The fifth annual Kenda National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) rolls out of the Ocoee Whitewater Center this Saturday, April 28 near Ducktown, Tennessee. Sold out for a second straight year, The Cohutta 100-mile race is the first of an expanded 12-race NUE season.
Following several tornadoes that hit the area last year just two days before the race and the cold temps and pouring rains the year before, Race director Charles Nelson, who works for Trailhead Bicycle Company, likely feels much better about the forecast this year. It is calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s.
Course changes this year will include the addition of singletrack at the race's onset and the shortening of the singletrack at the finish. Most notably, however, will be the addition of singletrack at the course's most southern point, incorporating a section of the famous Pinhotti trail system before backtracking to Tanasi on the same south-bound course.
Women's open: Will defending NUE Series Champion Carey make it four in row?
Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) from Victor, Idaho, has dominated the NUE Series for three straight years. Seemingly invincible, Carey began her incredible run last season with a big win at Cohutta finishing in just 7:33:41.
2008 NUE Series Champion Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) took second last year. Sornson is a strong competitor, and Carey will need to be ever mindful of her rear view mirror again this season.
Vicki Barclay (Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team) finished fourth at Cohutta and overall last year and may well find her way to the top of the podium there this season.
Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) has a few years on her competitors, but no one is cutting her any slack as she managed to finish sixth last year at Cohutta and overall. Andrea Wilson (Outdoors, Inc.) finished fifth in the NUE Series and was recognized as the only women to do it on a singlespeed, often on a rigid singlespeed! We'll see if she can compete with the geared riders again this year.
Another wild card to watch is Costa Rica's Adriana Maria Rojas Cubero (La Ruta De Los Conquistadores).
Men's open: Defending Champion Tanguy returns to Tennessee
Three-time Kenda NUE Series men's open champion Jeff Schalk (Trek) retired from racing at the end of last season, moving on to pursue his next career; however, he will, no doubt, be following the action as current NUE Series Champion Christian Tanguy (Team CF) of Rochester, Michigan returns to defend his title and his win last year at Cohutta.
In 2011, Tanguy smashed the Cohutta course in just 6:27:49 trading wins throughout the season with Schalk, before narrowly capturing the win at the championship race in Virginia for his first NUE Series title. His CF Teammate Brandon Draugelis of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania will be there as well, following a ninth place series finish last year, but competing in the masters division this year.
With Schalk out, other contenders are emerging to challenge the NUE Champion. Following an amazing recovery from a severe crash that nearly threatened his life at the NUE Series Championship race last year, series contender Michael Simonson (Trek/RBS) of Michigan, is stronger than ever and returning to Cohutta where he placed fourth last year. Simonson finished fourth overall in the series and is considered a leading contender.
Chris Peariso (Adventure212 / Specialized) finished second in 2010 and fifth last year. Ernesto Marenchin (Pivot Cycles) from Stowe, Ohio returns following his ninth place finish at Cohutta last year, sixth place overall in the series. Eddie O’Dea (55nine.com) finished seventh in the series last year, gaining course knowledge and strength for a 2012 bid.
Several racers attending the Cohutta 100 this year hail from Costa Rica including Roman Urbina and Alexander Sanchez (La Ruta De Los Conquistadores).
Perhaps the biggest news is a last minute entry by Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing). It was back in 2009 when Bishop edged out both Schalk and Tanguy by mere seconds to take the Mohican 100, setting a new course record in the process. Since then, Bishop, a US Olympic Team hopeful, has focused much of his talent on stage racing. Perhaps he is thinking of throwing his hat into the series ring this season?
Singlespeed: Return of the Pfluginator!
Reigning two-time NUE Singlespeed Champion Gerry Pflug (Salsa/NoTubes/Top Gear) will return to defend his title and his win at Cohutta. Last year, Pflug smoked the course in just 7:14:32 and is the absolute favorite for this weekend.
Matthew Ferrari (Hubcap-Freeze Thaw Cycles) has played second fiddle to the Michael Jordan of the singlespeed division. However, it's a new season and a long one. Ferrari will try to hold Pflug's wheel for 100 miles in the mountains of Cohutta.
Jason Pruitt (Peoples Brewing, LAS, Hodson Bay) is back after placing fourth last year and third in the series overall. Robin Oscar (Motor Mile Racing) of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, who took fourth overall in the series last year, is hoping to improve his standing at Cohutta and make a strong stand against the top three.
Masters 50+: Masse is the favorite to win
NUE Masters Champion Doug Andrews (Projectrwanda.org) set the bar at 7:33:17 with Roger Masse (Trek) just three minutes back last year. However, with his biggest competitors including Andrews, 2010 Masters Champion Robert Herriman (Trek 29Er Crew/Wsc/Acfstores.Com) and Todd Henne missing on the registration list, Masse may be off to his best start of the season with a win at Cohutta.
A win for Masse may not be as easy as it sounds. Mark Drogalis (Team CF) just moved into the masters division this year. Chris Irving (Los Locos) placed fourth last year at Cohutta plus had a second place finish at Syllamo's Revenge and third place finishes at Mohican and Fools Gold last year. Bill Holden (Holden Brothers) is also capable of a podium finish. He took fourth at Syllamo's and fifth at Fool's Gold in 2011.
Other masters to watch include Ron Sanborn (Einstein Racing) and John Wyrick (Team Brad) of Cincy who had a steady rise in the standings last year, finishing the season with a fourth place finish at Fool's Gold. James Wilson (Team CF) is back and more than capable. He finished fifth in 2010. Monte Hewett of Atlanta finished seventh last year.
The 2012 NUE series is sponsored by Kenda Tire, Hammer Nutrition, Yakima Racks, Velocity Wheels, Sigma Sport, Strava Tracking, Squirt lube, and Darn Tough Socks of Vermont.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for early reports and complete coverage.