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Mud & Milestones in Molveno
A reflection on 2022 XTERRA Worlds
By Josiah Middaugh
After 25 years, the XTERRA World Championship was moved from Maui, Hawaii to Molveno, Italy. XTERRA has been gaining steam in Europe for the past decade and especially elite racing has really taken off in the past few years. The change was bittersweet, but I am excited for the sport and I was really looking forward to a mountain world championship in the Dolomites. Without racing in Europe for several years it was hard to gauge how I would slot into the deeper, more competitive Eurocentric field.
What made this year’s championship race special for me was the opportunity to race alongside my son Sullivan in the elite field. At 18, Sullivan graduated from high school in the spring and then jumped headfirst into triathlon with USA Triathlon’s Project Podium. In July he decisively won the XTERRA National Championship in Beaver Creek, his backyard, handing me second place and a very proud dad moment. I thought that if I could finish in the top 10 at worlds, then Sullivan would be fighting for the podium.
Maui Mud in Molveno
As race week in Italy progressed, the heavy rains rolled in and it was looking like the spirit of the Maui mud was arriving on cue. Race morning, the cold water and cold air was right on the edge of a shortened or canceled swim, but the race was able to go off with no adjustments. I felt great in the water in my Synergy wetsuit and exited my weakest leg with about two minutes to the leader and just over a minute to some of the main contenders.
On the bike, Sullivan was initially in perfect position, about one minute ahead of me, but crashed hard on the first two wet wooden bridges, leaving him pretty shaken for the first climb. Near the top of the climb, the course quickly deteriorated as we hit the undulating singletrack through the forest. The mud was so slick that many of the steep climbs became unrideable and the descents treacherous. I caught a glimpse of Sullivan as we went over the last climb but I knew we were both losing precious time to the front of the race. After slipping and sliding through the first lap, we were hovering around 15th to 20th heading into the second lap.
We both executed very similar fueling strategies for the bike with two bottles of diluted First Endurance EFS, one for each lap of the bike along with a total of three Liquid Shots. With the muddy conditions, the duration of the bike was longer which may have played in my favor but not so much for Sullivan. Midway through the second lap I caught up with Sullivan and we rode together through the mud, picking much better lines the second time around, and we both moved up into the top 15. I came into T2 feeling motivated to run strong and attempt to work into the top 10.
Due to the tough mountain course and the conditions, the time gaps were pretty big heading out onto the run but we had some good battles for positions 12-18. Sullivan caught me around mile 4 on the run, and I hoped we would work together to pick off a few more positions – or better yet, that he could fly into the top 10. Unfortunately the course was probably 30 minutes too long for Sullivan or he suffered some effects from the early crashes, because he was in survival mode for the last two miles of the run.
I was able to hold on for 12th and Sullivan finished 14th in his debut. The next day we both had the opportunity to race our first XTERRA short track race, and youth prevailed with Sullivan in 11th and 14th for me.
Congratulations to the strong European sweep of the top 10 and to Arthur Serrieres, Arthur Forissier, and Ruben Ruzafa for claiming the podium. The level has risen once again, but the main players remain the same as well as the grit, courage and fitness required to come out on top.