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By Chris Scott
An amazingly cool July day greeted over 300 racers in the 10th Annual Wilderness 101 Mile Backcountry Mountain Bike Race located in Coburn Park just outside of State College, Pennsylvania.
During a summer that has seen extreme heat on the east coast, the seasonally cool temperatures assisted racers posting PR’s throughout the field. The Wilderness 101 is the fifth stop on the Kenda National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series. The NUE Series is a best 4 of 8 series with all ties to be determined at the final race at the Shenandoah 100 on September 5. www.nuemtb.com
2008 NUE Women’s Open Champion, current point’s leader, and Wilderness winner Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) distanced herself from the competition once the event took to the challenging trail. Karen Potter (MTBRaceNews.com) always a strong finisher nailed down 2nd place with Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) finishing 3rd. Vicki Barclay (Freeze Thaw Cycles) made the locals proud with her 4th place finish followed by CF rider Selene Yeager in 5th.
The Pro Men Open Class did not disappoint as Australian Nathan O’Neill (On the Rivet, LLC), one of the most successful road racers in the United States joined Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Nick Waite (GT/Kenda/ProTested) as last minute contenders for the victory. This didn’t phase the two time NUE Men’s Open Champion and current points leader, Jeff Schalk (Trek Racing Co-op), as he had already marked Christian Tanguy as the one that could provide a threat on the climbs later in the race.
Pro road racers Nick Waite and O’Neill caused the first separation on the opening climb. Their tempo split this race into a selection of 20 super fast riders hoping for a shot at the top 10. This group flew along the opening mellow 20 miles of forest roads into Aid Station #1 at Penn Roosevelt with Rob Spreng (Dirty Harry’s) dangling off and on the back.
Mike Simonson (Trek/SRAM/NoTubes) moved to the front of the group on the climb up Thickhead Mountain. Simonson opened a sizeable gap which was the demise of half the field. The acceleration that closed the gap shed half the followers including Brian Lariviere (Bulldog/Cycle Craft), Zack Morrey (Ice House Bikes), Garth Prosser (Cannondale Factory Racing), Greg Kuhn (Team Frazer), Andy Gorski, Dan LaRocque (Tiger Cycling Foundation/Wampold Racing), Ezra Mullen, Ian Spivak (DCMTB), Andy Freye (Trek 29’er Crew/Cycle Mania), Ray Adams (PAValleys.com), Bradley Schmalzer (Team Bikeman.com/XXC Magazine/Kenda USA), Drew Scharns (Boone Bike and Touring), Charlie Clarkson (Ellsworth Bikes) and Brian Wilson (Bikebarn Racing) who was stylin’ the wheelie’s up the climb at the time of the devastating acceleration – OUCH!
A lead group of 10 surfaced from the Detweiler downhill onto Bear Meadows Rd. including Christian Tanguy (Team CF), Chris Beck (Trek/Gary Fisher Collection), John Burns (Bikeman.com), Bishop, O’Neil, Waite, Schalk, Simonson, Rob Lichtenwalner and Brandon Draugelis (PA Valleys.com), with other top talent including teammates Brandon Draugelis, Michael Simonson (Trek/SRAM/NoTubes).
The ensuing pull up and over the hill into Bear Meadows popped Burns and Freye and put Lichtenwalner at the back pedaling squares after his early efforts towing the group along the flats. Simonson took the holeshot into Longberger Trail while Chris Beck stopped to reaffix his shoe buckle. Roadie Nathan O’Neil entered the singletrack in his biggest gear showing his lack of trail riding experience and was not to see the leaders again for the rest of the day. With a talented group like this at the front, one bobble is all it takes to lose contact.
A group of 6 exited the favorite singletrack spectating spot at Three Bridges onto Laurel Run Road and stayed together into Aid Station #2 at Whipple Dam. Christian Tanguy had chain trouble on the run in and had to stop at the Freeze Thaw Cycles supported aid station for a chain replacement. The group sped along without him to the crux of the course, the Greenlee and Seegar climbs that would come back to back before the Rothrock Outfitters aid station #3 outside of Greenwood Furnace.
