Organizers of the National Ultra-Endurance (NUE) mountain bike series announced their schedule for 2007 this week. In its second year, the American 100-miler series starts with a new event in April; the Cohutta 100 in Tennessee.
Garth Prosser (Bear Naked/Cannondale), one of the series coordinators and a contender in the 2006 series, told Cyclingnews that he expects the 2007 version of the series to grow over its successful inaugural year. "We're getting our act together and we know more about what to expect from racers and what they would like to see. We really want people to have a good time."
Chris Scott, promoter of two events in the series (The Shenandoah Mountain 100 and the Wilderness 100) agrees. "We expect more attendance from competitive NORBA racers, so we pushed the Wilderness 101 back so it would not overlap with the national championships weekend in Vermont. This opens the door for pro riders like Chris Eatough and Jeremiah Bishop (both Trek/VW racers), who may want to compete in more 100 milers." Bishop won the Shenandoah Mountain 100 over Eatough in an epic battle in 2006, and although Eatough would like do the series, he noted a schedule conflict with the 24 hours of Adrenalin World Solo championships. "Maybe I can get to enough other events to still do the series?" Eatough pondered his options while talking to Cyclingnews.
Competitors in the series must finish a minimum of four races to be eligible for the overall. Last year, organizers required racers to attend one western race, but due to the limited number of western races and expenses associated with so much travel, that requirement has been dropped, so any four races will count. Although there are other popular 100 milers in the western US, such as the Leadville 100 and the Cascade Creme Puff 100, these and other races were excluded from the series on the grounds that limited field sizes or lottery entries could potentially preclude series competitors from gaining entry.
In 2006, about 15 racers vied for the series overall, but more are expected this year as the popularity of 100 milers grows. "The series is more do-able, than say a 24 hours series. It's less draining and less expensive. It requires fewer logistics," said Prosser.
Eatough had a theory on the increasing popularity of endurance events. "100 milers offer a good balance for people who've had enough of cross country racing and are looking for more of a challenge. The cross country courses have gotten easier in general, and the bikes have gotten better. I think people are looking for more adventure now that we have bikes that let us be comfortable all day. 100 milers are a challenge, but do-able. They are like an Ironman. Also, as many are out there to compete against themselves, they forge friendships with those around them on the way to a personal best."
Last year's most epic race was probably in Michigan, where due to a heat wave, many people DNF'ed, although Breckenridge came in a close second, with many racers complaining of the difficulty of racing so long at high altitude.
Last year's men's winner Harlan Price (Independent Fabrication) is expected to return to defend his title, but he'll have some new competition. Dan Jansen (Niner), won the single speed series in 2006, after doing all but one of the races. James Selman (Hup United), a veteran 100 miler, will also tackle the series, with wife and young children in tow (Selman raced three of the original editions of the Wilderness 101, back in the mid-90's before the race was revived by promoter Chris Scott).
"The biggest difference for me this year is that I will race the series geared and on a 29'er," said Jansen of Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I'd like to do the series from the geared perspective and compare it to how I felt last year on my singlespeed. I expect to do a little bit better. Some days the singlespeed is a better choice, but I'm wondering if I really will be faster, especially in some of the races." When not racing, Jansen helps with the Lumberjack; in fact, he's working with the promoter on a new course for 2007. Unlike the other series races, it will still feature multiple laps, but perhaps without the crippling heat that last year caused so many DNF's.
Pennsylvanian John Majors (Giffin Interior and Fixture, Inc) will return to defend his title in the master's 50+ series. "I'm going to race as many races as I can. I don't know if I'll make it out west this year; that was tough last year." Majors pointed out that the competition was good last year. "I didn't win every race. This year, I think I need to turn up the mileage." When asked why he does the series, he said, "I got to meet a lot of new people and discovered new places to ride. I did it because I love to ride my bike. Each race was different."
Last year's women's winner, Hillary Harrison (Giant Bikes/Kenda), did not say if she would contend again this year, noting the extensive travel involved. "There are some amazing races out there. I hope all of the series races will be as good as the best of the series' races last year." Harrison's toughest competitor, Trish Stevenson (Cannondale), was forced to drop out of the series after breaking her neck late last summer.
The National Ultra-Endurance (NUE) mountain bike series schedule:
Race 1, April 21: Cohutta (Tennessee)
Race 2, June 2: Mohican (Ohio)
Race 3, June 16: Lumberjack (Michigan)
Race 4, July 21: Breckenridge (Colorado)
Race 5, August 4: Wilderness (Pennsylvania)
Race 6, August 25: Endurance 100 (Utah)
Race 7, September 2: Shenandoah Mountain 100 (Virginia)