After Floyd Landis announced his intention to compete in the US National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series, Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) confirmed to Cyclingnews that he will defend his series title for 2008.
"I plan on racing. I won the series last year. They made a couple of good additions and kept all my favourites," said Eatough.
Eatough named the Shenandoah Mountain 100, the Lumberjack 100 and the Mohican 100 as his favorites, but he's also looking forward to checking out the Fool's Gold 100, a new addition to the series set in Georgia. "The Shenandoah Mountain 100 is the quintessential 100 mile race. It involves everything - climbing, road riding and technical singletrack. It's a good all around venue and a benchmark."
"I like the 100% singletrack course of the Lumberjack. It's all in the woods the whole time," said Eatough. "I really like the Ohio race [the Mohican 100], too. It was a good course - very varied terrain. It was more climbing and more technical singletrack than I had expected. In addition, you went up this challenging dam embankment that you had to hike up carrying your bike at mile 96."
Eatough's experience in endurance races will no doubt pay off in 2008, but another NUE series victory won't come easily. "Harlan Price [Independent Fabrication] will be back. He won the series the year before I did and was second place last year. He's been improving every year and he's focusing on these 100 miles."
"I'm sure Floyd Landis [Smith & Nephew] will be a factor. He has excellent fitness and takes these races fairly seriously," he said of his newly committed competition. The two raced at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in 2007, but Eatough did not finish after suffering a severe mechanical within the first 20 miles. Landis finished third.
Eatough pointed to an occasional training partner from the Balitmore, Maryland, area as some unexpected competition for the men's field. "Chris Beck is racing for Gary Fisher. I know he will do more of the races. We train together sometime and he's working really hard and is good on long climbs. He's been riding a long time and has a road background. He's always liked mountain biking, but I'm not sure all of the cross country racing worked for him."
Last but not least is fellow Trek / VW team-mate and co winner of the BC Bike race. "If Jeff Schalk races, he will be a factor. He was obviously good at the Shenandoah," said Eatough. Schalk won the series finale.
A busy season
The six-time 24 Hours of Adrenaline solo world champion said he will do a majority of the NUE series races. "I'll do most of them. One or two I might have to miss due to conflicts with 24 hour racing." Eatough will race the national championships, but has not decided on his participation in the 24 Hours of Adrenaline Solo World Championships to be held in Canmore in Canada.
The Maryland resident seems to have an amazing capacity to excel in multiple endurance events each year. When asked about managing the recovery in between, he said "I think it's a matter of not doing too many and spacing them out just right. With three days of recovery, I'm pretty much recovered. 24 hour races take two to three weeks. That's mostly physical recovery."
"Mentally, I'm always motivated to do these races. As long as I can choose to the races, it helps. There are few events I'm required to do, and I think that helps keep motivation high."
Before the NUE series kicks off, Eatough will race with team-mate Jeremiah Bishop at the Cape Epic stage race in South Africa. Neither rider has done the race before although both have competed together in a multi-day stage race.
"The Cape Epic is our first race of the year. It will be exciting and a huge. It'll be a hard and fast race. It's be good motivation for winter training here." In July, Eatough will race the BC bike race. He did not name a partner.
Bishop and Eatough raced the TransAlp event as a team in 2002. "I think Jeremiah is faster now. The TransAlp is when he seemed to step up to the next level. He's certainly become a specialized cross country racer and is focused on that. I've become more endurance-oriented. I don't have the climbing speed that he has, but hopefully my experience and endurance will make up for it."
The pair worked their way up the pro ranks together while living and racing in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Bishop will be using the Cape Epic as a tune-up before the World Cup races which will be used to select the US Olympic team while Eatough will be honing is endurance fitness for another busy season.
When asked how long he would continue to race endurance events, Eatough said, "At least a few more years. In fact, I think I'll probably do quite a few more years. I may just start being more selective with my races and doing less races total. I'm not feeling the effects yet and my body is holding up fine. As long as my family allows me to keep doing it, I'd like to keep doing it."
He pointed to another endurance guru, Tinker Juarez, as an example of someone who's stayed in the endurance game for a long time. "Tinker's keeps a pretty busy schedule for a guy in his 40s," said a complimentary Eatough.