The Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colo. will welcome some of the of top off-road triathletes Saturday for the XTERRA Mountain Championships. The professionals will be competing for points in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series and a prize purse totaling $15,000.
Colorado’s high country during the summer time is something to behold with its big blue skies, white aspens, majestic mountain ranges and cool, fresh air.
The race starts with a mile swim in the cold 64-degree waters of Nottingham Lake, situated at 7,400 feet elevation. Nottingham is just big enough to get a full mile swim with two laps, and Buck Creek flows into the reservoir so even though the lake is small, the water temp rarely tops 70 degrees. The next step involves roughly 15 miles of mountain biking that climbs 3,500-feet into the thin air of the Rockies.
The bike course peaks out at above 9,400 feet above the Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch ski slopes, then turns into some well-maintained single track that switches through the aspen trees and works its way to the village-to-village trail and down to Beaver Creek Village.
The final leg is a calf-burning, six-mile trail run which breaks down into essentially two challenging climbs that each have over 500 vertical feet of climbing (1,300 for the course).
The top five from this race last year were all from Colorado, and all five are back on the start list. Middaugh, who won it for the second time in three years last season, is a hometown favorite who helped design the course for the inaugural championship race at Beaver Creek Resort back in 2009.
Branden Rakita, who was second last year, has been in the top five four times in five years at this race. Ben Hoffman, known more for his exploits on the road, grew up mountain biking in Western Colorado and feels right at home on the trails. He’s finished third in each of the last two years here.
Cody Waite, XTERRA’s in-house training tip guru, was fourth last year and in the top five here four times since 2009. Ryan Ignatz, who was fifth last year, is always a threat.
In addition to those guys, Middaugh says to watch out for young gun Mauricio Mendez from Mexico. Mendez won the XTERRA amateur World Championship title last year and this year, in his first season as a pro, has finished third, fourth and sixth in the first three regionals and posted jaw-dropping swim-and-run splits in the process.
Other racers to keep an eye on include Ryan Petry, a rookie pro from Arizona who just recently graduated from college and moved to Boulder; and rookie pro Alex Modestou from Washington DC who was ninth overall (top amateur) here last year and has been in town for a month training and preparing for the race.
In the women’s chase, Emma Garrard, perhaps for the first-time in her career, is considered the favorite to take the title.
“I don’t know if I’d call myself the favorite but this course does suit my strengths pretty well,” said Garrard, a 32-year-old from Park City, Utah who has been the fastest American in the sport since the USA Championship last year. Garrard finished second to only Flora Duffy at the first three regional championship races this season, but Flora won’t be on the start line Saturday.
The field is stacked with the top five from last year’s race back including the defending and four-time winner on this course Shonny Vanlandingham, Danelle Kabush (second last year), Kelley Cullen (third last year), Suzie Snyder (fourth last year), Sara Schuler (four times in top four here including runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2012), Canadians Chantell Widney and Christine Jeffrey and a wealth of fast Coloradoans.