By Harlan Price
The women's field at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 set a new turnout record for any of the 100 milers in the National Ultra Endurance series. 52 women lined up along with 450 men to start a long day in the saddle. In the end, a record number of women crossed the line to collect their finishers' pint glasses. Cheryl Sornson (Trek VW East) took the top honor in the women's class on a course dampened by a rain storm the night before.
It was a win Sornson never expected, but by this point she is used to achieving more than she has hoped. "Getting back into racing was a long shot and a tough undertaking. I am fascinated at what I can do with my mind and body at this point in my life," said Sornson after being asked about her season and first place standing in the series.
In the early 90s Sornson raced as a professional but eventually put aside the racing to pursue motherhood and a career as a guidance counselor. With school back in session, the last couple of weeks have been difficult for training for many of the women racers. Second place finisher Trish Stevenson (IFracing.org) also found herself juggling the books, a couple of jobs and training.
True to form, Betsy Shogren (Sobe Cannondale) launched herself up the first three climbs and built a padded lead by the time she reached the top of Hankey Mountain, but a flat tire cost her some time and the lead as she was passed by Sornson and Stevenson.
Despite a bee sting between the eyes, Sornson pulled away from Stevenson on a pavement section before the race's half-way point. Now in first place, she put her head down and let her legs do the talking.
Stevenson pushed on and despite having only ridden once since the Fool's Gold 100 race two weeks prior, was able to hold on to second only 11 minutes down. Shogren fell to the fate of a second flat and ended the race in third with 36 minutes behind.
Eatough gets one
24 hour solo national champion Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) was winless in the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series going into the second to last race, the Shenandoah Mountain 100.
Was it a superhuman team-mate or a slow start to the season punctuated by a house move and a baby? Either way, the questions can be put to the side after this weekend's race in which Eatough (Trek VW) got back to familiar territory atop NUE podiums. Eatough was clearly strongest all day and went on to win.
A recently separated shoulder and a long season of being on form early were most likely the key ingredients to NUE series leader Jeff Schalk's third place finish behind Eatough and perennial threat Sam Koerber (Gary Fisher 29er Crew).
"I figured that Jeff was the guy to beat, I knew he wasn't comfortable in wet singletrack. If I could put the pressure on he would wear himself out," said Koerber, whose technical trail skills are dazzling to most. Few on the course would be able to match his get-away skills in the rocks, but the one person capable was Eatough who stuck his wheel to the bottom of the first descent.
With a small gap, Eatough and Koerber worked together to close the door. Some riders caught them, but only Schalk hung on a tough descent down Wolf Trail. The three stayed together through aid station two and the subsequent hour-long climb to the top of Hankey mountain before Schalk began to show cracks in his game.
Koerber had the lead into the off-camber, sometimes rocky, sometimes buff eight minute descent to aid station three. "We got a big gap on the downhill. We were just flying," said Koerber. "Jeff was just gone, we must have gotten a minute on him. At the next feed station, Chris was like this is it."
Eventually, Eatough set a pace that even Koerber couldn't be followed. Motivated by a receding Koerber, the Trek Factory rider took his yet to be released 2009 Trek Top Fuel 9.9 to the finish in a solo run for the podium. A small flat on the Chestnut Trail descent was quickly remedied with a burst of C02 and the tubeless sealant held for the rest of the race.
Koerber rode strong to finish second, just 11 minutes behind Eatough. Schalk kept his head up and finished in third without knowing that Beck was hot on his heels and only a minute behind at the finish line.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Shenandoah Mountain 100.