Just one week following what turned out to be another epic battle on the west coast at the High Cascades 100, the Kenda National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series shifts east into the rocks of Pennsylvania for the 11th annual Wilderness 101 in State College.
According to race director Chris Scott, the NUE Series men's category has been seeing more heat than the east coast had last week. Defending Champion Jeff Schalk (Trek Racing) has been locking horns with a very competitive field all this year, but finally managed to tie things up at just five points with Christian Tanguy (Team CF), who rather suddenly became the man to beat in 2011 with three wins early in the season.
After a difficult start to his bid for four straight titles, Schalk pulled out a big win at the Mohican 100, dropped another to Tanguy at Lumberjack, but came right back with an amazing win in Breckenridge against the six-time local winner Josh Tostado.
The question is can Schalk continue his upward surge to get past Tanguy this weekend which would lock them into a series tie with three wins apiece? Or will Tanguy make it four wins with only a repeat win at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 standing between him and his first NUE Series title? What is going to happen on the open roads with the Team CF threesome of Tanguy, Chris Beck and Brandon Draugelis taking on Schalk on Saturday?
No doubt, Schalk, Tanguy and Beck will most likely be leading the charge with other top talent including teammates Brandon Draugelis (Team CF) trying to keep position on the front. Others in the hunt for glory are Michael Simonson (RBS Trek MTB Team), who displayed signs of series greatness early in the season with his huge lead at the Cohutta 100 before flatting and having to settle for fourth place. He came right back, however, at Mohican, finishing second and then took third at the Lumberjack 100.
Peter Schildt (Keswick Cycles) and a whole slew of superfast newbies will also be at the event, including Drew Edsall (Super Cool Bike Shop/First Place Racing), Zach Morrey (Vapor Genie/Maxxis), Kyle Taylor (Indian Cycle Racing). Robert Marion, currently holding third place in the series, teammate Chris Michaels (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac), Michael Tabasko and Ian Spivack of (DCMTB), and Dan Kotwicki (Trek 29er Crew), are all heading north to the 101.
How will the old guard Rich O'Neil and Rich Straub of (Stan's NoTubes), Andy Gorski, Garth Prosser (Cannondale Factory Racing), Greg Kuhn (RBS Trek MTB Team) and Ernesto Marenchin (Pivot Cycles), who sits in the four spot, hold up against these young guns? Rob Spreng (Dirty Harry's) may still be fried from his podium ride in the Tour de 'Burg or perhaps he will come alive and ride his way into the top 10.
In breaking news, former 'cross and road pro Mark McCormack (Clif Bar/Pactimo) was just added to the start list. McCormack claims that his buddy, Kevin Hines (Corner Cycle) talked him into it. Hines is a former international six day rider and now a top 'cross racer, who has been hitting number two behind Steve Tilford at nationals for the last few years.
McCormack said he started to take notice of some endurance races in past three years and has been curious to try one after viewing a Utube video of the Wilderness 101. He said the mix of singletrack, mountainous roads, and changing terrain really appealed to him. He is searching for personal fun and is intrigued with the unknown challenge that lay ahead. McCormack predicts that the length of the race will play towards his strength although he admitted that the only long test he's done this year was the 148-mile Harpoon B2B ride. He also tipped Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo) as the one to watch out for - a super fit full time rider age grouper cross and road national champion
Local Vicki Barclay (Freeze Thaw/Hubcap/Stans No Tubes) looks to have the best shot at taking an overall victory for the Pennsylvanian contingent. Barclay has two fourth place finishes in the NUE Series this year at Cohutta 100 and the Lumberjack 100.
Former NUE champion and Wilderness 101 winner Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) slipped into the number two spot behind defending NUE Series Champion Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) following Carey's fourth NUE Series victory last weekend at the High Cascades 100.
Carey appears unstoppable in her run towards a second straight title, however, the math works out this way: following her first NUE Series victory at Mohican, Sornson has a great opportunity at the 101 to go for the win and, perhaps, begin a late season drive to match Carey's perfect score. It is her only path toward a second NUE Championship.
The big "if" is whether Sornson can pick up the three additional wins she needs to tie with Carey this season. Then she would need to complete the tie breaker at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 to win the series. Carey is planning to compete in the Park City P2P and is not registered for Shenandoah, which takes place the next day. If Sornson wins three more, she would put Carey in the precarious position of having to do back-to-back races to defend her title.
Brenda Simril (Motor Mile Racing) has a great shot at the top three, which will advance her NUE Series placing this year. Simril is currently ranked just behind Carey and Sornson in the race for the title.
Karen Potter (MTBRaceNews.com), with just five points in this lowest points series, could be a surprise contender if she comes on late in the season. A third place at Cohutta and second place at the Lumberjack demonstrates her potential. A win for Potter at the 101 could shake things up heading into the final stretch of the series.
