By Ron Sawicki & Sue George
The National MTB Oktoberfest in North Carolina wrapped up the USA Cycling Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike National Calendar. Over the course of the weekend, four events were run including the festival's main event, an eight-hour race on Saturday. Some of the best racers from around the US showed up to duke it out.
In the men's eight-hour race, which started at noon, Nat Ross (Subaru/Gary Fisher) and Tinker Juarez (MonaVie/Cannondale) took the early lead, but after a couple of laps they were overtaken by Harlan Price (Independent Fabrication) and Jeremiah Bishop(Trek/VW). Ross had come down with a virus just prior to the race and found himself battling the bug to stay in the race. Juarez held on about a minute or two back for most of the race while the leaders battled in front for the full eight hours.
Price and Bishop switched turns in the lead several times with each never letting the other get away. Finally on the last lap Bishop made a break for it and put a small gap on Price on the final climb. Near the top of the climb, Bishop's chain dropped, and he ran up the hill scared that he would be caught. In the end he won with a 12 second gap over Price.
Juarez finished third, Ernesto Marenchin (Speedgoat.com) fourth and Ross rounded out the top five. Ross's finish gave him enough points to secure the series win.
In the women's race, Pua Sawicki (Team Mata) found herself alone out front for the entire race, only to do battle with the solo men and team racers. Despite falling early in the race on a slippery, wet section of the course, Sawicki was able to win by several laps and also take the fastest overall women's day and night laps along with the Queen of the Mountain hill climb contest.
On the final lap Sawicki took her dog Koa out to top off a really great race. Koa may be the first dog to ride on the victory lap at a Nationals and he loved it. Denelle Grant (Bike Factory Racing) and Blakely Sapsford (Guy's Racing) rounded out the top three in the women's field.
With her victory, Sawicki won the series, making it her third national series championship and sixth national title in her four years of professional racing.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the National MTB Oktoberfest.