Iron Cross is a race that will melt you down. This is fitting since the race course skirts the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, location of a historic iron works from the late 1760’s after which the race is named. “North America’s Original Ultracross” traces a figure-8 around Michaux State Forest (Pennsylvania) and in its 12th year, it is the longest running in the American Ultracross Championship Series. The runners-up in that category, in a 3-way tie, are Southern Cross, Barry-Roubaix, and Gravel Grovel, all in their 6th year.
Although originally intended for cyclocross bikes, more mountain bikes are ridden every year at this race. The debate is heated and on-going as to bike choice. Flats plague racers at this course and mountain bike tires may hold up better than ‘cross tires, but on the other hand, the terrain is appropriate for a cyclocross bike, save a very few rocks and logs better tackled with a mountain bike. In ultracross, riders may use any bike they choose. In the one camp, “spirit-of-the-event” ‘crossers squint their eyes and look side-ways at the “best-tool-for the-job” mountain biker school. More and more ultracross races are won on mountain bikes, so hanging on to tradition for traditions’ sake may not get you to the top step. On the other hand, if you do win on a cyclocross bike, it will get you street cred’ and at this race – a cash payout to the first man and woman cyclocrosser. I rode my Specialized carbon disc Crux and felt it was the best choice for me – since I am roadie-origin and more comfortable on a road style set-up.
The 68-mile course provides lots of variety: some asphalt, a lot of gravel climbing, some gravel descents (which go by too fast before the next climb), a few single track sections, trails through grassy fields, some four-wheeler roads, a long, steep “run up”, and a few log obstacles. The course has such unique features that the title sponsor, Stan’s No Tubes, designed a wheel for, and named the wheel after this race. Stan’s awards a wheel set to the winner of each class.1
In the women’s race this year, (same as last year), RDC teammate Selene Yeager started as if launched from a canon – and rode ahead by herself within the first few miles. The follow pack was able to catch her on an asphalt descent (due to some cars slowing things down) but when we turned onto a gravel road, she worked her way out of sight again, and that was the last we saw of her… until she stood on the top step of the podium!
The “chase” consisted of last year’s winner Ruth Sherman (Corning No Tubes), Pathfinder of West Virginia’s Nicole Dorinzi, and me. In the first few miles of the race, Ruth turned into Lippencote trail (rocky single-track) ahead of Nicole and me, and got a slight lead. I got a gap on Nicole toward the bottom and then I saw a Rare Disease Cycling jersey and a friendly face whiz by – Andrew Dunlap! Andrew had flatted at the start and was catching riders quickly after his repair. He towed me back to Ruth’s group on the fast asphalt stretch after Lippencote, where gravel-race enthusiast Jayson Mahoney, known for his excellent race videos, was also to be found. Andrew paced me all the way to the extended run-up known as Wigwam and I was so grateful for his help. At that point in the race, Nicole was a minute or two behind.
I trudged up the rocky, steep Wigwam trail right behind Ruth, but she hopped on her bike a little faster at the top and surged hard. Her strong pedaling, combined with me going slightly off-course heading back to a gravel road – put just enough distance between us that I could not catch her. She was in and out of my sights until a little before the half-way mark.
It was a windy, lonely ride after getting dropped at the top of Wigwam, until a small group of men formed to work with on a flat section around 37 miles in. Leading the group was local Pittsburgh/Greensburg rider Jay Downs, who flew by and told me to jump on his wheel. Boy was I happy to see him!
At mile 42, I hit a mid-race slump and had to eat a bunch of fig newtons to bring myself back to life – as I watched our little group ride away. At this point, a woman in green and white came from out of nowhere and spun by at a good pace.
This was Katrina Dowidchuk (MidAtlantic Colavita) who was having an excellent climbing day. She went on to catch Ruth as well, who also admitted to having a mid-race slump. Luckily, I revived, but it was too late to catch up to either Ruth or Katrina. Ruth, a fighter to the bitter end, managed to drop Katrina on the final descent and pedaled up the final climb to second. Katrina was in sight of her, finishing third.
I must have hit something sharp on the last descent, a 4-wheeler trail, because I lost all but about 10 pounds of pressure in my rear tire, after which the Stan’s sealant plugged up the leak. After hearing from another rider that Nicole was only a couple minutes behind, I was hesitant to lose any time by stopping to pump up the tire. So, I nursed the rear wheel for the final five miles, riding off the saddle over bumps in an attempt to spare my rims, and rolled across the finish line as the fourth woman. Nicole finished close behind me in 5th.
Very happy to see Selene dominate the women’s field, she is riding really strong. Fun to ride again with ultracross companions Ruth and Nicole, and perhaps we have found a new gravel racer in Katrina, although she specializes in cyclocross. It was nice to see that I improved my gravel descending this year from last, and also very glad to finish strong (after totally bonking out last year and getting passed in the last three miles). Nevertheless, there is still lots of room for improvement. It’s races like these that keep me motivated through the dark, cold winter – so I will put in some cold-weather riding and get some frozen feet – with the goal of further improvement next year.
Thank you very much to RDC sponsors Specialized bicycles, DNA Cycling clothing, Pro Bikes shop, and Carbo Rocket race fuel. Thanks also to Mike Kuhn, promoter, all event staff and volunteers, the police directing traffic, and all Iron Cross sponsors including Stan’s, Foundry Cycles, Hammer Nutrition, World Cup Ski and Cycle, Plain Talking HR Consultancy, and A.E. Landes photography.
1 Bob Nunnink, Stan’s Sales and Marketing Manager states, “We have sponsored the Iron Cross event for many years and it was part of the inspiration for this wheel [the Iron Cross model]. We wanted to make a wheel that was as tough as Iron Cross and would hold a 700 x 35c tire better than our mountain bike rims. So the wheel is designed for cross and really excels at the long distance gravel (and Ultra Cross) events.”
Yeager wins women. Oberman second overall. Pflug second single speed.
October 5, 2014. Michaux, PA. Quite likely the final edition of this event at the Michaux State Forest venue, the twelfth running of the Iron Cross Race did not disappoint. Part of the American UltraCross Series, the original high-speed gravel road/mountain-bike-light format of racing covers 68 miles consisting of gravel road, dirt road, pavement, run ups, and short stretches of relatively tame mountain bike trail. Promoter Mike Kuhn and his crew at the Outdoor Experience, have been incredible stewards of this event for many years. “The park is just too popular now.” said Kuhn referring to the increase in usage the Michaux State Forest has undergone in recent years. “We have to look at different venues for 2015”.
