Endurance racers, hang on tight and prepare for the oldest, 100-miler in the Kenda National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Mountain Bike Series, The Wilderness 101, in Coburn, Pennsylvania, not far from the town of State College.
Stop number five on this year's NUE circuit has roots dating back to the early 90s. "The 101", as named by many, had an initial short run of just three years, suffering an early death, before being resurrected in 2001 by promoter Chris Scott of Shenandoah Mountain Touring.
2010 marks the 10th race since its reinvention. Though the original race was mostly fireroad, the course has evolved to include more singletrack over the last decade. As a result, this year's edition may prove to be one of the sweetest courses to date.
After a rainy, early NUE race season, perhaps the best news involves the long-term forecast that currently - as of the writing of this preview - shows no rain in sight and temperatures in the low 80s (degrees Fahrenheit), which could lend itself to record times along the 101's super-fast race course.
In the men's division, reigning series champion Jeff Schalk (Trek Mountain Co-Op) leads all contenders with three straight victories at the Cohutta 100, Mohican 100 and Lumberjack 100. In race number four, Schalk was defeated, in part due to mechanicals, by undefeated, six-time Breckenridge 100 winner Breckenridge 100 Champion, Josh Tostado (Bach Builders/Santa Cruz). So far, there is on sign of Tostado for the 101.
Although it's possible, if not likely, that Schalk could wrap up four race wins at the 101, Tostado has demonstrated all season that he has the power and potential to unseat the champion and win the next three races which would include the Fool's Gold 100 in Georgia, the High Cascades 100 in Oregon and the Shenandoah 100 championship race in Virginia, where ALL ties will be decided.
Besides the two titans, there will be plenty of additional heat gunning for the top 10 in the men's race including Christian Tanguy (Team CF) and Chris Beck (Trek/Gary Fisher Collection) leading the charge against Schalk with other top talent like teammates Brandon Draugelis, Ray Adams and Rob Lichtenwalner (all PA Valleys.com) trying to keep a position near the front of the pack.
Others in the hunt for glory are Michael Simonson (Gary Fisher/SRAM XX/NoTubes), currently in the number two position in the men's series, Brian Lariviere (Bulldog/Cycle Craft), Garth Prosser (Cannondale Factory Racing), Peter Schildt (Engin Cycles), Jed Prentice (BikeDoctor), Evan Ellicott (Bike Doctor), Andy Gorski (Speedgoat) along with local hero Jacob Loverich (Shenandoah Mountain Touring) who will be fresh off a sub 10-hour Ironman event at Lake Placid last weekend.
In the women's division, NUE Reigning Champion Betsy Shogren (Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling) is registered for only her third race of the season, coming off fifth place at the Mohican 100 in June and a no show result at the Lumberjack 100. She is in good form despite early season troubles and could rise to the occasion with just three races remaining. Not counting her out for the series, a win at the 101 would be a huge boost to Shogren if she hopes to retain the NUE Series title.
2008 NUE women's series winner and last year's Wilderness 101 winner Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) and her teammate Selene Yeager will be anxious to light it up on Saturday. Sornson currently leads the NUE Series with eight points. The racer with the lowest points wins and racers receive a point for each place earned at each race for their best four events. With a win at the 101, Sornson would take a commanding lead in the series, adding to her win at the Lumberjack 100 and second place finishes at the Cohutta and Mohican.
Where is Kenda's Amanda Carey? That is the big question and the wild card among women. With back to back wins at the Cohutta and Mohican, Carey could come out of nowhere and really shake up the results.
Among locals, Vicki Barclay (Freeze Thaw Cycles) appears to have a great shot at taking a women's victory for Pennsylvania and will test her mettle against the NUE Champions on her home turf. Karen Potter (MTBRaceNews.com) and Ruth Cunningham (ProBikes) have both been on the podium before and will be making huge efforts to get there again. Keep your eye on Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) who is currently in the number two spot nationally with just 14 points. Simril had a great finish and closed in on Sornson, finishing just one place back at the Breckenridge 100 in Colorado two weeks ago.
Given the lung-busting climbs and mouth-watering technical, rocky sections at the Wilderness 101, some may wonder why the 101 has become so popular among singlespeeders, where the strong kneed riders on one gear come out of the forest in full force.
According to singlespeed NUE series champion, and current point leader Gerry Pflug (Salsa/SPK/Pro Bikes), "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. The 101 is extra cool because it boasts one of the largest singlespeed fields, with about 60 singlespeed riders." Perhaps this is helped by the area having previously hosted the Singlespeed World Championships, thereby drawing the attention of many one-geared riders.
The singlespeed division is still heated, clearly making the 101 a throw down for series contention. Pflug, local hitters Matthew Ferari (Freeze Thaw/Hubcap Cycles) and Bill Alcorn (BikeFlights.com), Tim Finkle (Gary Fisher) and Ron Sanborn (Mclain Cycles), currently in the number two position in the series, will all be gunning for top honors.
It remains to be seen whether Roger Masse (Trek/Gary Fisher Collection) will be up and running after an unfortunate tragic illness kept him away from his commuter training regime for the past six weeks. Among the darkhorses not registered yet who could really shake up the series is Harlan Price (Team CF). With his win at Cohutta and second place at Mohican, Price is in a position to pick and choose his races, perhaps using timing to his advantage to strike a blow at Pflug by seizing victories in one of the two back to back weekends in the remaining races?
In the Master 50+ division, champion,John Williams (Bike Line of Newark Delaware) is coming off an amazing finish at the Breckenridge 100, where he took second place in the high country and greatly boosted his chances for a repeat this year if he remains strong and pull out some wins. Standing in his path is Robert Herriman (Gary Fisher 29er Crew/wsc/acf) who leads all masters with three straight victories at the Cohutta, Mohican, and the Lumberjack. Herriman, although not currently registered for the 101, is in an enviable postion and could lock up four wins with any of the upcoming races. If he gains one more series victory, he would only need to show up at the Shenandoah 100 finale in the event of a tie. Locally, Jim Matthews (MBR) and Erik Lenzing (Freeze Thaw Cycles) will no doubt use their home course advantage as will NYC racer Chris Wurster (Independent Fabrication) who was last year's winner.
In the NUE series, all racers in all categories who complete four races will win prizes from series sponsors Kenda, Yakima, Velocity, Ergon, Terry Precision Cycling and Ryders. Series winners will ultimately don custom winner's jerseys by Endura Technical Apparel.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Wilderness 101.