This past weekend, it was time to go back to one of my favorite place: the Manistee Forest, location of the Lumberjack 100. Since 2007, I am in the hunt for the ax trophy. I came pretty close in 2009 and in 2010, finishing both times on the second highest step.
This year the competition seems to have intensified as more riders are coming out of the state. On the paper, the course of the Lumberjack 100 isn’t too impressive, but even when the trail is flat, it requires constant acceleration and braking as the trail is winding around the trees. Furthermore, the trail is sometimes quite bumpy.
What is the best bike for the terrain? The Specialized Epic 29er, of course! The Brain-equipped fork and shock had my bike super efficient on the paved roll-out leading to the single track. Thanks to the “Brain”, the suspensions were fully active when the terrain was bumpy but really firm on any smooth portion of the trail, even if it was only for a few feet.
Ten minutes into the single track, it crossed my mind that all riding a hardtail were on borrowed time, because my suspensions were working pretty often. However, since there was still 90 miles to go, everybody was still feeling fresh, so fresh that some racers were fighting for position.
With one lap out of three completed, the lead group was really large (over 15 persons). It was the largest I have witnessed it in the last 5 editions. Riding in this group wasn’t too much fun. In a group that large, there is always somebody making a small mistake here and there, such that a gap is created; then the racers close the gap rapidly by a short and intense effort.
That is why, one third into the 2nd lap, I went to front and start showing what the Epic 29er is all about. The bike was sucking up all the obstacles thrown its ways. 5 minutes later, the size of the group was already cut in half and I had a big smile on my face: the trail became much more fun. Sometime later into the 2nd lap, Jeff Schalk came and relayed me at the front: the lead group was then only 5 racers strong: Jeff Schalk, Mike Simonson, Derek Graham, Brent Prenzlow and I.
At the start of the last lap, Mike Simonson shook things up by putting some hard efforts on the short steep climbs. It took Jeff and I a couple of minutes before reaching back to him. It was not too long before we arrived at the single track where I attacked on the previous lap. I attacked again and few minutes later I was alone as I could not hear the dusty chains and the tires crushing the little twigs behind me.
There were still a good 20 miles to go but I knew that the win was within my grasp as long as I could keep the legs turning somewhat smoothly and avoid the many trees… I blasted thru the aid station at the mid lap location and had fun steering the bike on the twisty trail.
The hardest part was once again the opened area (dirt roads); I kept thinking that Mike and Jeff have so much power; they could easily make up time on those sections. However, when I reached the last 7 miles of single track, I knew I had it. I made a quick process of the few steep climbs – so quick that the lapped riders were a little amazed.
The finish banner was in sight, I steered the Epic 29er towards the finish line for the fastest Lumberjack 100. My efforts were rewarded when I stepped on the podium with the large Team CF logo on my jersey. Thank you Team CF for the excellent support and the fantastic bike.