Rare Disease Cycling riders showed up in force to contest three of the four divisions of racing. In the end, five podium positions were earned, far exceeding earnings of any other team.
Senior Men Under 40
The race was won by long time Iron Cross participant Jeremiah Bishop (Alpine Loop Grand Fondo). “I was there for the early editions and I love the mash up of drop bars vs flat bars.” reminisced Bishop following the race. “So much fun to have the drafting and the run up.” Bishop said referring to the steep 10 minute Wigwam hike-a-bike that is one of the iconic features of the race. “Its a wacky event but challenging and has that Michaux vibe that kicked off my racing career. Its an honor to win this race especially after the Mini Munga on SDS.” concluded Bishop referring to his heavy training load in preparation for the Million Dollar Munga in December.
Second place and first man on a cyclocross bike, Rare Disease Cycling rider Cole Oberman prompted a pivotal attack attempting to achieve an small elite group at the front. “I sat in for the early part of the race, just making sure I wasn’t caught out on any potentially decisive course features. Around the 15 mile mark I made my move.” recalled Oberman about the early setup for his attack. “I went to the front and forced the pace as we approached the infamous Wigwam run up. I kept the pace hard as I quickly stepped my way up the 10 minute incline. I managed to open a one minute gap on the rest of the field.”
“I eased the pace a bit and let Jeremiah Bishop (Alpine Loop Grand Fondo) and David Flaten (Giant Mid-Atlantic) come up to me. We quickly went to work trading pulls and extended our lead.” described Oberman of the moments following Wigwam.
“Eventually Jeremiah, riding a mountain bike, launched an attack in a single-track section.” said Oberman describing the technical section leading up to the Larry’s Tavern “Aid” station. “I chased as hard as possible but my Crux was no match for (Jeremiah riding a mountain bike in) the semi-technical trail. Dave and I chased for the rest of the race, eventually battling for second on the climb to the finish.” Oberman won that battle.
“Iron Cross is one of my favorite late season races. It’s beautiful, gritty and just plain hard. I’m more than stoked to come home with a solid 2nd place!”
Third place finisher David Flatten (Giant Mid-Atlantic) describes the Wigwam selection that whittled the front group to three. “The cool thing about racing with Cole and JB is that we train and race each other all year. We know our strengths and weaknesses. I put in a dig before the last rideable climb before the field leading to the long run up. Cole and Jeremiah quickly responded and when I looked over my shoulder it was just the 3 of us. Cole encouraged us to put in a solid dig leading to the run up to create separation. Cole looked like the road runner, his feet were moving so fast. He was taking quick light steps all the way to the top and was out of sight in a short amount of time. Jeremiah and I made contact going up the next run up as we were able to ride halfway up it with out mountain bikes. That was the selection, and we never saw anyone again.”
RDC’s Andrew Dunlap experienced a flat tire not 500 yards into the prolog and eventually ended up briefly working with teammate Selene Yeager on his way to a 21st place finish.
The Open Men’s top-8 consisted of Jeremiah Bishop in 1st, RDC’s Cole Oberman 2nd, David Flatten 3rd, Justin Lowe 4th, Aaron Snyder 5th, Brian Patten 6th, Calvin Hoops 7th, and Francis Cuddy in 8th.
Top honors went to Rare Disease Cycling rider Selene Yeager. Her Iron Cross win, combined with her season opening win at Monster Cross, framed an incredible season of success on both the cross and mountain bike with two UltraCross bookend wins. “I knew there was a pretty strong field and that I’m in good form.” Yeager recalled about her chances. “I really wanted the win so I just went from it from the gun. I actually nearly vomited and it was COLD!” said Yeager referring to the 38 degree starting temperature. “This year, they stared us nearly 10 minutes behind the men so it took me 10 miles to find some dudes to work with while the chase women were working together to reel me in. But I managed to stay away.” remembers Yeager. “I never looked back. So hard tho, that last 10 miles….”
Finishing forth, Rare Disease Cycling teammate Stephanie Swan remains in the mix for a high UltraCross Series finish for 2014. Early in the race, last year’s winner Ruth Sherman (Corning No Tubes), Pathfinder of West Virginia’s Nicole Dorinzi, and Swan formed the Selene chase group. “Ruth turned into Lippencote trail ahead of Nicole and me and got a slight lead.” recalled Swan about the first single track test. “I got a gap on Nicole toward the bottom and then I saw a Rare Disease Cycling jersey and a friendly face whiz by – Andrew Dunlap!”
Andrew had flatted at the start of the race and was catching riders quickly. “He towed me back to Ruth’s group on the fast asphalt stretch after Lippencote and paced me all the way to the extended rocky (Wigwam) hike-a-bike section.” recalled Swan of the temporary alliance. “I trudged up the steep trail right behind Ruth, but she hopped on her bike a little faster at the top. The little gap she got, combined with me going slightly off-course heading back onto the gravel road, put just enough distance between us that I could not catch her. She was in my sights until around mile 30 of the 68 mile race.”
The Open Women’s top-5 consisted of RDC’s Selene Yeager in 1st, Ruth Sherman in 2nd, Katrina Dowidchuk 3rd, RDC’s Stephanie Swan 4th, and Nicole Dorinzi 5th.
Senior Men Over 40
Specialized SRAM rider Garth Prosser made his usual strong Iron Cross appearance by winning the 40+ division and going toe-to-toe in an exciting sprint finish with single speed winner Mike Montalbano. Montalbano won the sprint. Second place went to George Ganoung a multi-time Iron Cross veteran. Nathan Goates was third, Stephan Kincaid forth, and Rob Campbell finished fifth rounding out the top-five.
Past Shenandoah Mountain 100 and Mohican 100 winner in single speed, Toasted Head rider Mike Montalbano showed the Iron Cross field of strong single speed riders that he is still a force to content with in this unusual discipline.
“After playing it super conservative at Shenandoah and Fools Gold, I was ready to throw down at Iron Cross.” recalled Montalbano about his relatively conservative pace he started with during his final two hundred-mile mountain bike races. “I was amped at the start and found myself with a 100 yard gap on the entire field after the prolog loop. Knowing there was a really long downhill to recover on shortly after, I wasn’t worried.” recalled Montalbano about the start.
Montalbano was soon joined by the large front group. A bit of climbing came next followed by the Lippencote trail. “I knew Gerry Pflug had done this race last year. Besides a few people telling me what to expect, I had no clue what was coming up, so when Pflug surged I followed.” remembered Montalbano about the first single track section. “I passed as many as I could because to sit behind someone might mean missing a good wheel on the roads to follow.”
