5||Branden Rakita||33||Colorado Springs, Colorado||2:21:02||69|
|6||Dan Hugo||28||Stellenbosch, South Africa||2:24:18||63|
|7||Ryan Ignatz||35||Boulder, Colorado||2:24:37||58|
|8||Nick Fisher||28||Ogden, Utah||2:27:08||53|
|9||Karsten Madsen||22||Guelph, Ontario, Canada||2:27:35||49|
|10||Chris Ganter||35||Boise, Idaho||2:27:48||45|
|Also: Alex Modestou (41), Jeff Smith (37)|
DUFFY DOES IT AGAIN
Flora Duffy put another stamp on her XTERRA passport today winning her fourth major of the season – and third in the last month.
Today she posted the fastest swim, coming out of the water with Christine “Big Fish” Jeffrey and all the lead men, and then torched one of XTERRA’s most challenging mountain bike courses. Her women’s leading bike split was three minutes quicker than that of the next best time, posted by Emma Garrard, and by the bike-to-run transition she had a five-minute advantage.
“Mountain biking obviously was my weakness last year but I worked really hard on it over the winter and that seems to be paying off, and I think it’s kind of like my secret weapon right now,” said Duffy. “I think I showed my skills are improving, and it’s really a boost to my confidence.”
As well it should be. At the awards ceremony Duffy added some detail to that thought, telling the appreciate crowd that “I have to admit I came in to this race a little intimidated by this bike course. I had a heard a lot about it and my mountain bike skills are probably not where my confidence lies but I guess I owe a big thanks to my XTERRA mentors Dan Hugo and Brad Weiss for showing me how to mountain bike. I still have a lot to learn but they definitely helped me out a lot and I managed to stay on my bike today so that was a big success. When it started to rain that threw me for a loop, those roots are so gnarly and I hit a few at the wrong angle and had to hold on for dear life. Super fun course, though, the single track was awesome and I really enjoyed myself.”
Garrard, who since last year’s USA Championship race has established herself as the fastest American in the sport, had another impressive performance today. She posted the second-best bike and the fastest run of the day.
“I was five minutes back starting the run and it can be hard to keep pushing yourself facing that kind of gap but you never know what’s going to happen,” said Garrard, who cut one-minute into Duffy’s lead on the twisty track around the lake. “I think Flora was close to 11 minutes in front of us in Vegas and hope I was able to cut that in half. Flora is in phenomenal shape and to do well on a course like this says something about her technical riding skills. She’s a good bike handler.”
Suzie Snyder and Christine Jeffrey had their best races in some time, finishing in third and fourth, respectively. Snyder came into T2 in 3rd and went out in 4th, joking that Jeffrey “disrobed” her in transition, but was able to regain the lead.
“I feel good about my swim and run, but I was conservative on the bike because I was concerned about wrecking, but certainly feel like this is a good base to take the next step,” said Snyder. “I’m not sure how we’re going to catch Flora yet, however. I think we all need some men to train with. I’ve been looking for dudes to ride with, you need that push in training – it really makes you better.”
Chantell Widney, Danelle Kabush, and Kara LaPoint finished 5-6-7 for the second straight XTERRA U.S. Pro Series race.
|1||Flora Duffy||26||Boulder, Colorado||2:32:04||100|
|2||Emma Garrard||32||Park City, Utah||2:36:05||90|
|3||Suzie Snyder||32||Fredericksburg, Virginia||2:39:31||82|
|4||Christine Jeffrey||42||Tucson, Arizona||2:41:06||75|
|5||Chantell Widney||34||Edmonton, Alberta, Canada||2:41:17||69|
|6||Danelle Kabush||39||Calgary, Alberta, Canada||2:43:19||63|
|7||Kara LaPoint||26||Truckee, California||2:49:56||58|
|8||Amelia McCracken||30||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||2:55:05||53|
|9||Jaime Brede||36||Breckenridge, Colorado||2:59:27||49|
|10||Caroline Colonna||50||Taos, New Mexico||2:59:49||45|
MOLNAR, IGNATZ WIN OVERALL AMATEUR TITLES
Last September Dan Molnar was in the shape of his life and hoping to win the amateur title at XTERRA Nationals in Utah before a bad crash left him battered-and-bruised and unable to compete. Today, those memories were wiped away with a career-best showing that saw him place 12th overall.
Molnar had a blazing run to catch Grayson Keppler for the win.
“It feels great to be back and be able to go hard,” said Molnar. “I pushed really hard on the bike and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to run that fast so being able to respond feels good.”
In the women’s amateur race Ignatz was faster than the top six finishers from last year and placed eighth overall, and almost four-minutes ahead of 40-44 XTERRA World Champion Mimi Stockton.
“It’s my first-time here and I just loved it,” said Ignatz, a former age-group XTERRA World Champ herself. “It was a super interesting race with all the weather conditions and slick roots and rocks. Certainly happy with my performance today.”