Ruth Cunningham (ProBikes/Cohen & Assoc.) has been on the podium before and will be making huge efforts to get that result again. Cunningham has just one NUE Series finish this year, so far, ninth place at the Mohican 100.
Again, the Wilderness 101 is chocked full of singlespeeders, yet the story continues to be defending Champion and current NUE Series leader Gerry Pflug (Salsa/Notubes/Pro Bikes). However, Pflug will be facing some huge competition on Saturday.
The Pfluginator appears superhuman and unstoppable now following six wins out of the last seven races, including a win just last weekend at the High Cascades 100, in which he reportedly jumped off the line and was never seen or heard from again by the rest of the field. All anyone could say was "There he goes!"
Time will tell if one week is enough to recover and take win number seven against what may be the strongest field so far.
Local rider Matthew Ferrari (Freeze Thaw/Hubcap Cycles) has come closer this year than anyone to catching a glimpse of the Pfluginator. Could a recovering Pflug be the chink in the armor and the opportunity he needs this time to finally reach the top of the podium? Or will he remain a bridesmaid for eternity?
Similarly, Mike Montalbano (Dark Horse Cycles) also caught a glimpse of the Pfluginator, taking second at the Lumberjack 100 this year. Justin Pokrivka (Pro Bikes / Cohen & Assoc.), Dylan Johnson (Oasis Bikeworks), and Charles Kline (Team CF) are all capable of taking the win. It's anyone’s guess what will happen but one thing is certain, singlespeed guns will be a blazin'.
Bill Holden (Holden Brothers) with four wins, continues to lead the NUE Series, but not for much longer it appears.
Doug Andrews (GeoLadders.com), the hulk, could be closing the door or tearing it clear off the hinges with a Schalk-style sweep. Despite a mechanical difficulty at the High Cascades 100 last weekend that forced him to ride singlespeed for the last part of the race, Andrews smashed the entire field, leaving nothing but the pieces to pick up, following his win by an impressive two hours at the High Cascades 100 last weekend. Just one week earlier, Andrews proved he was impervious to altitude as well, finishing top 10 overall at the Breckenridge 100, held mostly above 9,000 feet.
While Andrews has been out reigning supreme in the west, NUE defending Champion Rob Herriman (Trek 29er Crew/WSC/Acfstores.com) has stood pat with wins at both at Mohican and Lumberjack plus a third place finish at Cohutta, where he first faced off with Andrews. Perhaps Herriman's strategy is to attack a recovering Hulk for this third win setting up a tie heading into the final stretch? As strong as Andrews appears to be, never discount the reigning champion.
Last year, Roger Masse (Trek 29er Crew) was the addition to the list of ringers at the 101. Masse has racked up three second place finishes in the NUE Series so far this year and there is still time for a late season streak that could put him ahead of the reigning champion and Andrews should he find reserves he needs to get past the two-headed monster.
Michael Ramponi, local Jim Matthews (MBR), Chris Wurster (Independent Fabrication) and Dennis Murphy (Founder's Alger Racing) are all in, too, along with past winner John Williams (Bike Lane). Ed McCalley (Team ED/Bike Zoo) and Bill Nagel (Guy's Bicycles Racing) are always very solid. Will Jim Wilson (Team CF) take a step up on the podium this year? It's a packed field in the masters and anything can happen in the crags and rocks of Pennsylvania.
Race Director Chris Scott offered the following scoop on race course changes this year, "Several changes have been made as follows: Beginning at the top of the second huge climb after aid station #2 up Seeger Road onto Broad Mountain, racers will continue going up that road and eventually hit aid station #3 further up on top of the mountain. In previous years, racers would drop down Telephone Trail and traverse into #3."
"There is also a slightly different connection to the singletrack after leaving aid #3. Racers will not be dropping off the mountain to the right down into #3 this year. The route will take a left into singletrack just past Kettle Road, the road racers previously used to turn left on at the top above station #3. In past years, racers would hit Sassafras trail directly from Kettle Road. This year, racers will receive some bonus singletrack by turning in on Pigpile and sweeping left on Sassypig to connect to the top of the original downhill 'Sassafrass'."
The next change is after aid station #4's initial climb and the regular section of Sand Mountain Road. Racers will proceed with the normal right turn on Siegerville Millheim Pike passing the old turn onto Little Poe Trail. However, this year, racers will continue to climb to the top of Siegerville Millheim Pike which is an additional 15-25 minutes of climbing.
"Finally, racers will not be doing the Little Poe Trail singletrack because it has been deemed 'single use - hiking only', and the Forest is unwilling to make a special exception this year as they have been doing for the last 10 years," said Scott. "As a result, when racers top out on SMPike, they will roll about half-mile along the top and then take a left on a loose, rocky road: Panther Run Road. That is the road that will be used to connect to the end of Little Poe Trail. From there, racers will continue in the normal direction onto Poe Valley Rd. into aid station #5."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full race coverage.