After a few miles on the road section between Lippencote and Wigwam, Montalbano attacked. “I was able to get a small gap on Gerry and held it till the run up on Wigwam. Here I gassed it knowing I could open the lead a bit on the steep run up.” said Montalbano of the separation from the Rare Disease Cycling rider and 5-time NUE single speed champion Pflug. “I made it a point all day to make sure, that if I’m not riding it I’m running, no walking. The rest of the day I continued to push but with an eye over my shoulder. You can’t count a multi time NUE champion out. I never came unglued and even caught quite a few more on the run in to the finish, sprinting it out with Garth Prosser for 5th overall. I had fun on the course and am saddened to hear this is the last Iron Cross at this venue. I’d definitely come back.”
Rare Disease Cycling rider Gerry Pflug finished a tough day in the saddle as the second place single speeder.
“I always look forward to doing Iron Cross. It’s a fun late season endurance race to do and also an important stop on the American Ultra Cross Racing Series.” said Pflug about the race. “After my string of bad luck at the race last year with having two flat tires, I decided to race on my single speed mtb this year, instead of a cross bike. Unfortunately, I had another type of bad luck occur during the race when I was involved in a crash, after being hit by another rider. I suffered some deep road rash and had some hip pain from the crash, but managed to keep pushing hard and finish as the second placed single speed rider. The winner of the single speed race, Mike Montalbano, had an excellent ride and I’m sure he would still taken the win even without my crash. It was a tough day of racing, but still fun to do nevertheless.”
RDC’s Roger Masse, fresh off his 2014 NUE Series win in the Masters division racing geared bikes, contested Iron Cross on his Specialized single speed mountain bike. “I really like racing the single speed. It’s such a different riding experience.” said Masse about his choice of racing category. “I knew with Monty and Gerry in the mix, unless either of them had a major problem, I was racing for 3rd” recalled Masse about his chances. “I was, however, also concerned about Joe’s Bike Shop rider Ethan Frey.”
“My fitness is good right now, so I decided to run harder gearing than I have in past editions.” said Masse about his 36×17 gear choice which was functionally the same as Montalbano’s winning combination of 34×16. “I was able to ride all the same sections as last year… they were just harder.”
By the halfway point, Masse, as he had hoped was in 4th position behind Montalbano, Pflug, and Frey. “I thought it was over, but my luck changed when I passed Ethan on the mid point of the final climb just as he was finishing up a flat tire change.” recalled Masse of the late contest for single speed third. “It’s a hard climb and I was already near my limit. Ethan caught me after 3 or 4 minutes and made his move on one of the steeper pitches. I had no response and had to settle for 4th by 30 seconds.”
The single speed podium consisted of Mike Montalbano in 1st, RDC’s Gerry Pflug 2nd, Ethan Frey 3rd, RDC’s Roger Masse 4th, and Alan Royek in 5th.
Cyclocross season officially kicked-off on Saturday in West Pennsylginia with the first race of the Appalachian Bicycle Race Association (ABRA) Cyclocross series in Point Marion, PA. Always a fast and, according the JR Petsko (race series Director), the ‘easiest’ course of the series, we got the season started with 14 Cat 4 women racing it out.
Spending my Tuesday nights at Frick Worlds (aka CX practice in Pittsburgh) focusing on my starts and barriers, I got a good position out of the start line – check! However, a wheel hang-up with a fellow competitor coming into the first little uphill push put me at the back less than a minute into the race – time to get into fight back mode!
With the next few laps spent picking off ladies one at a time, I fought back to the 5th spot and had my CX arch nemesis (and one pretty awesome lady) Melanie Marra of Pathfinder of WV to catch. With each turn, I felt myself pulling her in a little closer and finally caught her wheel on the back side of the course. With the next Cat 4 racer, Alice Vernon also of Pathfinder of WV, in my sights for the rest of the race, I couldn’t quite catch her wheel and finished it out in 4th place – word!
What an awesome way to kick-off the season! I watched fellow RDC team mates Gerry Pflug and Stephanie both podium as well, spent the sunny afternoon with some amazing racers and friends, and kicked out the cobwebs with some cleaned up technique and fresh legs for the season…
Pflug earns NUE Series 3rd in both open men and single speed.
September 20, 2014. Dahlonega, GA. The small north Georgia town that nobody can pronounce ( “Dah-lahn- e-ga” ), famous for being the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush and for being the heart of Georgia wine country, was once again the final destination for racers competing in the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series. The Fools Gold 100, the mountain bike race named after a brassy yellow mineral (usually pyrite) that can be mistaken for gold, starts and ends at the beautiful Montaluce Winery. The 92 mile course opens with one long gravel road climb and some ridgeline gravel, followed by a fast gravel descent. Much of the singletrack is newly re-constructed and flowy, with an assortment of fast gradual climbs to short grunts. In the end, riders climb 12,000 feet. The weather was perfect, dry and mostly overcast with a high in the seventies.
For 2014, the Fools Gold occupied the final and tie breaking event in a 13 race year for the NUE series. It’s the Fools Gold that would determine the 2014 series winners for each of the four NUE categories: Open Men, Open Women, Single Speed, and Masters. Riders are scored on their best 4 races. Four wins that include a win at the Fools Gold guarantee racers a series championship. Along with a shared cash purse and free entries to all 2015 NUE races, each NUE series winner is also awarded an all expenses paid trip to La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a three day mountain bike stage race in Costa Rica on November 6-8.
Winning this year’s Fools Gold and the NUE series in the Open Men’s division was Sho-Air Cannondale rider Jeremiah Bishop. “I am super excited to land the NUE over all series for a second time.” exclaimed Bishop who, in addition to doing La Ruta, is planning on participating in the Munga, a 620 mile unsupported mountain bike race across the continent of Africa that boasts a million dollars in prize money to be shared among winners.
“The race was hard from the start and Tinker (Juarez) took off in search of his own pace at the top of winding stair pass” remembers Bishop about the early separation from his Sho-Air teammate soon after the climbing started in earnest. “I was tired from a huge week of training for the Million Dollar Munga. Because of this I had to play it safe and use the large group to save some energy.”
On the last big climb of the race when everyone was tired and slowing down, Bishop made his move. “It took several attacks to get separation and initially, Keck Baker brought me back with Tinker hot on his wheel.” recalled Bishop about the final race-deciding selection. It was not until the 3rd attempt that Bishop was able to gain meaningful separation. “I (finally) got full power down I was glad to get a gap!” said Bishop recalling that pivotal moment. “I pushed hard and got a solid lead but suffered a bit because I had lost a bottle in the last hour.”
