By Harlan Price in Coburn, Pennsylvania
Stop number five of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series arrived outside of State College in Coburn, Pennsylvania, last Saturday, with over 300 racers filling up the small city park for the 7:00 am start. A lack of substantial rainfall the night before was a detour from the norm from the previous series races, which all experienced enough rain to significantly affect the courses. Even though racers for the Wilderness 101 were met with moderate temperatures and good trail conditions, the heat of the competition determined there would be a shortage of comfort for all vying for podium spots.
Sornson's new form rears back and strikes
Twenty two women on the start line marked a new record for attendance in the overall women's division. In the line up was hometown favorite Michelle Stopper (Visit PA), 2006 and 2007 winner Betsy Shogren (Sobe Cannondale), 2007 series winner Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) and second at the Lumberjack 100 Karen Potter (mtbmind.com). Cheryl Sornson (Trek VW East Coast) looked at the competition and decided to race her own pace to a victory over the stacked field. En route, she shored up her overall first place in the series' standings.
"I had a great start and got in a pack with the guys. I was able to get on some good trains (in the opening road sections)." She managed to lead up through mile 40 but was caught by Stopper on one of the descents soon after. The two rode together briefly, but as the climbs began, Stopper pulled away.
"When she (Stopper) passed me," said Sornson, "I got a little gloomy, but when my friend Tom gave me some encouraging words, I just put it out of my head and tried to stay in my target heart rate zone."
Stopper managed to hold onto her lead until about mile 85 where the Sornson "came blowing by" on the flat, rolling dual track. At the finish line Sornson came in just one minute behind the course record, but more importantly 10 minutes ahead of Stopper. Lowery was 23 minutes back, while Potter finished another five minutes back. Last year's winner Shogren was suffering an injured wrist and decided to ride her singlespeed for the day, but still managed a fifth place finish.
Schalk racks up win number 4 while Eatough and Price play cat and mouse
Jeff Schalk (Trek / VW East Coast) arrived in Coburn with a hammer and one more nail to put in the coffin in which to bury the rest of his competitors fighting for the top spot on the NUE series podium. On another unfamiliar course with some of the most technical singletrack in the series, Schalk broke away earlier than usual at the 40 mile mark to win with a six minute lead over previous race winners Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) and Harlan Price (IFracing.org), who were left to a game of jockeying for second wheel for a sprint finish.
After aid station one, Schalk got away and while some tried to hold his pace and to chase him back, no one pulled it off. "Since the other races had come down to the end, I was hoping to get this one over with earlier," said Schalk about his tactics after the race. "I felt like I had hung myself out to dry when I attacked, but once I committed I had to pull on. I was in total panic mode for the rest of the race."
Eatough and Price dropped the other riders on the singletrack climb after aid station three and pursued Schalk with a consistent gap of four to five minutes for most of the rest of the way. Christian Tanguy tried to chase them down, but wasn't successful.
Near the end, Eatough attacked but Price always closed. "I realized that Chris had some reserves, and I wasn't in a position to lay down a five mile time trial, so I started imagining a sprint finish," said Price. "Stage 18 and 19 of the Tour [de France] were fresh in my head as well as some spirited group rides I had been on lately, so I thought there was a good possibility of a win if I came in with a good position."
In the final tunnel, where only the outlines of the rocks were visible, Price heard the unmistakable sound of Stan's sealant spewing out of a tire puncture. It stopped spewing and was presumably sealed, but Eatough took advantage and went to the front.
A game of cat and mouse ensued, but by the final corner with a hundred feet to go, Price's front tire had lost enough air to make it impossible to negotiate the turn and Eatough sprinted away to second.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Wilderness 101.