Before this year's National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series of 100-mile mountain bike races in the US, not many had heard Christian Tanguy's name. But after four second places and one win in series races in 2009, he's become an established member of the rank of fast guys.
"Christian is the revelation of the NUE series this year. His fitness is world class," said fellow competitor and Shenandoah Mountain 100 winner Jeremiah Bishop (MonaVie / Cannondale). "He's opening some eyes for sure."
The 34-year-old Tanguy placed second at the Mohican 100 and the Lumberjack 100 races earlier this season. In August, he finished second at the Wilderness 101 and he won the Fool's Gold 100. Last weekend, he was second at the Shenandoah Mountain 100.
Tanguy, who rides for Fraser / Cannondale, attributed his success this year to a lighter bike and help from his inlaws in watching his child so he could spend more time training. He hails from France, but now lives in Rochester, Michigan - a suburb of Detroit - with his family.
"I was fortunate this year because my inlaws took care of the babysitting and that left me more time to train. It made a big difference."
"I also shaved weight on the bike where I could, and now I have a similar bike to Jeff (Schalk) and Jeremiah (Bishop) which was not the case before."
Tanguy has been in the US for 10 years, and he still speaks with a heavy French accent. His competitors know his climbing talents well, but this year, they've been a little surprised to see him get faster on the descents, too. Tanguy proved he could stick with Bishop and NUE series leader Jeff Schalk on the descents last weekend by hanging tough on downhill sections of trail.
"In previous races, I always got dropped on the downhill," said Tanguy. "This time, I was maybe 50 yards behind, and every little portion going back up, I'd make it back up to them. It showed improvement for me."
When asked how he trains for racing up and down in the mountains while living in Michigan, Tanguy joked, "Well, you don't!"
"I guess I'm fortunate to have good climbing abilities, but we can't train for that in Michigan." Then he added, more seriously. "We do minute or minute and a half hill repeats. You put all you have into 30 seconds and you're at the top of the hill."
Another factor that has played a role in Tanguy's improvement is experience.
"I remember my first Lumberjack 100. It was all about survival two years ago. I thought, 'Why do I do this?' However, you get more tuned to the distance. Today (at the Shenandoah Mountain 100) is probably the race where I've finished with the most energy."
Tanguy's rise to the top comes even though the competition in the series is getting tougher each year. "Let's face it, when I did the first Lumberjack 100, the competition was only Chris Eatough. Now the competition is much different and there is much more of it."
With one race remaining this weekend, it's mathmatically impossible for Tanguy to catch Jeff Schalk for the 2009 NUE series win. Depending on whether Bishop attends the Sierra-Tahoe 100 event, Tanguy will finish second or third in the series. It's been a challenging few months of racing, so Tanguy isn't making the trip to the finale in California.
"It's too far and too expensive, and it's been a long season already. I don't just race the NUE, I also particpate in the state races in Michigan and they're also competitive. We have a good group there."
"I'm glad the season is pretty much over," he said. "No more training. I'll just enjoy riding."
Whether or not he competes at the same level in the 2010 NUE remains to be seen.
"It depends how much time I have to train and how much time I spend babysitting," he said. "I'll race, but you might not see me at the front."
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