“Its been a fantastic adventure at every race and it’s always super cool to start with all the amateur riders in one big group, you don’t get that at the Pro XC’s.” Bishop reminisced when asked about his thoughts on the NUE and the 2014 NUE Series. “This weekend is my Alpine Loop Gran Fondo so there will be a special toast to the win in the National Ultra Endurance 100 Series.”
Splitting his NUE Series race time between both the Open and Single Speed categories, Rare Disease Cycling rider Gerry Pflug grabbed the fifth and final Fools Gold Open Men’s podium spot earning himself NUE series podium finishes (3rd place series finishes) in BOTH Open Men and Single Speed, an accomplishment that has never been achieved before.
“With having third place locked-up in the singlespeed class for the 2014 NUE Series, I decided to race in the open category at the Fool’s Gold 100 to do my best at securing a second podium position in the series.” explained Pflug about the decision to race in the Open for the Fools Gold. “I had a blast racing on the flowing single track trails and the perfect hero dirt that made up the awesome Fool’s Gold race course.”
“Racing in both the Open and Single Speed classes this year made 2014 an exciting endurance race season for me and it felt great to do well in each category.” reflected Pflug on the 2014 NUE season.
Rare Disease Cycling rider Rob Spreng capped off an impressive endurance mountain bike season with a seventh place finish in the Open Men at the Fools Gold. Rob was well positioned for a top-five NUE series placing but was forced to abandon the Shenandoah Mountain 100, one of his four planned races.
“The pace started high on the first climb. I stayed with the lead group for about 30 minutes but soon fell off and a chase group formed.” remembers Spreng about the early throw down. Spreng, Pflug, (single speeder) AJ Linnell and a two other Single Speed riders finished out the first climb together. “I got away from that group on the first long gravel descent. Gerry was the only one of the group to bridge back to me.” recounted Spreng.
Pflug was first out of Aid2 at the bottom of Bull Mountain. “I did bridge back but he took off again on the Bull Mountain climb. I ended up passing him a while later as he was pulled over for a minute. He eventually rode back to me and pulled on a climb again.” Spreng remembered of the back-and-forth with his friend and teammate.“I would see Gerry off and on for the next couple hours, but never really did ride with him again. I spent the rest of the day cruising through the GA clay alone.”
The Open Men’s podium for the 2014 Fools Gold had Jeremiah Bishop (Sho-Air/Cannondale) finishing first, teammate David Tinker Juarez (Sho-Air/Cannondale) second, Brian Schworm (Pedal Power) third, Keck Becker forth, and Gerry Pflug (Rare Disease Cycling) in fifth.
Due to the birth of his second child, 2013 NUE Series Champion and this years Mohican 100 and Lumberjack 100 winner Christian Tanguy had an abbreviated 2014 racing season. He did not have enough races to compete for the series championship.
No one was going to take away the NUE series title for Open Women from Motor Mile Racing’s Brenda Simril. Simril, who had competed in eight series races, and had locked up the title before the Fools Gold even started. Simril’s effort was good enough for 2nd on the day, but the win went to long time Baltimore native and recent Chapel Hill North Carolina transplant Carla Williams. William’s sent a clear message to the woman and 2014 NUE Series champion who had beaten her twice in the early races of the 2014 NUE series. “I can win too.”
“I started out at a strong pace with Tom Haines (Design Physics / Coqui ). We looked down at our watches after what felt like 30 mins of riding, and were surprised to see that we had been racing for 2 hours already. That was a good feeling!” recalls Williams about the early parts of the race. Williams, a gifted climber, was rewarded by the layout of the Fools Gold course. “I felt like this was a course I could really attack. The singletrack sections which usually make me nervous were fast and smooth without too many rocks or roots to slow me down. The climbing definitely added up by the end, but the individual climbs were shorter compared to some of the other NUE races, and I felt I could charge up them without burning too many matches.” said Williams about her strategy.
“Before the race, I was thinking that I have just one last long slog before I can start racing my cx bike and the fall fun really starts. But during the race, I was having such a good time that I’m sad I have to wait until April of next year to do this again.” reflected Williams on her final (and best) 2014 endurance achievement.
The 2014 Fools Gold Open Women’s podium had Carla Williams (Joe’s Bike Shop Racing Team) finishing first, Brenda Simril (Motor mile racing) second, Rachel Millsop (Vikings) third, Anne Pike (Blue Ridge Cyclery p/b Reynolds GM/Suburu) fourth, and Jennifer Moos (Pink Siren Sports / Z Bike Shop) fifth.
Multi-time NUE Series winner and Rare Disease Cycling rider Cheryl Sornson won the 2014 True Grit Epic but then changed her focus to shorter Cross Country distance events. Leadville 100 podium finisher and 2014 Shenandoah Mountain 100 winner and Rare Disease Cycling rider Selene Yeager did not have enough races for a 2014 series contention.
In the Single Speed division, only A.J. Linnell (Fitzgerald’s Bicycles/Pivot Cycles/American Classic), could keep Blue Ridge Cyclery Racing rider Gordon Wadsworth from his first NUE series title. Wadsworth came into the Fools Gold with 4 wins, but Linnell, who had beaten Wadsworth in the Pierre’s Hole 100, could spoil the party with a win at Fools Gold by virtue of the tie break rule. But it wasn’t to be, the Roanoke VA rider dominated from the start and rode with the geared bike leaders for most of the early racing to secure his first ever NUE series title.
When asked if the Fools Gold represented a peak performance for 2014, Gordon responded “Peak? Sort of hard to tell. I think I just forced myself to keep riding extremely hard because that was the safe thing to do strategically.”
“AJ may be strong, and he is, but NO ONE can bridge up to a group of Tinker, JB, Keck and Brian Schworm. So the sooner I got them moving and the longer I stayed with them the better.” elaborated Wadsworth on the early decision to ride with the geared leaders. “I ended up staying with them a lot longer than I had though I might.”
“I dont know if I could Identify a peak during this season. I think I felt the best at Shenandoah. I know Lumberjack was a good early season peak for me. I think I managed to have two solid peaks this year between those two races.”
The single speed podium ended up with Gordon Wadsworth (Blue Ridge Cyclery Racing) finishing 1st, AJ Linnell (Fitzgerald’s Bicycles/Pivot Cycles/American Classic) second, Bob Moss (Farnsworth Bikes/Crank Arm Brewery) third, Dwayne Goscinski (Team Noah Foundation) fourth, and Ernest Marenchin (pivot cycles) fifth.
Rare Disease Cycling rider Roger Masse came into the Fools Gold with three prior wins, but could have been defeated for the NUE Series Masters title in an upset by 2013 Masters Series winner Marland Whaley.
