Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford from New Zealand won the XTERRA USA Championship elite titles with winning times of 2:17:33 and 2:46:47, respectively, on a gorgeous fall day at Snowbasin Resort in the Wasatch Mountains high above Ogden, Utah on Saturday, September 25, 2021.
It’s the 17th career XTERRA World Tour win for Osborne, the eighth for Kingsford, and the fourth victory of 2021 for both. The couple from New Zealand won their hometown XTERRA in Rotorua back in April then swept the three majors in the U.S., thus achieving the lofty goal they set for themselves at the start of the season.
The day’s race was not the traditional XTERRA off-road triathlon, rather a run-bike-run duathlon after the swim was canceled due to harmful algal blooms in Pineview Reservoir. The new challenge featured a 2.5-mile trail run to start the race instead of the swim, transitioned to an epic 19-mile mountain bike, and finished with a grueling 5.5-mile trail run.
It was a sprint from the opening cannon blast and as soon as the course started to ascend straight up the ski slope Kieran McPherson surged out in front and challenged the field to go with him.
“I wanted to see what everyone was going to do early on in the climb, and nobody did anything, so I took off,” said McPherson, who said he recently started a full-time job and didn’t have the bike fitness he wanted, but knew he could hurt everyone’s legs earlier on in the run. “I didn’t run as hard on the downhill but still made everyone work to get back on, and was able to lead into the first single track, but after that, it was pretty much all over for me.”
McPherson led the field into and out of the run-to-bike transition, followed by Josiah Middaugh and Osborne just seconds behind, then Colin Szuch, Eric Lagerstrom, and Brian Smith. From T1 that group went all-out in a race to be the first rider to the top of Sardine Peak at 7,400-feet. It’s a grueling 1,000-foot climb, and came as no surprise that Middaugh, perhaps the best climber in the sport, got there first.
“I was able to get past Kieran then overtook Sam about halfway up and put maybe 10-15 seconds on him to get over the top first, but he caught me coming down and probably put 45 seconds on me by the bottom of Icebox Canyon,” said Middaugh (pictured).
The downhill is relentless, roughly 2,000 feet of technical, twisting singletrack over rocks and into tunnels of orange-yellow-and-pink leaves, and it’s where Osborne’s colors shined through.
“That first run then the climb up to Sardine Peak was absolute misery, it was so hard. Josiah lit it up, and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have gone that deep going to the top,” said Osborne (pictured). “On the downhill I was trying to get around Josiah but there was a lot of race-craft going on, he’s learned a few tricks in his day so I took some huge risks, and came down on a rock really hard and thought ‘oh no,’ my race might be over but my tires held. I was absolutely on the limit, but if you’re going to take on Josiah in a duathlon you’ve got to take risks.”
Middaugh closed the gap on the East Fork climb to maybe 20 seconds to Osborne, then gave those 20 seconds back on the Middle Fork descent, then pulled him in a little more on the last climb. At the bike-to-run transition, he was about 30-seconds back and the run for gold was on.
“Sam throttled that first mile, and I ran hard but didn’t have that next gear,” said Middaugh. “I felt steady and strong, just didn’t have a lot of pop. Sam is super strong, he’s a hard guy to beat, so I was glad to be second.”
Osborne posted the fastest second run split of the day and was ecstatic when he crossed the line, and emotional to get the win he’d been working towards since May.
“To sweep the U.S. majors, it’s a dream,” said Osborne, the reigning XTERRA Pan Am Tour Champion who won this event when it was an off-road triathlon two years ago. “It was a big commitment for Samantha and I to come to the U.S. for this series in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s been tough, so to get it done, it’s incredible.”
Middaugh finished in second place about two minutes later, and as the top American pro, won the XTERRA U.S. Elite Men’s Championship title for an unprecedented 15th time.
Eric Lagertsrom, just a week removed from a seventh-place showing at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, had a brilliant race to finish third and put any doubts about his mountain bike ability to rest in emphatic fashion.
“It was cool to see Eric come across and nail one,” said Osborne. “He’s pretty legit, I knew what he could do since Alabama, and he’s certainly one of the few road guys who can ride a mountain bike.”
It was no surprise, of course, to Lagerstrom either.
