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National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series heads to Michigan

By:
Ryan O'Dell

Schalk, Sornson return to defend their titles at Lumberjack 100

Jeff Schalk is pursued by Christian Tanguy in the 2010 race

Jeff Schalk is pursued by Christian Tanguy in the 2010 race

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The Founders Lumberjack 100 will once again utilize a 33-mile loop through Michigan's beautiful Manistee National Forest and the Big-M Ski Area. The Michigan-style singletrack - composed mostly of hard packed trail, occasional sandy sections, and fast rolling terrain - offers twists and turns that demand constant power and total concentration as the trails quickly turn to nothing more than green blurs of forest. If you're expecting easy, fireroad coasting, look elsewhere! Ninety percent of the 33-mile, three-lap race is comprised of this singletrack that will eventually push racers over 9,000 feet of total elevation gain.

"This spring has been unusually wet and cool in Michigan, therefore many of the local trails are weeks behind in forest growth. Local riders have had a lack of significant spring training this year so the course seems to have more than the usual amount of sticks, twigs and leaves that normally get flicked off the trail. Word of advice, pack that extra derailleur hanger." Rick Plite, Lumberjack Race Director

The weather forecast is calling for mild temperatures all week with a chance of rain Wednesday and Thursday. Race day forecast calls for Sunny and 75 (degrees Fahrenheit)  but everyone whose grown up in Michigan can testify that can change in a heartbeat, this is, afterall, the Great Lakes state.

The 2011 course layout remains the same this year with the exception of two minor changes to alleviate some confusing intersections. The change will add one run up near the Firetower, the highest peak on course, and the other, a blazing fast gravel road downhill is similar to other east coast venues.

Perhaps the best news for racers, Founders Brewing Co remains the title sponsor and will provide four tasty kegs of their famous brew, including Centennial IPA and All Day IPA, a new session ale clocking in under five percent alcohol.

Men

Returning Lumberjack winner Jeff Schalk (Trek) set the bar higher for the at the Lumberjack 100 last year, finishing 6:33:49, before going on to secure his third straight NUE Series Title. Schalk is coming off an impressive win at the Mohican 100, just two weeks ago. A repeat at the Lumberjack could break him out of a current points tie with Christian Tanguy (Team CF).

Tanguy bolted off the line, finishing strong early this season, tasting sweet victory at both, the Cohutta 100 and Syllamo's Revenge. However, at Mohican, Tanguy finished fourth and last year, he was 20 minutes behind the champion in Lumberjack's winding singletrack. He's competing on his home turf but can he step up to break the tie in his favor on Saturday?

Michael Simonson (RBS Trek MTB Team) lead for most of the race at the Cohutta 100 in April before suffering a flat tire late in the race that backed him into fourth place. At Mohican, Simonson again demonstrated his toughness, finishing second, two minutes ahead of Tanguy and teammate Brandon Draugelis (Team CF). At the Lumberjack last year, he finished fourth and will, no doubt, be looking to improve in 2011.

Derek Graham (Bissell/ABG) also a Michigan native hailing from Grand Rapids, finished third at the Lumberjack last year, just one minute behind Tanguy. Robert Marion (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac) is planted in the three spot so far in the NUE Series, 10th at Cohutta, fith at Syllamo's Revenge, and seventh at Mohican. He will have help from teammate, Christopher Michaels who did not finish at Mohican but finished well at both Cohutta and Syallmo's. Will this be a breakout race for Marion?

Chris Peariso (Adventure212 / Specialized) finished strong at Cohutta, taking fifth place, however, a vandalized sign near aid station three at Mohican, temporarily slowed his momentum, putting him in 16th. Peariso is capable of a podium finish and should not be discounted.

Ernesto Marenchin (Speedgoat.com) is also in the hunt with top 10 finishes at Cohutta and Syllamos, Twelfth at Mohican. Eddie O'Dea (Topeak/Ergon) finished 12th last year but showed improvement with a ninth place finish at Syllamo's Revenge this year. These racers, or perhaps a newcomer, could be the dark horses to watch this weekend.

