Josiah Middaugh and Flora Duffy captured the ninth annual XTERRA Southeast Championship race at Oak Mountain State Park in Shelby County, Ala. 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 64 degrees F 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 to 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 was 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.
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 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.
XTERRA Southeast Championships
Oak Mountain State Park, Ala. – May 17, 2014
1.5K swim, 31K mountain bike, 10K trail run
1. Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:18:32
2. Craig Evans (USA) 2:19:29
3. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 2:20:50
4. Mauricio Mendez (MEX) 2:20:51
5. Branden Rakita (USA) 2:21:02
6. Dan Hugo (RSA) 2:24:18
7. Ryan Ignatz (USA) 2:24:37
8. Nick Fisher (USA) 2:27:08
9. Karsten Madsen (CAN) 2:27:35
10. Chris Ganter (USA) 2:27:48
1. Flora Duffy (USA) 2:32:04
2. Emma Garrard (USA) 2:36:05
3. Suzie Snyder (USA) 2:39:31
4. Christine Jeffrey (USA) 2:41:06
5. Chantell Widney (CAN) 2:41:17
6. Danelle Kabush (CAN) 2:43:19
7. Kara LaPoint (USA) 2:49:56
8. Amelia McCracken (USA) 2:55:05
9. Jaime Brede (USA) 2:59:27
10. Caroline Colonna (USA) 2:59:49