The start list for the second edition of America's newest and fastest growing mountain bike stage race, the Trans-Sylvania Epic (TSE) presented by NoTubes, may be the most competitive yet assembled for a North American mountain bike race. While doubling in numbers from 2011's inaugural edition, the fields on the men's and women's sides of this Pennsylvania race are filled with domestic pros.
2010 TSE men's champion Jeremiah Bishop and second overall Alex Grant (Cannondale Factory Racing), Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon (Kona), Jason Sager (Jamis) and Drew Edsall (Super Cool Bike Shop / Firstplaceracing) bring thousands of kilometers of stage race experience and success with them to the line.
Bishop is riding a string of seven consecutive US stage race victories and is returning to Trans-Sylvania to run his total to eight in a row. Wicks and Sneddon took top honors in the duo category at last year's TransRockies and BC Bike Races and at the TSE, the Kona men will face off against each other and the rest of this talented field. Sager's 2010-11 seasons have included many of the world's top stage events, and Edsall followed up a fourth in the inaugural edition of the TSE with a second at the Pisgah Stage Race last fall.
But those racers only make up part of the story - the Trans-Sylvania Epic is wide open. Sager's teammate Adam Snyder gives Jamis a second option in this technical and uniquely tactical mountain bike stage racing event. Contenders Chris Beck (TeamCF), Sloane Anderson (ProAir HFA), Jonathan Davis (Trek Bike Store Boulder) and Kip Biese (Big Wheel Racing/Old Town Bike Shop) have shown strong early season results in National Ultra Endurance (NUE) races and other major endurance events across the country. All four bring impressive fitness into the TSE in their hunt for the podium.
Ross Schnell (Trek/SRAM/Easton/Giro/Pearl) and Mark Weir (WTB/Cannondale/Shimano/Fox Shox) are always threats with the unique demands of Allegrippis (stage 4) and the D-XCs at RB Winter (stage 5) particularly suited to these athlete's world beating skills.
Justin Lindine (BikeReg/Joes Garage/Scott) has proven himself in many cycling competitions but comes to the TSE as an unknown quantity yet equipped with the talent to end up on the podium. Meanwhile strong locals like Ryan Leech, and Mike Festa (TSEpic/NoTubes) are top performers week in and week out in regional series events and will be looking for their opportunities in stages throughout the TSE.
Fantastically, the women's field offers up and equally impressive and experienced line up of competitors and is another wide open competition. Starting with last year's TSE champ, Team CF's Selene Yeager who already has the Cape Epic under her belt in preparation, the women's race features some incredible riders. Also back for another go at the TSE are 2010's second and third place finishers Karen Potter (MTBRaceNews.com) and multiple World Champion, the "Queen of Pain" Rebecca Rusch of Specialized. All three of these women come back knowing the ins and outs of Trans-Sylvania and benefit from the head-start that experience gives them on the competition.
By themselves, the returning podium is a trio of talent and success in endurance racing. But the TSE has attracted a number of other outstanding endurance women. From Colorado, Sonya Looney (Ergon) brings high altitude lungs to the ridges and valleys of the ancient Appalachians. While Looney may be wondering how technical Pennsylvania trails will treat her, there is no questioning her stage racing resume.
On the other hand, West Virginia's Sue Haywood (Shenandoah Bikes/Kenda/Turner/I9) is no stranger to the east coast rocks and is noted as one of these most talented bike handlers around. Haywood's technical skills plus years of high level success make her a legitimate contender for the TSE, but her "retired" status keeps her from racing nearly as often as the rest of the GC threats.
And though perhaps entering the TSE with the least stage race experience of this crew, Kenda/Felt's Amanda Carey has started the season on a tear and left no question that she is back to defend her 2010 NUE Series title with overwhelming victories at the Cohutta 100 and Syllamo's Revenge. Carey's speed left everyone fighting for second in those events and she will be looking to do the same through the seven days of Trans-Sylvania.
The list of contenders also includes State College's own Vicki Barclay (NoTubes / Freeze Thaw / Honey Stinger) who comes in as the local favorite and a legitimate dark-horse for stage and overall honors. With a fourth at Cohutta and a victory in the 2010 Iron Cross to her credit Barclay has shown that she can shine in endurance events and will have the local community on her side.
The slightly shorter stages of the Trans-Sylvania Epic event and more varied terrain, conditions and trails of Pennsylvania combined with a purposeful effort by promoters to create courses that change up the rhythm of the race to keep it fresh and reward riders with a quiver full of skills and fitness kept the podium spots in the men's race in question into the final day of competition in 2010. With the fields assembled for this year's event - including not only the men and women but master's 40+ and singlespeed as well - it is will a fight right to wire and that makes for good racing!