BEAVER CREEK – Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford have a standing bet with every triathlon they take part in: The lowest result gets stuck in cleaning the bikes afterwards.
That bet was a big hit on Saturday at Beaver Creek. The two New Zealanders, who started dating 10 years ago in college, scored victories in the elite men’s and women’s divisions as Xterra mountain races returned to Avon and Beaver Creek after a one-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.
Defending champion Josiah Middaugh, 42, of EagleVail, who had won six of the previous seven Xterra triathlons on the grueling mountain course he helped design over a decade ago, took third place, just behind Sam Long, 25, of Rocher.
Osborne’s victory, 29, was a redemption for his first race at Beaver Creek in 2019 when he finished second behind Middaugh but got his butt kicked by the high altitude course, which included a grueling climb of 2,000 feet in less than 4 miles on the bike after getting out of a swim at Nottingham Lake. It was also Osborne’s second straight win in this year’s series after winning the North American season opener in May at Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama, where Middaugh was third.
Osborne finished the swim mile at Nottingham Lake in second, Middaugh and Long nibbling on his heels, and came first after the first 2 miles of the 15 mile bike ride. Osborne added time to the technical downhills, where Long, a former long-distance runner who excelled in road triathlons, admitted he wasn’t as skilled as Osborne and Middaugh.
âI’m happy, to be honest,â Osborne said after the win. âLook, I had a really horrible experience here in 2019. I mean, I still finished second behind Josiah, but I really, really suffered at altitude.â
Osborne trained in Boulder for the 2019 race, where he also trained this summer in preparation for Beaver Creek. But he and Kingsford were also keen to train at Winter Park, which is higher than Beaver Creek at 9,121 feet, to get on par with Middaugh.
Still, he said, the elevation at Beaver Creek and the difficult course test the competitors more than any other race on the circuit.
âYou can’t really tap into that high end,â he said.
Middaugh called his Saturday effort “a good day for me, but it wasn’t a good day.”
âI felt like I didn’t have the legs,â he said. âBut on my home run, like, I have to find the legs. So all along the route I was a little bit missing that high end on the bike. But I was like, well, I can’t save nothing. I had to pour every ounce I had in the bike.
This effort gave him the fastest bike on the terrain and brought him within striking distance for the win, but he struggled with bad stomach cramps in the first 2 miles of the 5 mile race, which he described as a “gelled belly”.
âI liked the double point because we didn’t have a first aid station on the bike,â he said of the cramps. âSo I was running out of fluids. A little too much gel. I had stomach cramps because I had too many carbohydrates in my stomach.
Nevertheless, he was happy with the result, especially against two competitors still in their twenties.
For Long, it was his second result at Beaver Creek, after finishing second behind Middaugh in 2016.
âMy second second place,â he joked. âIt always feels good. I mean, you know, they’re the best Xterra racers in the world, aren’t they? I must have reasonable expectations, but I wanted to win. It’s not gone far. The podium could have been in a different order if we had run it tomorrow or the next day.
Buyout for Kingsford
Kingsford, who also won in Alabama in the season opener, managed to fend off defending champion Suzie Snyder of Boulder after also redeeming herself after a rocky 2019 debut at Beaver Creek. She definitely had to clean her bikes and Osborne’s after taking fourth place in that first Beaver Creek race.
âThis race is brutal,â she said. âYou just can’t run as hard as when you’re lower. You just have to really pace yourself. As soon as you push it over that red line, you sort of unravel. “
While waiting for his significant other to finish, Osborne explained how the two met in college ten years ago while living in Dunedin and how he convinced Kingsford to embark on triathlons as she came. continually watching him while shopping.
Just getting to the United States to race this season from New Zealand was quite an odyssey for the couple. The island nation has been successful in minimizing cases of COVID-19, but getting its travel restrictions tight meant getting out was an ordeal.
The afternoon of their arrival in the United States, the couple received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
âIt was so stressful,â Kingsford said. âIt was amazing to come and win at Oak Mountain. We have not been able to get vaccinated in New Zealand, we will be going home and our family will still not be vaccinated. It’s slow there. It’s a little frustrating, really.
Snyder had fresh blood on his right leg at the finish line, from a running fall and knee opening.
âI was running this road and I just think I took the turn a little too tight and there was gravity and she came out under me,â she said.
After dusting herself off and catching her breath, she was back in pursuit of Kingsford, but couldn’t get her back.
âI just tried to stay steady and keep moving forward,â she said. âI was starting to feel itâ¦ I tried to keep it easy, but I felt bad all the time on the run, and I just had to walk in the switchbacks a bit. My heart rate was just too high.