Racers are already making their way down to the Deep South to contest the seventh race in the Kenda National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE), the Fool's Gold 100. The race, now in its fourth year, traverses the rugged North Georgia mountains with a combination of gravel roads, doubletrack, and classic Georgian singletrack. The 100-mile course consists of two 50-mile loops and totals over 14,000 feet of elevation gain. The Fool's Gold also offers a single, 50-mile loop for those not up to the full distance.
The forcast for race day is calling for mixed clouds and sun with scattered thunderstorms and high humidity. A high temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit, with light and variable winds is expected. And the chance of rain? 40 percent.
This year's race begins with an immediate 10-mile climb to spread out the field from the very start. The King and Queen of the Mountain will be decided at the top of the first major section, Cooper Gap, just three miles into the race. From there, racers will enjoy the historic Bull Mountain trail system, the original International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Epic route, plus more great trails in the Dahlonega, Georgia area.
According to Race Director Eddie O'Dea, this year there will be a slight course change resulting in racers descending Bull Mountain instead of climbing it.
All current NUE Series leaders are registered, which will make race seven an interesting one for certain. After Saturday's race, just one more round remains to determine the series champions. Division champions will be crowned and awarded at the finale at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in Virginia over Labor Day weekend. All NUE division winners will receive complimentary entry into all NUE events in 2011 as part of their reward.
In the men's division, current NUE series leader Jeff Schalk (Trek Mountain Co-Op) will be challenging the 2009 Fool's Gold winner, Christian Tanguy (Team CF). Schalk is no stranger to this Georgia race course, setting up what could be a very close race between the two. Other top contenders in the men's open include Mike Simonson (Trek/SRAM, No Tubes), Ernesto Marenchin (Speedgoat.com) and Southeast local Charlie Storm (Inland Construction). Although Schalk wrapped up the men's division with four wins already this year, the battle for the second and third spots on the NUE podium remain undecided.
Undefeated Breckenridge 100 champion, Josh Tostado (Bach Builders/Santa Cruz), is currently in the number two position, however, Tanguy can take that away if he manages even a fourth place finish in Georgia thanks to his fourth place finish at Cohutta and second place finishes at both the Lumberjack 100 and Wilderness 101. Simonson will need to finish at least fourth without eating the dust of Tanguy to move into the number two position.
Perhaps one of the most exciting races will take place in the women's divsion. 2008 Fool's Gold 100 winner and current NUE series points leader, Cheryl Sornson (Team CF), intends to reclaim her title as winner. However, it will not be easy with Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) and Sue Haywood rolling up to the starting line as well. Carey is fresh off a second place finish at the Leadville 100 last weekend and has two wins early in the NUE Series at both Cohutta and Mohican, just one place ahead of Sornsen at both races.
For Carey, a win on Saturday combined with a win or second place at Shenandoah could put her over the top for her first NUE Series Championship. It's a tall order for Sornson, however, to defend her top postion, she will need to have the race of her career since only a defeat of Carey and Haywood would guarantee her second NUE Series Championship. Anything less could force a race at final to determine the series champion.
Sornson will be hoping her extra week of recovery since placing second to Sue Butler (River City Bicycles) at the High Cascades 100 two weeks ago will give her the competitive edge she needs to defeat Carey.
Former national champion Sue Haywood, though retired now, continues to be a force among women whenever she decides to mix it up with the NUE contenders. Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) has steadily improved all season, most recently finishing third in the Wilderness 101. Simril currently holds the number two spot overall in the series, but will face stiff competition from the two contenders along with Laureen Coffelt (Velosoul/The Natural Way) who stands in fifth place overall after three races, and local Namrita O'Dea (Topeak-Ergon) who is also co-organizing the Fool's Gold race with her husband Eddie O'Dea.
The singlespeed division is very much in contention and the top three contenders will all be there. NUE Series Singlespeed Champion and Fool's Gold 2009 singlespeed winner Gerry Pflug (Salsa/SPK/Pro Bikes) will face the only two men capable of robbing him of a second straight NUE championship. It may be a long shot, but Matthew Ferrari (Hubcap-Freeze Thaw Cycles) could win the series if he can manage a win at the Fool's Gold followed by a win at Shenandoah. Nothing less will suffice. Ron Sanborn (McClain Cycle and Fitness) currently sitting in fourth place in the point standings, will, no doubt be looking for his own opportunities to podium at the series finale.
Described as the dark horse of the series since he has been MIA for most of the season, Former NUE men's champion, Harlan Price (Team CF) has proved he can take on the reigning Pflug by besting him twice early in the season at Cohutta and again at Mohican but the question remains whether he can do it now? However, by throwing his helmet into the ring at Fool's Gold, all bets are ON once again! With a win, Price would only need a first or second place at Shenandoah, provided he keeps his knobbies ahead of the reigning champ, Pflug, at both events. Although Pflug holds most of the cards in this poker match, both Price and Pflug have proved themselves in the long dirt. A win by Price at the Fool's Gold would set up, perhaps, the most exciting finish ever for the NUE Series, a final battle between two seasoned champions.
In the Masters 50+ division, Bill Nagel's (Guy’s Bicycle Racing) win at the Wilderness 101 moved him into the top spot overall, however, Robert Herriman (Trek 29er Crew/WSC/ACFStores.com) with three straight wins at Cohutta, Mohican, and Lumberjack has returned late in what appears to be, a late season bid to lock in his first NUE Championship before the finale in Virginia. With a win at Fool's Gold, no one could touch Herriman, who could simply show up to claim his reward at Shenandoah. However, this is a 100-mile race, and all of the guns appear to be gathering in the mountains of Georgia. A mechanical or a poor placing at Fool's Gold would force Herriman to do well at Shenandoah, a somewhat risky strategy for a racer needing only one more win for a lock on the series. Stay tuned for the results of this one.
James Wilson (Team CF) currently holds the two spot in the series and is officially on the roster along with top 10 contenders Erik Lenzing (Freeze Thaw Cycles), currently in fourth, and Ed McCalley (Team Ed) who could obtain a top five if he can complete Saturday's race and finish at Shenandoah.
Noticeably absent from the current roster is NUE Masters Champion John Williams, (Bike Line of Newark, DE) who needs just one more good finish for another shot at the podium in Virginia. Interesting to note is that Williams is the first racer to ever complete ALL NUE Series Races, a feat that may be matched this year but had never been done before last season, let alone by the racer who would go on to become the masters' champion. If Williams shows at either of the last two events, the masters' race to the podium will be another great one.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Fool's Gold 100.
Additional editorial assistance provided by Eddie O'Dea.