“I came into the Fools Gold with the full weight of the series championship on my shoulders. I was in the lead but could loose the series in a tie break if Marland Whaley were to win.” explained Masse about the contest for the title. “I saw that he was entered and so I had to show up to force a showdown. I’ve been racing well during the last month and so liked my chances.”
North Carolina native Alex Hawkins (Back Alley Bikes), who had defeated Masse at this year’s Cohutta 100 was also signed up. “I figured I would have my hands full.” recounts Masse. “I lined up on the front row and was 2nd wheel to the rider who took the hole shot. I remained in the top-5 for the first 8 miles or so until the sustained climbing began and the strong riders tested one another while establishing a very high pace. Within ten minutes of climbing, near the Army Ranger station and the cooler drop, the lead group of about twenty had ridden through me. There were a lot of watts being thrown down!”
Alone for a bit, Masse soon connected with Toasted Head rider Mike Montalbano who had decided to not try and match the pace being set by the early leaders. “I rode on Mike’s wheel till just shy of the top of the lap 1 Bull’s Run climb. He was keeping a lid on his early pace but he dropped me there.” recalls Masse of his early alliance. “Mike’s is a good wheel to have and I know we were making good time even though his effort was probably only 80%”
“I felt good and rode solidly through the bottom of Bull’s Run for lap 2 and Aid5 but started losing my A-game.” recalls Masse. “I learned I had a comfortable lead and I had missed Aid Station 1 and had fallen behind on my fluids. I was content to throttle down and cruise the final twenty miles in for the win!”.
“I’m really looking forward to Iron Cross on Single Speed and the LaRuta 3 day stage race in Costa Rica.” exclaimed Masse when asked what’s next. “Gordon and I are going to room together. It will be the experience of a lifetime representing the U.S. and the NUE in Central America!”
Masse’s win at Fools Gold gave the Bethesda Maryland native 4 NUE wins on the year and the series title. In the end, even though Hawkins and Whaley were entered, they did not start. The final Masters results for the Fools Gold were Roger Masse (Rare Disease Cycling) in first, Anthony Hergert (Reality Bikes Ambassador Team) second, Mark Drogalis (Toasted Head Racing) third, Monte Hewett (peachtree bikes) fourth, and David Jolin (Stark Velo) fifth.
CyclingNews.com coverage and results here. Final NUE standings here. Thom Parsons post race dirtwire.tv video summary and interviews here.
To get through the middle of a tough ride, sometimes you need to focus on the finish.
Racer nerves in the sunrise. Everyone searching for their own rewards – Photo by Jade Wexler
It was 4:15 a.m.—an hour I really don’t enjoy. And once again, I was staring at the clock with a bucketful of butterflies swarming in my belly. The race starts in about 2 hours, I thought, with growing feelings of doom and dread. Time to get up.
Dave was still dead to the world, though he too would be racing 100 miles at the somewhat legendary Shenandoah Mountain 100 today. I was jealous of his current state of oblivion as I padded about the room, firing up the cheap hotel room coffee pot and boiling water for my morning bowl of race day fuel, some too sugary instant oats, raisins, and nut butter, topped with a finish of Greek yogurt. I’m extra miserable this morning because I’d actually really like to win today. And I know what that means—keeping focused and racing smart for 8 to 9 hours. It’s a long day ahead, with many unknowns.
For one, I’d never been to Shenandoah. So though I’d ridden about 5 miles of the start the day before, the other 95 miles were a complete unknown. I’d heard it was a great course—the best of the series many said. I knew there were big climbs and equally big descents. But what any of that looked like, I had no idea. I’d also been thrown a curve ball earlier in the week in the form of a stomach virus that had flattened me Thursday and lingered into Friday. I took extra good care of myself and felt fully recovered by Saturday, but it hadn’t bolstered my confidence.
As I sat spooning down my peachy oats, I ruminated on a few conversations I’d had with friend and accomplished 100 mile racer Vicki Barclay. “The course suits you. Lots of big climbs and the most amazing descents that will just keep you going. Make sure you have plenty of fluids at Aid Station 2, feed yourself well up to Aid Station 5—the climb is not over there—and use your stamina. You’ve got this!”
You’ve got this. In my heart I believed I could do it. At that moment, however, I was still struggling to find my mojo. Why? Why am I doing this? My mind searched for answers as Dave, now up, began kitting up and packing the car. Because you’ll be rewarded, I thought with sudden, brightening clarity. I visualized the bunch start with so many friendly faces; pictured myself chasing and charging; saw myself climbing strong and sweeping the descents, and the finish, the incomparable feeling of finishing—maybe winning—a race of that size. I felt a little lighter and happier inside. You’ve got this. I kitted up and headed out to the car.
It was still dark as we pulled into the venue at 5:40. Racers were already warming up. I had no lights and no desire to ride around in the dark. So I just did one little charge up the camp road to fire up the engines and called it good. Then I mulled over a race strategy as I stuffed my pockets and checked my tires. Both Vicki and my teammate Cheryl had suggested I stick with the lead women early on, then maybe make a move after Aid Station 4 on the big “Death” climb, which all said and done is 20-some miles long. Sounded reasonable. I could see how I felt and not burn too many matches early on a day that gets harder as it goes along.
That strategy lasted about 12 minutes. After a neutral start down the sketchy camp road, the lead vehicle pulled off and the race was off in earnest up the first dirt road climb. One of the race favorites, Laura Hamm (Moonstompers), charged ahead pretty much immediately. I got on her wheel and started thinking. I’d heard she was fast on the descents. The conditions were dry and sketchy—not my favorite for descending. I was totally new to the place. If I stuck with her wheel I might end up chasing out of my element much of the day. I felt like I could probably climb a bit faster without going into the red. You will be rewarded, I thought, and made an early pass. After a few minutes, I glanced back. No women in my immediate view. I revised my game plan to climb my heart out on the big climbs and let it rip on the descents where I felt comfortable, but be conservative when I didn’t. I’d also push myself to try to catch a group on the roads, where I often find myself alone and lose time.
Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. I had blissfully good climbing legs, which is essential when you’re staring down nearly 13,000 feet of elevation on the day. Many of the descents were the longest, swoopiest, and most fun I’ve ever set wheels on. So I just let it rip, feeling calm and confident on those. On others, where my bike slipped over layers of pea gravel and chunky loose rocks, I would lose some nerve and dial it down a notch to stay where I felt comfortably in control. On the roads? Though I found some really nice company and a wheel or two to follow for short stretches, for the most part I was where I often find myself, Nomansland. I could see groups ahead, but just couldn’t catch them. This is where you always lose time, I chastised myself, pushing on in the wind.
