- Ryan O'Dell
National Ultra Endurance Series kicks off on Saturday
Jeff Schalk topped the Cohutta 100 podium in 2010 and returns this year to defend his title.
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The 11-race National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) opens on Saturday, April 30, with the Cohutta 100 near Ducktown, Tennessee.
Three-time Kenda NUE Series men's open champion Jeff Schalk (Trek) is returning to Cohutta to defend his series title and as well as vie for his third-straight victory at the event. Last year, despite heavy rains at times, Schalk put the smack down at Cohutta, garnering the only sub-seven hour finish, 6:49:25, for his first of five NUE Series victories that included the Mohican 100, Lumberjack 100, Wilderness 101 and the Fool's Gold 100.
Just 10 minutes behind the champ at Cohutta last year, Chris Peariso (Adventure 212/Specialized) is on the start list again this year along with NUE contenders Michael Simonson (Gary Fisher/SRAM/NoTubes) and Christian Tanguy (TeamCF.org), fourth and fifth place finishers respectively last year.
Tanguy impressed last season when he rolled to his first NUE win at the championship race at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in Virginia, outperforming the NUE champion, yet falling short of an overall series victory. Can Tanguy build on that momentum to win at Cohutta on Saturday?
In the women's field, Amanda Carey (Kenda Tire) dominated Cohutta last year, winning in a time of 8:03:01, then went on to win at Mohican in the series' second race. After a third win at Fool's Gold, Carey rolled up her sleeves for the final showdown with reigning NUE women's champion and series leader, Cheryl Sornsen (TeamCF.org) at Shenandoah.
Both NUE women's open champions will return Saturday and will face ample competition for the women's title. Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing), Karen Potter (MTBRacenews.com) and Vicki Barclay (Freeze Thaw Cycles) are among the known contenders that have been training hard to take the first round in the mountains of Cohutta.
Former NUE men's open champion Harlan Price (Team CF) turned in an incredible 7:16:33 (fifth overall) to take the singlespeed category at Cohutta last year. However, as the series wore on, the overall singlespeed title would ultimately come down to an all-out slugfest with Gerry Pflug, the "Pfluginator", at the championship race in Virginia.
Gerry Pflug (Salsa/SPK/Pro Bikes) may have come up short at Cohutta last year but with the title on the line, he demonstrated championship caliber, winning at Shenandoah Mountain 100, and securing his second straight NUE singlespeed title. A rematch between these formidable contenders should make things interesting on Saturday, a preview of things to come. However, other one-gear wonders, including Matthew Ferrari (Freeze Thaw Cycles/Hubcap Cycles), won't be cutting either of these champions any slack as they set their sites on getting off to an early lead in the points.
In the masters category, Robert Herriman (Trek 29ER Crew) showed no mercy at Cohutta last year as he finished in 8:03:56 to top his nearest competitor by 45 minutes. And he didn't let up, either, winning big at Mohican, then Lumberjack and Fool's Gold en route to his first NUE masters title. Can he maintain this high standard in 2011?
Erik Lenzig (Freeze Thaw Cycles) who took second in Cohutta last year, is noticeably absent from the start list, but David Grauer (Orthopro) is returning to contend. Perhaps a dark horse lurks in the masters pack?
The region surrounding the Cohutta 100 venue was not immune from the devastating wave of thunderstorms and tornadoes which recently swept through the South, but the race will continue as planned. Immediately after the storms, with power still out over most of the area, a team of local mountain bikers was already on the job, inspecting the trails for potential damage.
Fortunately for racers, early reports indicated that the storm had little effect on the race course and the Ocoee Whitewater center, headquarters for this year's race. In a welcome sign for racers who may recall the pouring rains and cold temperatures at last year's race, the forecast for race day is sunny skies and mild temperatures near 80 degrees.