By Harlan Price
The 2008 Cohutta 100, set for Saturday, April 19, will kick off the 2008 National Ultra Endurance Series, with the deepest field of endurance talent since the series' inception three years ago.
In the men's field, the top three series' finishers from last year are returning. Six-time 24 Hours of Adrenalin Solo World Champion and recent Cape Epic finisher Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) will be defending his 2007 Cohutta victory and overall NUE series win. He went undefeated in the four NUE races he completed last year and looks to be a clear favorite going into this year.
2006 NUE series winner and last year's runner-up Harlan Price (Fitness Together/ IFracing.org) will continue focusing on the series and returns with another year of experience. Last year's third place, Josh Tostado, will bring his Colorado climbing skills to the start line of at least four races this year when he's not otherwise busy racing 24 hour solo events.
Perhaps the biggest name on the start list for the 100 miler is Floyd Landis (Smith & Nephew - BHRhip.com). If he brings his A game, it will be unlikely that most racers can follow him on the mountain climbs. So far only David Weins, Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW) and Harlan Price have managed to defeat him on a 100-mile mountain bike course.
Schalk is the newest convert to the NUE series. He has proven himself in the hills of Virginia at the Shenandoah Mountain 100, where he won in 2007 and holds the course record. Schalk has the greatest potential for upsetting the top three from last year, and all eyes should look out for him.
Michael Simonson, of Quiring Bikes, will bring his aggressive racing style to the series this year, and could put the minds of the other racers to worry. He has been steadily been improving at the 100 milers and last year's second place at the Lumberjack 100 in Michigan proved his potential.
Throwing his hat into the ring is Evan Plews (Scott USA) from Oregon. A man with many palmares to his name, he is ready to prove himself. His second place at the first NMBS marathon event of the year in Fountain Hills showed he is on form and ready to rumble.
A talented and deeper field than in years past will make just breaking into the men's top ten a chore for this year. The women's field has also seen an increase in challengers and the likelihood of any woman walking away with a win is getting narrower by the day.
Last year's series' champion Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) will return to defend against the onslaught of new and old contenders. She will have her hands full with the likes of Danielle Musto (Kenda Titus Hayes), who won last year's Cohutta, Erika Tieszen (Kona) and Trish Stevenson (Fitness Together/ IFracing.org). Also look out for Cheryl Sorenson (Trek/ VW) and Michelle Stoppard (Visit PA).
All of the previous years' contenders will also have to watch for the 24 hours of Adrenalin World Solo Champion Pua Sawicki (Team Mata). Sawicki dominated women's endurance racing in 2007, and looks to be hunting another title.