Fortunately the climbs outnumbered the flats and most of them were thoroughly enjoyable. I remembered Vicki’s words and fed myself well up the longest climb of the day, feeling pretty good when I hit Aid Station 5 at about mile 75. I chugged a small cup of Coke, grabbed a quarter of a PB&J and dug in to finish the climb. Just make it to the last aid station, then one hour to go. You will be rewarded.
Shortly thereafter the day threatened to go a little sideways. I had opted to not tape the course profile on my top tube because, well, for no good reason. I felt like being all Zen about the day or something that sounded smart at the time, but I would regret that decision about 90 miles into the day. So, anyway, in my mind I thought the race was going to be considerably easier once I summitted the “big climb.” I was wrong.
It started with a gnarly, loose, fairly steep and endlessly long descent. As the rocks kicked up and my wheels washed to and fro, I started to unravel. Just get to the bottom. Chin up. Stay loose. Let the bike roll. ACK!!! Brakes! NO BRAKES! For the love of God, make this be over. I was talking to myself out loud like a mad woman, occasionally pulling over to let some faster guys go through, trying to stay on their wheels. Stay calm. Stay with them…. Then I came into a particularly steep drop into a hard right hand turn and I saw a bike lying on the ground by a tree with no rider in sight.
Oh that’s bad. I slowed to a crawl around the bend. The rider was on the other side of the trail, standing up, but clearly shaken. I stopped. “Are you okay?” I asked, looking back at his bike to make a mental note of his race number. “Yeah, yeah. I’m okay,” his mouth said, but I wasn’t convinced. “Are you really okay? Or adrenaline-fueled okay?” I asked again. “Do you need me to tell the aid station you need help?” Now here is where I confess that the racer in me started wigging out a bit. Minutes were ticking off. I knew I had a lead, but I was getting nervous. I had to be 100% sure this man was okay before I left, but I was also realizing it could mean sacrificing my race. You gotta do what you gotta do. I paused a little more, as he kept assuring me, more convincingly now, that he was really okay as he got back on his bike. “I’m going to tell them to check on you at the next aid station,” I called back as we rode on. (I did see the fallen rider back at camp at the end of the day. He was indeed really okay.)
After what felt like another hour, but was probably 10 minutes, I was finally done with the descent and at the final aid station. I grabbed a couple of fresh bottles and a few fig cookies. One more little climb to go…Or so I thought. Why they call that middle climb the “Death Climb,” when they put a godforsaken endless ladder to the sky at about mile 90 is beyond me. Why I didn’t know this race ended with this godforsaken ladder to the sky is beyond me. But well, it was there and I was not mentally prepared for it.
I can’t remember the name of the climb, but I called it many, many names every time I rounded a bend thinking it was the top only to see riders bent over their bars or worse, pushing their bikes, on another steep pitch. You need food. I thought, as I started to get nauseous and vapory in the high mid-afternoon heat and humidity. I don’t want food. I want to be done. I bargained with myself to choke down just a little bite. You will be rewarded. I was. I felt ever so slightly better as I pushed on. I had no idea how close the other women were to me. But I desperately didn’t want to be caught this close to the line.
I can’t even remember when it ended. But eventually it did. I felt the energy of the riders around me pick up. We must be close to the end. I thought. And indeed we were. A few more unremarkable miles ticked off and then I saw it—a tent! We were coming into camp! I could hear a loudspeaker. It’s the finish! The finish is right there.
Elation is an understatement for how I felt as I rolled into the open field where I could hear the people cheering my name. I had done it. I’d chalked up my first NUE win at the Shenandoah 100. It was surreal and wonderful and yes, beyond any shadow of a doubt, very, very rewarding.
Pflug second in single speed. Kelly rides to the race from Philly and finishes 14th.
August 31, 2014. The penultimate race of the 2014 National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series, the Shenandoah Mountain 100, has long been the best attended and most popular race of the series. With 12,500 feet of climbing and many long, loose, rocky descents, the SM100 demands a lot and only rewards riders who can present their climbing A-game for the entire day and who are comfortable pushing the limits of sliding tires on high-speed descents filled with marbles. While the course is epic, the festival-like atmosphere provided all weekend long by Chris Scott and the folks at Shenandoah Mountain Touring, provides the perfect backdrop for spending a bit of non-race time with friends and competitors reflecting on a great season and celebrating the sport that brings us together.
Rare Disease Cycling riders earned three podium positions, this with 500+ riders on the starting line and enormous competition in every category. Selene Yeager and Roger Masse each came away with victories in their respective Women’s and Masters categories as Gerry Pflug raced on single speed to a 2nd place finish.
Yeager, who competing in her first Shenandoah 100 this year had zero idea what to expect. “I’d heard it was a great course—the best of the series many said. I knew there were big climbs and equally big descents.” said Yeager. “I really didn’t know much else but that I was in for a long, challenging, and hopefully very rewarding, fun day.”
Yeager planned to stick with the leaders, women who had raced and done well there in the past, to feel things out. “I wanted to see how I felt and not burn too many matches early on in what I’d heard is a day that gets harder as it goes.” remembers Yeager about her planned strategy. On the first dirt climb, however, that strategy was tossed to the wind…
“One of the race favorites Laura Hamm (Moonstompers) came around pretty much immediately.” recalls Yeager. “I got on her wheel and started thinking. I’d heard she was fast on the descents. It was dry and sketchy—not my favorite descending conditions. And I was totally new to the place. If I stuck with her wheel I might end up chasing out of my element all day. I felt like I could probably climb a bit faster, so I made an early pass and didn’t look back, making a revised game plan to climb my heart out and let it rip on the descents where I felt comfortable, but be conservative when I didn’t.”
Selene Yeager’s revised plan worked. She ended up with her first NUE win at the 2014 Shenandoah Mountain 100. “I didn’t let myself believe it or celebrate until I saw the tents leading into camp and heard the cheers of the crowd.” recalled an excited Yeager about the finish. “I still really can’t believe it. It’s a very proud, happy way to wrap up the main season. Shenandoah is a special—very hard—race. It means a lot to me to now be part of its history.”
Read Selene’s full blog post about here experience here.
If Selene Yeager’s win was the result of a line-of-scrimmage audible, seven-time SM100 participant and 2012 SM100 Masters winner Roger Masse had some strategy revisions of his own. “I’ve never had a complete race here.” lamented Masse about past editions. “I always seem to loose my A-game during the Soul Crusher climb”. referring to the long 20 mile stretch of climbing between mile 60 and 80. “I know the course and never drink enough, so this year I left my GPS in the car and rode with a CamelBak for most of the day” said Masse on his strategy change for the 2014 edition.
