Sullivan Middaugh beats father to win XTERRA USA title in Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK — The torch has been passed.
Sullivan Middaugh took the lead early on the mountain bike, handled a flat tire descending the course’s technical final 3 miles, and torched the run to win his first XTERRA USA championship Saturday in Beaver Creek.
Racing as a pro for the first time, the 18-year-old Battle Mountain High School graduate completed the 1.5-kilometer swim, 16-mile bike and 10-kilometer run in 2 hours, 20 minutes and 28.2 seconds. His dad, 15-time U.S. champion Josiah Middaugh, finished second in 2:22:11.2.
“I feel awesome. Everything went perfect for me,” Sullivan said over the public address moments after finishing.
“I wish I would have been up there with Sullivan to make him work a little bit, but he did not need me at all,” Josiah chimed in. “He was out of sight and just having his own race and that’s how it should be. I wanted him to race his own race, not worry about me and I shouldn’t worry about him — he was off on his own.”
Sullivan was tied with Nelson Hegg for fourth after the swim, 29 seconds behind leader Branden Rakita. Kieran McPherson, who wound up third overall, was seven seconds in front and Tim Winslow was in second, just 10 seconds behind Hegg. Josiah came out of the water with some work to do, roughly 2:10 seconds off the lead.
“I had an absolutely terrible swim, which was unfortunate,” he said. “I just wanted to get up into the race.”
Sullivan moved into first after just a few switchbacks.
“I heard at the top of the Ute Trail that Sullivan had the lead, and at that point I was just kind of part of the race and hoping for the best for him,” Josiah said. “I wanted to claw my way up to the podium.”
It’s Sullivan’s first race since his focus has shifted full-time to triathlon. His primary aim is sprint-legal road triathlons as a member of USA Triathlon’s Project Podium. In two weeks, he’ll compete for the road triathlon junior national title.
“I knew I was stronger than I’ve ever been before. I knew I had a lot better chance to do well,” he said of his expectation going into the Beaver Creek event.
His bike-to-run transition has been one noticeable improvement.
“And my swim has improved by minutes, which gave me a really good start to the race,” he added.
When he heads to Arizona State University, where Project Podium is based, he’ll work with Glen Mills to continue improving his swimming.
“The whole team there will be really awesome,” he stated.
With the trademark Middaugh humility — a trait dad passed down along with a world-class VO2 max, Sullivan never admitted to thinking he had the race in the bag.
“I just knew I still had to push because my dad is a super strong rider and I knew a lot of good riders behind me,” he said.
With approximately 4 miles remaining, he hit the bridge at the end of the Village-to-Village Trail with force.
“I heard (my tire) whizzing, so I just stopped right away and tried to fill it,” he said of the catastrophe. He plugged one hole, but another emerged.
“I definitely panicked a little bit and kept looking behind me,” he said, expecting riders to be “right there.”
On course, Josiah, who hammered the fastest bike leg to move all the way into second place, heard someone tell him he was 2:30 back from his son. Just a moment later, that gap was down to 30 seconds.
“So, I knew something had happened,” Josiah said. “I think he stayed focused on the task at hand. That’s what we hope for — that a kid is resilient. That’s Sullivan. Nothing shakes him, nothing rattles him.”
He estimates his tire was at 5 PSI up the final climb.
“And I just rode rim the whole way down corkscrew, which was a bummer,” he stated, his monotone voice belying the extreme nature of the technical downhill.
Once he was running, it was game over for the 2022 Battle Mountain graduate, who ran a 9:15 3200-meter at 5,000 feet to end his illustrious prep career.
“Not a surprise at all,” Josiah said of the outcome.
“He’s faster than me at all three disciplines, I just didn’t know how he was going to put it all together,” Josiah said. “It was pretty cool to watch.”
Little brother Porter, 17, won the 15-19 age group in 2:35:07.1. While Josiah wasn’t shocked, Porter’s eyes grew wide when he was informed of his older brother’s heroics.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “I knew he had it in him but I didn’t think he was going to do it.”
Sullivan plans on continuing to pursue his elite road license this fall, and will race in St. George the week before XTERRA Worlds in October.
“I think this definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into that race, but there’s a ton of really strong Europeans,” he said.
“He has just amazing potential; he gets better every week,” said Josiah, who is excited for his son to gain more experience with an international pro field.
“I do think he could compete with the Euros — every single one of them,” he continued. “He can climb as well as anyone I’ve seen in XTERRA and he can run as fast as the fastest runner in XTERRA, so I think it will be really interesting. It will be very interesting to see what his swim does in the next couple months.”
Josiah said he was “at peace” with where his career is at and didn’t get too emotional in the final miles, knowing his son was about to experience a thrill he’s felt himself 15 times, for the first time.
“I’m ready to pass that torch. Just really excited for him and where he’s at,” Josiah said.