Women

In the women's race, Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) is fresh off a big win at Mohican this year and returning to defend her Lumberjack win last year, 8:19:51. Sornson has course knowledge in her favor but will face formidable challenger, NUE Series reigning Champion, Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) who took wins at both Cohutta and Syllamos Revenge this year.

Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) has shown steady improvement this year, placing sixth at Cohutta, fourth at Syllamos, and second at Mohican. Any opening between the leaders could give Simril the opportunity she needs to win.

Karen Potter (MTBracenews.com/iRideAdventures) finished fourth behind Danielle Musto at last year's Lumberjack. She took a spot on the podium at Cohutta this year, placing third behind Carey and Sornson.

Namrita O'Dea  (Topeak-Ergon) placed fifth last year at Lumberjack. She is off to another great start this year with a fifth place finish at Cohutta and sixth at Syllamo's. Molly Wolf (Wheel Werks) is coming off fifth place at Mohican and will, no doubt, be looking for her next opportunity to podium in Michigan.

Several women will be competing in the women's singlespeed division, exclusive to the Lumberjack. However, their results will be merged into the women's open category of the NUE Series. They include 2007 NUE Women's Champion, Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store/ Specialized) and Danielle Musto (Salsa/Twin Six/Kenda) who finished second to Lowery in the 2007 NUE Series and third in the women's open at Lumberjack, as well as local Fiona Lockhart.

Singlespeed

Two-time defending NUE Singlespeed Champion, Gerry Pflug (Salsa/Pro Bikes) put down the smack at the Lumberjack 100 last year, 7:11:13, finishing 10 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor. At Cohutta, Syallamo's, and Mohican, Pflug was the only racer in the NUE Series with three straight wins. This Saturday, the Pfluginator heads to Michigan to joust with some of Michigan's finest again in a land called the Manistee National Forest.

The defending champ will face some formidable opponents, among them, Matthew Ferrari (Hubcap-Freeze Thaw Cycles) who finished second only to Pflug at the Lumberjack last year, and again this year at Cohutta and Mohican. Ferrari is in good form this year, needing only one more pass that will finally lift him to the top of the podium.

In 2010, it was Mike Montalbano (Dark Horse Cycles) that took the Mohican 100, finishing 37 minutes ahead of the NUE champion. It's 2011, can he do the same at Lumberjack?

Just a few pedal strokes from the top, Jason Pruitt (29ercrew) has proven to be a worthy opponent finishing fourth at Cohutta and third at Mohican this year. If that's any indication of his off season training, Pruitt may be hoping for better than the sixth place finish he earned last year at the Lumberjack.

Teammates and locals, Ron Sanborn and Jordan Wakely (Einstein Racing) placed fourth and fifth respectively last year. They have the home court advantage and Wakely is fresh off a victory at the inaugural Hanson Hills 100 in Michigan.

Zach Wheeler (Wild Rock Outfitters) finished seventh behind Pruitt last year and Robert Lochner (Iron City Bikes) placed fifth at Mohican and knows what it will take to win. He finished eighth at Lumberjack last year. These are your known darkhorses but perhaps it is the unknown that may surprise us all?

Masters 50+

NUE Reigning Masters Champion Robert Herriman has a target on his back this year after blistering the Lumberjack in 7:38:43, nearly 18 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor. He was the only NUE Champion to lock in a series victory before the final event in Virginia. He placed third at Cohutta and comes off a big victory at Mohican this year. He'll be trying to ride the momentum to a second straight series win.

It won't be easy in this field. Roger Masse (Trek 29er Crew) has two second place finishes this year and edged out the champion at Cohutta. Local, Jim Jordan (BlackSheep) finished third last year and is back for another run at the top spot. John Williams (Bike Line of Wilmington, Delaware) may have his own ideas after placing fourth last year.

Dark horses include John Wyrick (Team Brad / Biowheels) who has an 11th place finish and an eighth place at Mohican Matthew Davies, (Team Bikeway MTB)  primed for advancement after good finishes at Cohutta and Mohican, and James Wilson (Team CF) following his 12th place finish at Cohutta this year.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for race coverage.