By Harlan Price
The National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series returns to the East coast and its lower elevations after sending riders into the clouds at the Breckenridge 100 last weekend. The eighth annual Wilderness 101 will run this weekend on Saturday, July 26, out of the sleepy town park of Coburn, Pennsylvania. More racers than ever are signed on to tackle the hills and singletrack of the Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forests.
More than three hundred racers will line up to participate in the longest-running mountain bike 100 miler in the country. First run in 1991, the "101" helped establish the standard by which most 100 milers are judged. Promoter Chris Scott in conjunction with Mt. Nittany Wheelworks have been running the race since 2001 on mostly the same single loop course, but this year riders can expect slight route alterations due to safety concerns and power-line construction.
Four of the top five men contending for the NUE series win will be on the start line saddled up next to three of the top women. Jeff Schalk (Trek / VW) is the man dominating the series in his first full year on the circuit. He has effectively cut previous series champions Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) and Harlan Price (IFracing.org) from the top podium spot and only has to continue his winning way in one more of the four remaining races to secure the overall win.
The question is whether Eatough's and Price's course knowledge will be an advantage over Schalk's strength. Michigan riders Michael Simonson (Trek / VW) and Christian Tanguy (American Bicycle and Fitness), currently fifth in the series, will also be on hand to strengthen their series positions. Missing from the equation will be current NUE series second place Evan Plews (Scott/ Capitol Subaru) and Breckenridge 100 winner Josh Tostado.
In the women's race, expect to see series leader Cheryl Sornson (Trek VW) and local Michelle Stopper (Visit PA) go toe to toe. Last year's series winner Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) will also be on hand to keep everyone worried. Unsure of her racing status is last year's 101 winner Betsy Shogren (Cannondale/ Sobe), who recently suffered a wrist injury. If she can ride, the rest of the field will be marking her moves. The women's NUE series podium is still very much up in the air - waiting for someone to emerge as a dominate force. If no one steps up at the 101, the outcome may remain unknown until the final race of the series.
Among the singlespeeders, Dejay Birtch (Niner) will be trying to hold on to his first place position, while his travel partner John "Fuzzy" Myline (Shoair/Rock N' Road/Niner) will be looking to swoop in on his spot. Don't be surprised to see newly crowned Semi-pro National Champion and Pennsylvania resident Weston Schempf (Visit PA) in there dicing it up with the series leaders for the singlespeed win.
Perhaps the most inspirational of the racers will be the master's men with their own battle to prove age is of no matter. Previous series winner John Majors (Griffin Interior) has inspired a new onslaught on elder statesmen to come out to challenge. Greg Turner and Scott Root are making short work of the top two positions, but consistency is the name of the game and those with the experience understand this key element to the game.
Most riders will camp in the quaint Coburn city park, which doubles as the start and finish of the single-lap race. Racers will be treated to dinner and beer the night after the race underneath the pavilion.
Last year's event was won by Jeremiah Bishop and Betsy Shogren.