“My main rivals, or so I thought, were Jim Matthews and Alex Watkins. I managed to get a gap on Jim and Alex going up the steep Lynn trail climb at about mile 20.” recalls Masse about the start. Jim Matthews was far from finished as he used his impressive descending skills off of Wolf Ridge to bridge back up to Masse. The two remained together till about half way up the first Hankey climb until Matthews got some separation. “He was attacking and has some impressive threshold power. Just like at the Wilderness 101, I didn’t want to go that hard to stay with him so he got a gap.”
But Matthews must have stopped for fluids after the Dowells Draft descent, as Masse was able to regain contact on the road section after aid3 (Rt 250). “We were working together well in a rotating pace line with about 8 guys going up 250” recalls Masse. “I knew what was next and was able to get into the single track first for the technical Bridge Hollow climb and this time I got the gap. I pushed my advantage and my lead stuck through the Braileys descent and aid4.” said Masse who thought he was finally the front runner.
But Masse was not in the lead. “I got in a good group of 6 out of aid4 to start the Soul Crusher section containing Jed Prentice, Kyle Lawrence and two strong climbers one of which was Chris Tries.” remembers Masse. “Once we turned off of North River onto Pitt Rd where the real climbing begins, the two climbers jumped ahead, but I could see that Chris had gapped the other guy and was riding away. Just before aid5 I caught the other guy, and after a short conversation, I realized he was Masters rider Henry Loving!” said Masse about the realization that his race was just beginning. “I made sure he knew I was racing Masters as well and that I thought we were in the lead… Oh yeah, It was on! I got out of aid 5 before him and with a big surge of adrenaline just drilled it to the top of Chestnut and really pulled out all of the stops on the long, loose rocky descent. I didn’t stop at aid6 and just gave it everything I had up Hankey 2 and held on for the win!”
RDC’s Gerry Pflug has made no secret that his goal for 2014 is to stand on BOTH the Open and Single Speed series podiums at the Fools Gold, the final race in the 2014 NUE series. Gerry inched his way closer to that goal by earning second place to Gordon Wadsworth (Blue Ridge Cyclery) at this year’s SM100. Gordon had an amazing day, setting a new course single speed record 7:45:57 earning 7th place overall.
“My goal going into the Shenandoah Mtn 100 was to take the singlespeed win and set-up a showdown between Gordon Wadsworth, AJ Linnell and myself for the overall SS series win at the Fool’s Gold 100.” explained Gerry about his plans, but Wadsworth was too strong for Pflug to challenge him for the win at this years SM100, so Pflug called his own line-of-scrimage audible. “Knowing a second place finish at Shenandoah would give me a lock on taking third place overall in the series, I began riding a steady and more conservative pace during the race to protect my lead over the other SS racers.” recalls Pflug about his revised strategy. “I had a blast doing the SM100 this past weekend and scored a big bonus towards the end of the race when I saw a black bear and her two cubs while descending down Chestnut Ridge. With a lock on third place in the SS division, I will now be racing Fool’s Gold in the open class for a chance to stand on both the SS and open class NUE Series podiums.”
The day was ruled by local Sho-Air Cannondale rider Jeremiah Bishop who rode to the event and re-rode several difficult sections of the difficult course as training for The Munga, a 1000K race across South Africa. Technical riding master Sam Koerber finished 2nd.
RDC’s Rob Spreng made it to Aid Station 4, where he was forced to withdraw due to illness.
RDC’s Jesse Kelly competed in this year’s SM100 after riding his bike to the venue in Stokesville, VA from his home in Philadelphia. His finishing time of 8:09 was good enough for 15th in the open men. “Thanks to being fed all day Saturday by everyone around the campground I was feeling pretty good considering the long ride down and 3 nights sleeping on the ground.” recalled Kelly about his adventure. “I went for a pre-ride with Mike Montabano and though I was sore at first within a few minutes I felt pretty good.”
“I felt pretty strong from the get-go but figured I’d eventually fall apart. Fortunately I didn’t and was able to ride strong from start to finish.” remembers Kelly about his ride. “There were moments of course, but thanks to being able to stock up at each aid station with the help of many incredible volunteers I just kept feeding and drinking. I ended up having the race of my life, riding single track as good as ever, and feeling like I was climbing really well. I also got lucky on many sections of road where I ended up with two more more riders to work together.”
“I especially enjoyed the company during the race of Garth Prosser, Dan Rapp, John Petrylak, teammate Gerry Pflug, and the most incredible downhill skilled riders, David Reid and Chad Davis. Considering the caliber it’s probably my best race to date.” reflected Kelly. “I don’t think the ride to Stokesville helped, but it didn’t hinder the race either.”
Full results here. DirtWire.tv coverage here. Race promoter Chris Scott’s Dirtwire.tv race report here. CyclingNews.com coverage here.
Vermont is gorgeous. My first race trip to New England took me to Derby, VT – so close to Canada I got a global roaming alert on my phone. Vibrant green rolling hills, welcoming mountains thick with dark green trees, small towns with old wooden houses. The area is truly magical. Sparse traffic, no billboards on the highway make even driving a meditative experience.
Derby’s Dirty 40, the 5th race of seven in this year’s American Ultracross Championship Series, leads riders through 70 miles of rolling dirt roads. There’s one extended climb, a lot of smaller kickers, a few fun fast descents, and around 5,600 feet of climbing. The roads are hard packed and smooth with occasional sand in the corners and small gravel here and there.
At the Dirty 40, riders have different ideas on the best tool for the job. This year, about 25% of racers chose road bikes, the rest cyclocross bikes with a few mountain bikes thrown in. Tires ranged from 25mm road tires to some medium sized mountain bike tires. I rode my Specialized Crux carbon disc cyclocross bike with 40mm Clement Xplors, which have a beefy file tread. In retrospect, 35mm tires with a minimal file pattern might have been more appropriate.
And on to the race:
400 starters, including 40 women, are led out neutral two miles by a very slow tractor. When the race begins, it’s fast and single file within the first half mile. The first ten miles are a blur, as I hang on to the rider in front of me. Over the following ten miles, the life blood is sucked out of me.
I get dropped from my group, chase back on into the wind, riders in front surge, I’m dropped again, sandy riser and I catch back on as riders with road tires walk. Another surge, dropped, catch back on a downhill as riders on road bikes descend tentatively. Repeat for ten miles: fall off, fight back on, dangle on like a tooth that’s about to fall out. Because I expected the pack to settle in. Eventually. But they do not.
