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Xterra World Championship preview: Canada’s Karsten Madsen on his breakthrough season and going after the title


Canadian cross-triathlon champion Karsten Madsen sheds light on his breakthrough year in the cross-triathlon world and his build heading into the Xterra World Championship in Maui this weekend. 

As told to Claire Duncan. 

When Xterra announced they were moving from the US Series to a Pan Am series, I had mixed emotions. There were lots of things to consider — like that there would now be two Canadian races — but many of the other races would be much farther away than when the tour was just in the USA.

Planning was my season was fairly difficult. When my coach, Craig Taylor, and I saw the schedule, we knew that me racing both Canadian races was a no-brainer. We decided to look at my skill set as a way to narrow down the races. I was looking for races that were technical, flat and not at high elevation. With this in mind, we were left with Argentina, Oak Mountain and Dominican Republic. I decided to opt for the earlier race in Argentina, which fortunately a sponsor helped me out with to get there.

I was in great shape for an early season start and knew at the beginning of the year that it could be a good one. I had been training with an ITU squad and two future Olympians. The Oak Mountain course was perfect for my skill set and Dominican was a back-up because racing Xterra never usually goes as planned.

The goal at the start of the year was to place fifth overall in the series and win my home town race. I went into Argentina not really knowing where I stood. Reigning world champion Josiah Middaugh was the man to beat. I ended up smashing the race and came within a minute and a half of him and had the fastest run split of the day. I never expected to perform so well in such an important race of the series. A big part of me wondered, was this a fluke?

Stress was beginning to build for me and I crashed when out pre-riding the course at Xterra Oak Mountain. I felt out of sorts but got the job done on race day and placed third. I realized my result in Argentina was not a fluke. If I could take third on a day I didn’t feel my best, I felt it was time to reevaluate my goals.

I got my chance with my hometown race, Mine Over Matter in Guelph, Ontario. All my prep leading into this race went perfectly and I was ready to deliver. I had my whole support team, all the people that work with me day-in, day-out  at this race. It added pressure but I trusted my training and found a new intensity I never knew I had. I had the fastest swim and bike and was seconds off the fastest run of the day. I won by over four minutes. It felt like a massive breakthrough.

Xterra Victoria presented a whole new set  of challenges, including Brent McMahon. The race and Xterra really hyped up the local guy ahead of time. Why wouldn’t they? Brent is an amazing talent and can ride a mountain bike very well.  Many people didn’t think I would be able to beat the Olympian and Ironman winner. I had a lot on the line with the overall points in the tour. The course was extremely demanding and anything could happen. I played it as safe as I could —  and when the dust settled, I had won my second major Xterra title and I was leading the Pan Am tour. With the win I felt confident with where I stood and felt I didn’t need to race Dominican Republic.

I knew that in light of my great season it was important to stay grounded and committed to the work and the little things, which were the key to my success. The Pan Am Final was in Utah at altitude. It didn’t fit my skill set but, I worked on the weaknesses. I had raced so well this season that I felt  it was unlikely for me to finish worse than third. Unfortunately, it was not the storybook ending I wanted. I finished eighth in the race and the altitude got the better of me. With the biggest start list for an Xterra I’ve ever raced, I got a real preview of the contenders for World Championships.

I’m now heading into the Xterra World Championships where I get an opportunity to rematch many of the guys who bested me in the Utah race. I’m excited for this end goal.