It’s the 15th XTERRA World Tour win for Osborne, the sixth for Kingsford, and the second victory of 2021 for the Kiwi couple following their home country victories at XTERRA New Zealand in April.
The event, the first XTERRA major in the U.S. since the 2019 World Championship in Maui, combined a one-mile swim in Double Oak Lake with a 21-mile mountain bike and six-mile trail run. Race conditions were absolutely perfect for the 8:25am start. The water temperature was 73-degrees, the air-temp was 73-degrees, and the trails were in mint condition.
In the men’s elite race Eric Lagerstrom and Andrew Starykowicz, two U.S. road triathlon stars making their highly anticipated XTERRA debut, made their presence felt early.
Lagerstrom (pictured above) was first out of the water with a blistering 18:10 swim split, more than 40-seconds faster than the chase pack led by Starykowicz with Sam Osborne, Brad Weiss, Elliot Bach, and Ian King right behind.
Straight out of transition Osborne got a gap on the pack then starting reeling in Lagerstrom, but it wasn’t easy.
“It’s really hard to close the gap on the tight stuff, and even once I got past Eric I couldn’t break him for a long time, only on the descents, so that’s really where I pushed,” said Osborne. “If you can force people into mistakes, especially on a course like this where there’s so many rocks and roots, that’s part of the art of off-road racing.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
“I was having a killer day, I was able to hang with Sam until 9k or so, but I slammed my back wheel hard into a sharp rock in a river crossing and couldn’t seal it with a plug,” said Lagerstrom, who did not finish following the mechanical. “I’m super bummed man, I was feeling so good and was so stoked on not just instantly getting dropped by Sam. I wish there was another race soon so I could go for some redemption. I think I just need a bit more time riding fast through technical stuff to get better at picking lines with a high heart rate.”
Lagerstrom wasn’t the only racer to fall prey to the elements. A massive rainstorm swept through Shelby County on Tuesday that caused several trees to fall across the trails and at least two creek crossing bridges collapsed. Thanks to quick work by the crews at Shelby County, Oak Mountain State Park, and the local trails advocates from BUMP, the bridges were repaired and rebuilt in time for race day. The rain also washed away a lot of dirt, exposing brand new rock faces at every turn.
“I got a double flat tire very early on in the bike, hit a rock and hit both the front and the rear,” said Brad Weiss, the reigning and two-time World Champ who got off once to put air in the front and then again shortly after to fill the back tire with air. “The way Sam moves through these trails; every second you’re standing still you’re losing the race. I got back on and think I was about 1:50 back at that point, about five minutes into the bike.”
Up ahead Osborne was turning himself inside-out on the big climb to pull away from the field and his mantra became “smooth is fast.”
Weiss didn’t relent, however, and gave it everything he had to pull within 30-seconds of Osborne by the bike-to-run transition.
“I knew if I could run the first couple K really well I’d be in a good spot, but the legs didn’t feel great in the beginning. Stuck with it though, and the legs just ticked on, and from there I was able to settle into my own rhythm, nice and smooth,” said Osborne, who finished more than two minutes ahead of Weiss to successfully defend his XTERRA Oak Mountain crown from 2019.
“It’s so good to be back,” said Osborne, who’s been racing back home in New Zealand, but this is his first race overseas since the pandemic. “Domestic racing is cool, but it always leaves you wanting more, ya know, it feeds the addiction but not like this where you turn up and there’s two world champs and the field is so deep. What a race.”
Weiss, who was competing in his third race in four weeks, was quick to agree.
“So fun to race XTERRA again, this is definitely my love of triathlon, the road racing pays the bills, but this is where my passion really does lie,” he said.
Behind Weiss a great race for third place was underway. Elliot Bach and Kieran McPherson (pictured) were riding strong in the third and fourth spots, until 2015 XTERRA World Champ Josiah Middaugh caught up around 15 miles into the bike.
“Rusty, it was like starting all over,” said Middaugh, who was three minutes behind the leaders after the swim and didn’t make it any easier on himself in the first part of the bike. “I made a bunch of mistakes. Wrapped a tree at the beginning, handlebars went crooked, face-planted on Blood Rock, just one of those days.”
Having got past Bach, Middaugh went toe-to-toe with McPherson, one of the fastest runners in the sport.
“Kieran and I had a pretty good battle on the run. We were so close, 10-seconds apart, it was a lot of suffering,” he said.
Middaugh was able to shake McPherson towards the end and take third by 27 seconds, an impressive comeback after his struggles early on.
“I always say in XTERRA, you never race to plan A. It’s like the Mike Tyson quote – ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’.”
Bach had a great day all around to finish fifth, with first-time XTERRA racer Curtiss Feltner in sixth and the veteran Brian Smith, 45, in seventh. Steve Croucher, a long-time XTERRA age group stand-out, placed eighth in his elite debut, with Will Ross in ninth, and the 20-year-old Benny Smith in 10th.
Starykowicz, like many others, flatted. He put a hole in his back tire sidewall and several co2 cartridges and a tube later was still flat. To his credit, he ran and rode on that flat for more than 10 miles to transition and soldiered on to the run to finish the race in three hours, 55 minutes.
“That’s triathlon,” he said.
Sam Osborne, NZL
Bradley Weiss, RSA
Josiah Middaugh, USA
Kieran McPherson, NZL
Elliot Back, USA
Curtiss Feltner, USA
Brian Smith, USA
Steve Croucher, USA
Will Ross, USA
Benny Smith, USA
Ian King, USA
Hans Ryham, USA
Humberto Rivera, USA
Sean Kickbush, USA
Branden Rakita, USA
Barret Fishner, USA
Andrew Starykowicz, USA
In the women’s race Kingsford led from wire-to-wire with the fastest swim, second-best bike split (only Suzie Snyder rode faster), and the quickest run.
“I was running scared, I didn’t know where anybody was, so I was pretty stoked to get this one,” said Kingsford, who took the tape by more than four minutes in the end. “It feels a bit surreal that we’re actually back here in the U.S. It was a hard decision to come or not, and for Sam and me both to win like this, that tops it off, and I’m glad we made the right call.”
Amanda Felder put together her best XTERRA performance to date to finish in second. She came out of the water with Samantha, and was riding in second until Blood Rock when Snyder got past. Once on the run, she made her move.
“I was really feeling great on the run and I knew Suzie wasn’t too far ahead,” said Felder. “Just kept it rolling and I came up on her maybe three miles in and got by and kept pushing.”
Snyder, who won three of the last four Oak Mountain races, had the best bike split of the day but paid for it on the run.
“Pretty early on the run my quads started to twist like they were going to cramp, and Amanda came hauling past me. I tried to answer, but when she came by I couldn’t match that speed.”
Kelli Montgomery finished fourth, with Brandi Swicegood in fifth and Nickie Luse in sixth.
A cyclist, tech geek at heart, a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of the world's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.