Madison Matthews aims to defend under 25 title at Trans-Sylvania Epic

Many of the best young mountain bikers from across the United States will test themselves and race each other at the Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race from May 25 to May 31, 2014. The seven-day contest offers strong support for developing under 25 riders - the future stars of the sport of mountain biking.

Last year's under 25 men's winner Madison Matthews (Toasted Head Racing) will have his hands full defending his title. The local Pennsylvania first-year pro is not only a strong rider, but also an incredible bike handler.

"I've done the Trans-Sylvania Epic once before and once after the under 25 category was included, and having the U25 category makes the race an awesome experience for younger riders," said Matthews. "It's tough to beat racing great trails all week and being able to hang out with the pros and a bunch of other cool people afterwards."

After his overall victory in 2013, Matthews went on to win the category 1 US national championships for riders aged 19-24. This year, he'll benefit not only from his local knowledge but also from being one of the few under 25 riders to have previously done the race.

Payson McElveen (Richard's Rainwater MTB Racing) is perhaps the best known U25 rider on the start list. The 21-year-old pro from Austin, Texas and Durango, Colorado, finished an impressive sixth place among the elites at the US national series opener earlier this season at the Mellow Johnny's Classic and represented the United States at the 2014 Pan-American Championships. With top goals of making the podium at nationals and qualifying for the US world championship team, he is skipping two World Cup rounds held the same week as the Trans-Sylvania Epic because he thinks it will help him better attain his goals.

"This will be my first real stage race experience, so I'm cautiously optimistic," said McElveen. "I've proven I have the capability to ride at the front of Pro XCTs with the top guys like Trans-Sylvania Epic past winner Jeremiah Bishop, but we’ll see how I'm doing on days 4, 5, 6, etc. I hope to be a player in the front group as much as possible, and look forward to contending the best young rider category. Honestly I don't really know what to expect and surely will be learning as I go."

Levi Kurlander (Ska/Zia/Trek), 19 years old, is coming off of two promising years in the junior ranks and a recent successful collegiate racing year with Fort Lewis College. A freakishly gifted climber, he has smashed a number of hill climb records in the cycling crazy town of Durango.

"I've never raced the Trans-Sylvania Epic or a stage race of this type before, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how my body responds to so many consecutive days of hard racing," said Kurlander. "I have been putting in a bunch of quality training hours, and I'm looking for a top five finish in the U25 category and as high a finish as possible in the overall GC. The opportunity to test myself against so many great racers is a huge reason for racing the TSEpic. I also know it will be a ton of fun."

Cody Phillips (Felt Factory Enduro Team) will be making the trip to Trans-Sylvania from Altadena, California. Formerly a top junior cross country mountain bike racer and podium finisher at collegiate mountain bike nationals, Phillips has switched his focus to enduro racing.

"I've been following the race for a few years now, and it's something I've always wanted to do," said Phillips, who is coming to the Trans-Sylvania Epic to win the enduro category and set himself up with great fitness for the rest of the summer's enduro races.

Another Fort Lewis College student and racer, Mike Sampson (Adigga Racing) of Holderness, New Hampshire, splits his focus between enduro and cross country.

"My goal is to win the enduro category among the non-elites as well as finishing the top five in the under 25 general classification," said the 19-year-old Sampson, who will be racing his first Trans-Sylvania Epic. "I can't wait to ride some great east coast singletrack while getting to hang out with lots of friends. It's a great opportunity for me to try something new."

Gunnar Bergey (Champion System Cannondale), one of the mid-Atlantic's brightest young stars, joins defending champion Matthews as the only under 25 favorite with previous Trans-Sylvania Epic experience. Bergey, also a Pennsylvanian, wore the white leader's jersey for a time in 2013 and is the US Super D national champion for 19 to 29-year-olds.

"With the seriously stacked BMC U25 field this year, if I could sneak onto the podium for a stage or two and be in the mix for the overall I would be happy," said Bergey, 20, from Schwenksville. "I'm looking forward most to the unique environment surrounding the entire event. I'm going there to race, but it's more than just a race. It's my favorite week of the summer - what’s not to love about a week of racing, friends and rocks? I will mainly be focusing on the GC. I may try a few of the enduro sections though."

Fellow Pennsylvanian Cole Oberman (Rare Disease Cycling) is making the trip to Trans-Sylvania from Philadelphia.

"I'm coming off a spring of strong finishes at the opening rounds of the US Cup and most recently had a great showing at the Whiskey Off-Road in Arizona," said the 23-year-old Oberman. "My form is definitely still on the up for the year, and I’ll be hunting for the under 25 win as well as the overall at the TSEpic."

"This year will be my first year racing the Trans-Sylvania Epic despite having grown up in south central Pennsylvania," said Oberman. "I cut my teeth riding the extremely rocky trails in Michaux and Weiser State Forests as a kid. I've heard the State College trails are pretty similar so I'm stoked to put my skills to the test against such a talented field. I’m used to racing with these guys on the international cross country circuit, so it'll be interesting to see how things play out during the week."

Cameron Dodge (Pure Energy Scott) of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, one of only a handful of American men to win a category 1 UCI cyclo-cross race last fall, is looking to make a big splash in his first year out of the under 23 ranks.

"I'm looking forward to riding the fun singletrack and competing in the enduro stage," said Dodge, who won a bronze medal in the Under 23 category at the 2013 cross country mountain bike nationals. "I think this will be a good training block for the upcoming races. I plan to have a lot of fun during the week."

The fastest young women

Defending under 25 women's race champion Donna Miller has aged up to the elite category and in her absence, Ellen Noble (Bear Development Team) leads the ranks as top U25 women's favorite. The 18-year-old from Kennebunkport, Maine is currently finishing up high school but already has made the podium several times at national championships and won the 2012 cyclo-cross junior national championships.

"I've never done the Trans-Sylvania Epic before, and I can't wait," said an excited Noble. "The last long endurance race I did was the 24 hours of Great Glen [solo] when I was 10 and 12 years old. I want to do as well in my field as I possibly can. I hope to look at the results afterward and say, 'Okay, all my hard work and training paid off.'"

"It's so special to have a devoted U25 category," said Noble, who finished second in the Under 23 category at cyclo-cross nationals earlier in 2014. "I am racing this race because it's totally different than anything I have done. I can't wait to be doing the race and spending a whole week just riding and having fun."

Noble's toughest competition in the under 25 ranks may come from Emily Shields (BMC Project Enduro), who finished third among the Under 23 racers at the 2013 US mountain bike national championships.

"This will be my first time racing the Trans-Sylvania Epic. I'm excited because I've never participated in a mountain bike stage race before," said Shields. "I'm looking forward to experiencing new terrain in Pennsylvania after having a lot of fun at mountain bike nationals in Pennsylvania last year."

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