“I’ve been telling people I can ride, but haven’t been talking too much,” he laughed. “This was a sick race, amazing. That gravel road climb on the runs was psychotic, though, I was questioning my love for any kind of exercise after that.”
Brian Smith caught up to Lagerstrom on the Middle Fork downhill and took the lead for a little bit on the last climb up to transition, but Lagerstrom shifted into another gear to create a gap going into T2. Smith, however, posted the fastest final run split of the day to make it close.
“I thought Brian was going to catch me, I was sucking wind so hard,” said Lagerstrom, who finished 20-seconds ahead of Smith.
“I gave it everything I had but Lagerstrom is strong. After racing last weekend, to be able to come back and ride and run that good here was just amazing,” said Smith. “And I thought for sure I’d catch him on the first descent but I didn’t see him until later.”
McPherson held on for fifth, age group stand-out Anders Johnson – who posted a better bike split than Osborne by one-second, came in sixth, and 19-year-old Colin Szuch placed seventh in his elite debut.
|Sam Osborne, NZL
|Josiah Middaugh, USA
|Eric Lagerstrom, USA
|Brian Smith, USA
|Kieran McPherson, USA
|Anders Johnson, USA*
|Colin Szuch, USA
|Hite Stromberg, USA*
|Steve Croucher, USA
|Jason Michalak, USA*
In the women’s race, three-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson set the tone early with the fastest first run, but Kingsford was just 13-seconds back and ready for the ride.
Roughly a mile or so into the bike Kingsford caught Paterson and started pulling away. She had the fastest elite bike split of the day and the best final run split to finish a full eight minutes ahead of Paterson for the win.
“I was running scared, because two years ago at this race Lesley taught me that the race isn’t over until it’s over,” explained Kingsford, who took a big lead into the run here in 2019 but got caught by Paterson and finished second. As a result, Kingsford said she had unfinished business with this race, and now, that’s all over.
“The win was Samsational some people are saying,” laughed Kingsford, who met her boyfriend, Sam Osborne, in college 10 years ago. “For both Sam and I to come over to the U.S. from New Zealand was such a big gamble because of covid, and we weren’t sure if we were making the right decision so to take three is amazing and it makes it all worth it.”
Paterson, who has been full-on with her movie making career for more than a year now, showed she still has what it takes to race at a high-level today.
“That was so fun. I have not gone that hard in two years, but the adrenaline kicked in right at the starting gun,” said Paterson. “My alter ego, Paddy McGinty, was out in full force and I’m just so grateful. And it was awesome to see Samantha killing it, she is incredible right now, and deserves it because she’s put in the time and effort. Suzie and Amanda were riding great too, and they both passed me on the descent. And what about that girl, she came out of nowhere!”
“That girl” Paterson is referring to is Andie Aagard, a 15-year-old sophomore from Lone Peak High School in Utah Valley. She absolutely crushed it, had the fastest bike split of the day, and despite “never running ever,” finished second overall.
“I wasn’t really expecting that because the last time I ran was three months ago and I just decided to sign-up last night,” said Aagard, a local phenom and the current Junior Women’s 15-16 cross country mountain bike champ.
Even more incredible is that Aagard started the race four-minutes back in the fifth wave and had to run and ride her way passed hundreds of other racers.
“Oh my gosh, I’m 25 years older than her, she’s awesome,” exclaimed Paterson, who came into T2 with Suzie Snyder and Aagard but then blitzed the run to cross the line in second, but with the third best time due to the chip-timed wave starts.
“The course was phenomenal, too, I think it’s one of the best in the world,” added Paterson.
Snyder finished fourth, and as the top American pro, won the XTERRA U.S. Elite Women’s title for the fourth time.
Former elite Deanna McCurdy placed fifth overall, Amanda Felder was sixth, amateur standouts Jill Sorensen and Jennifer Razee were seventh and eighth, and Irena Ossola placed ninth and fifth elite in her elite debut at an XTERRA major.
|Samantha Kingsford, NZL
|Andie Aagard, USA
|Lesley Paterson, GBR
|Suzie Snyder, USA
|Deanna McCurdy, USA*
|Amanda Felder, USA
|Jill Sorensen, USA*
|Jennifer Razee, USA*
|Irena Ossola, USA
|Jennifer Johnson, USA*