At the top of Greenlee Schalk hit the Croyle Run singletrack first followed by Nick Waite, Bishop and Draugelis. Simonson was dangling and Lichtenwalner had fallen off the back to be joined by a chasing Chris Beck with Christian Tanguy charging back into contention eventhough his chain continued to skip with no rhyme or reason because his derailleur spring was shot.
The Croyle Run downhill saw Bishop have tire trouble with Draugelis slipping from the leaders resulting in Simonson to bridge up to him.
The Seeger climb was a view of carnage as Waite paced Schalk off the front, Draugelis pedaled into 3rd, Simonson climbed solid in 4th, with Bishop recovering in 5th, Beck moved up into 6th for a short bit with Lichtenwalner being passed by Tanguy with John Burns and Will Baker riding strong just behind.
Schalk and Waite dropped into the Telephone Trail descent together and sped into the Rothrock Outfitters aid station where Schalk made his move on the Sassafras climb. Schalk throttled it hard and created a 5 minute gap by the top and pushed on solo. Waite kept moving along in 2nd with Draugelis in 3rd. Christian Tanguy hit the gas in this section and blew past Simonson, Beck, Bishop, Draugelis, and then Nick Waite appearing to threaten Schalk for the win.
Schalk left the Freeze Thaw Cycles aid station #4 with his 5 minute gap. Tanguy was pushing on behind with Harrisonburg, Virginia pals Waite and Bishop riding together in 3rd and 4th and Draugelis in 5th. Bishop appeared to be fading a bit on the climb up Stillhouse Hollow as Waite gapped him slightly.
The Bicycle Shop aid station #5 was set and ready to go for the leaders in Poe Paddy State Park. They were all surprised when Schalk just rode past taking no support. They began to question if he was going to fade and be caught by a charging Tanguy on the last climb of the day.
It was not to happen as Schalk broke the course record with a 6:34:37 saying “I haven’t felt this good since I took my first major win at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 over Floyd Landis, it really feels good to be able to go hard and feel great like this”. He might have had to dig deeper because Chrstian Tanguy’s ride time said 6:31 after the event. After hearing that, promoter Chris Scott said he is really looking forward to seeing the winner of the 2011 event break 6:30.
The race amongst the singlespeeders was fast as usual. What wasn’t usual was the winner. Justin Pokrivka (ProBikes/Cohen Associates) kept his head in the game which allowed him to take advantage of a mishap by the NUE Series Reigning Singlespeed Champion, Gerry Pflug and claim the victory. “The 101 is one of my favorite courses. There is a good mix of trails, tons of climbing and some awesome downhills. The volunteers and aid stations at the 101 are some of the best of the series” says current NUE Series single speed leader, Gerry Pflug (Salsa/SPK/Pro Bikes). Matthew Ferrari’s (Freeze Thaw/Hubcap Cycles) 3rd place ride gave him the top local honors and bragging rights for a whole year. Montana Miler (Speedgoat/Wilderness Voyagers) showed huge potential with his 6th place ride.
No one could touch Master’s racer Bill Nagel (Guy’s Bicycle Racing) as he cruised to a clear victory and claimed his Stans No Tubes Wheelset. First time Wilderness 101 riders David Belknap (Cycle Lodge) and Bill Simms (Cycle Lodge) rolled across the line together for 2nd and 3rd. NUE Series Master’s reigning Champion, John Williams (Bike Lane of Newark,DE) was a solid 4th. Locals Jim Matthews (MBR) and Erik Lenzing (Freeze Thaw Cycles) gave it their best shot with Lenzig finishing up on the podium in 5th place.
With just three races remaining in the Kenda NUE Series, the next stage shifts to the west coast on Saturday, August 7, at a new venue, The High Cascades 100, in Bend, Oregon. The remaining NUE races in 2010 are the Fool’s Gold 100 in Georgia on August 21 and the championship race at the Shenadoah 100.