"Retired" pro Sue Haywood has thrown her hat into the ring for the Trans-Sylvania Epic (TSE) mountain bike stage race from May 29 to June 4. The former US short track national champion and Pan American cross country champion will race among a talented women's field including defending champion Selene Yeager, Amanda Carey, Sonya Looney, Rebecca Rusch, Karen Potter and Vicki Barclay.
Since stepping down from the elite, international race circuit, Haywood has kept herself busy by racing many of her region's top event. She classifies herself a "recreational pro".
"I really haven't raced much since July of 2008," said Haywood, who retired after breaking her tibia and fibula at the US National Championships in Mount Snow, Vermont.
"I've done a couple of races a year that are close to home in West Virginia. I love the Shenandoah Mountain 100, some of the West Virginia Mountain Bike races and now the east coast stage races."
When asked about her current program, Haywood said, "I'm not motivated. You must have me confused with someone who gets up early to ride, or does intervals or doesn't put butter on her bread...That's not me. I like riding mountain bikes on mountain bike trails and occasionally I like doing that with some speed and style."
At this year's TSE, her competition can expect plenty of speed and style from this humble yet legendary competitor.
It will be Haywood's first time racing the TSE, which will be in its second edition. Doing the race was a logical choice. "I love stage racing and I love racing pretty close to home nowadays. State College is a little over four hours from my house. I've done the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race the last two years and wanted to mix it up this year. I love riding rocks and apparently TSE has some rocks in it. I'm also intrigued with the possibility of Pennsylvania being an exotic, adventure vacation on a mountain bike."
Haywood is from West Virginia and spends most of her time living in Harrisonburg, Virginia. When asked about her favorite riding, she said. "There are so many trails and trail systems on the east coast. There is a ton of National Forest or public lands within four hours of my house - where you can really get an amazing back country experience on your mountain bike. There is a rugged beauty to it all. Then, of course at the same time, you can get your purpose built mountain bike trail with perfect grade reversals and fun, built features."
"West Virginia, and especially Canaan Valley, is definitely on the top of my aesthetic ideal with Sedona, Arizona, as well. There is a lifetime of creepy, crawly rock moves on Massanutten Mountain Trail in Virginia that keeps my interest piqued. So, Yes, I'm pretty pumped on the riding on the east coast.
Early in her career, Haywood was often considered a "short-course" specialist and she's got two suitcases full of podium placings and two national championships to prove it. Now, she's all about endurance.
"I used to think that short track was the dumbest idea ever, until I started doing well at it," said Haywood. "I guess that's human nature...Vanity. It's a pain fest, but entertaining for the spectators and racers. It's not the real world. It exists in a bubble that is a national level pro race."
"But long rides do exist in the real world and there is something do-able and satisfying about the challenge of a 100 miler or a 24-hour solo. My philosophy is that speed and fitness trump everything. Speed sets you up to do the long stuff. And the long stuff is so much worth your time and money. But I don't have much speed nowadays; I'm not willing to hurt like that anymore. I'm not sure why I would rather hurt for seven days rather than a short time?"
In its second year, the Trans-Sylvania Epic is drawing a very talented field of women's endurance racers including National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series leader Amanda Carey.
"It's great to have some depth in the women's field...it's not only legit, but it makes for great racing and lots of fun. It is going to be a blast. Amanda Carey is a really fast starter and strong finisher. She'll be tough to keep up with. And as long as I don't have to arm wrestle Selene or Reba with their huge biceps, I'm happy to race against them."
"I'm hoping that a week-long race allows us to hang out and be friends off the bike. There will be battles going on by day and socializing at night. And I love the fact that these girls, many from the west, aren't scared to come east, get dirty and ride the rocks. And for the local girls, they are fired up to show their stuff on the rocks."
Haywood will be racing without the benefit of much local knowledge of the trails, but she thinks it's not the most important factor in success. "It's peace of mind knowing when to gas it and when to be cautious. But, the reality is fitness trumps all and it's the racers that make the race, not necessarily the course. A good course can make you happy and stoked and keep you coming back. Good fitness and solid mountain bike skills are what you need the most."
Haywood has been hemming and hawing over what kind of bike to race at the TSE. "I've been drinking the Kool-Aid lately and going with the 29er. I wanted to bring both my Turners, but I think I might be bringing one gun... the Sultan. I've made a couple of changes to cockpit, suspension and my attitude and I've made friends with it the last couple of weekends. I'm still not faster on the downhills with it, but I'm so much faster on the road. Like everyone says...they roll."
"I still wish the 650b bike would have been the next big thing, but what do I know?...I'm just a hillbilly from the holler."
Haywood will be looking to add a Trans-Sylvania Epic win to her list of wins, which also include events like the 24-hour Solo Worlds in 2006, the Chequamagon, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (multiple times and a course record in 2007), the TransRockies (with her teammate Hillary Harrison) and the La Ruta de los Conquistadores in 2007.