Boom. 20 miles into a 70-miles race my legs give out. I soft pedal. Riders pass me, I try to jump on, legs are jelly. Eventually, a small group with one woman pass me and I grab on.
I hang by a thread for the next 50 miles. Had dug myself into a hole in the first part of the race, hit bedrock, and there was no climbing out. Meanwhile, the woman who had caught me, Julie Wright (Ride Studio Cafe Expedition Team) pedals along like she is on a comfortable touring ride.
Thank goodness for drafting – I hide from the wind like it is poison gas. Meanwhile, Julie and other riders lead a chase that gobbles up riders until we are about 15 strong. Thank goodness for my high-volume tires. Just when I am at a point of profound weakness, a sandy descent allows me to point my bike downhill, gain ground on Julie (who is riding 25mm road tires) and soft pedal until she catches back.
With about 20 miles to go, my spirits lift as I see friend Brian Rogers (who had sat up from the lead group, recovering from 12 days solid gravel riding). He’s content to cruise along with us in the last part of the race. And then along comes Hilly Billy Roubaix race companion Scott Bond, catching us from behind. Scott Bond had paced me to the finish in the last 20 miles of the Hilly Billy Roubaix last June. Two allies! Nevertheless, my legs are still incapable of putting pressure on the pedals.
About 60 miles in, on a steady climb, I get separated from our medium-sized group of riders. Thankfully, Julie is also back from the group. Brian and Scott drop back to urge me on. Brian leads me down a descent and we gain significant distance on Julie. She is out of sight. Brian and Scott say it’s go-time. But my legs fail me yet again. …And then a yellow helmet appears in the distance. Julie is catching us. We drop her downhill three times (due to our high volume tires on sandy roads, compared to her road tires), yet three times she fights her way back. Was she not getting tired yet?!
On a short, steep climb three miles from the finish, I drop my chain. Rider error completely. Julie powers away. Scott says, “If you have any sprint left, now would be when to use it!” Standing up on my pedals, my legs crumble beneath me. Julie is out of sight. A descent into town, then a short riser. One last burst? It feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste you should have thrown away days ago. (Nothing left.) Crossed the line 39 seconds back from Julie. Neither of us knew it at the time, but we were racing for the win.
The Dirty 40 was hard to race, and harder to lose! It’s easy to ask “What if I hadn’t gone out so hard? Or dropped my chain?” but Julie was the stronger rider of the day. I only made it as far as I did by hiding, drafting, and descending well. After getting decisively dropped on raging gravel descents by friendly rival Ruth Sherman, both days at the Dirty Double gravel stage race last May – I have to celebrate my improvement. I’m hoping the confidence I picked up on the descents at the Dirty 40 will help me on the loose gravel at the next stop on the Ultracross Series – Iron Cross on October 4th!
* Congratulations to RDC teammate Mary Boone who finished 19th in the open women category. Also, big thanks and congratulations to our Vermont hosts Rebecca and George Michael Lowe, who were 1st and 3rd in their respective single speed categories.
End Note: The Dirty 40 was named to describe the original course, which was 60 miles long, 40 miles on dirt roads. For 2014, the race was 70 miles, 55 miles on dirt.
Appalachia Visited, put on by JR Petsko (abraracing.com) and his tireless team of officials and volunteers, is a nice way to close out the road racing season. The race is 60 miles up and down the Cheat River Valley around Rowlesburg, WV – 25 minutes from the Maryland border. Rowlesburg, population ~600, is an extremely cycling-friendly town, and also hosts the Mountain State Dirty Double gravel stage race in May and the Appalachia Time Trial Championships in September. The Rowlesburg area offers challenging climbs, fast, twisty descents, and a number of rolling, country roads in the valley.
Our combined pack of masters men 40+ and women was over 50 riders strong. We stuck together as we started out on the gently rolling valley road. However, a climb about 10 miles in practically split the group in two.
The next big split would come around mile 20, at the base of the highest peak of the day. The same as at the Mount Davis race two weeks ago, a small group including Gunnar Shogren, Frankie Ross, and seven other riders kept a snappy, steady pace up the climb and rode away from the remaining members of the pack, including the women’s group and about 10 men, with others scattered across the landscape behind. Gunnar would go on to win the 50+ category, followed by Brian McAndrews of Wayne, PA and Henry Swinty from Fort Wayne, IN. The 40+ race was won by Grayson Church of DC, followed by John Nelmes of Virginia. Nathan Goates of Shippensburg, PA, edged out Ross for third. After getting dropped and sprinting back on a few times, out of breath and with no benefit of a draft going uphill, I watched, disappointed, as the lead group pulled away.
However, it was pleasant to have a large group to work with for the rest of the race. Our pack would break up on the climbs, but come together again on the roads in the valley. I was glad to at least be among the strongest climbers in this group, so I did not have to fight to catch back on further in the race.
The last climb, about three miles long, at around mile 48, is followed by an equally long descent with twisty U-turns, 9% grade, and a rolling seven miles to the finish. Defending women’s champion Michele Sherer, Team BMC Bike Stop of Warrenton, VA, set a steady pace at the base of the climb that was just fast enough for her, me, and Stokely Samuel of Bowie, Maryland to pull away from the group. Thanks to the turns in the road, we were soon out of sight, which can be an advantage in a race. However, the disadvantage was that we did not know how far back the other riders were. Michele was concerned about the pack catching us on the flats after the descent, which had happened a few other times in the race. So, she was glad to have Stokely and me along to work with. I sensed she lessened her pace a hair in order to keep us all together. We crested the hill in a group, descended pretty tight together, and then began a hurricane paceline to keep the other riders away – including Nicole Dorinzi and Melissa Hiller, who were close behind and would finish 3rd and 4th. I had just enough left to get off my saddle for a sprint in the last 200 meters, and rolled over the line slightly ahead of Michele, same second.
Rowlesburg was a good warm-up for the Dirty 40, a 60-mile gravel race next Saturday, August 30 in Derby, Vermont. A number of riders from “West Pennsylginia” will be making the trek north including RDC teammate Mary Boone, and Nicole Dorinzi of Morgantown. It will be nice to have some familiar faces in the pack! I am glad to have had good hilly road races in Appalachia Visited and the Mount Davis Challenge – to prepare for the hard climbs of northern Vermont.
Oberman 2nd in XC Open Men. Harding, Thiemann go two, three in XC Open Women.
August 23, 2014. The fact that vacations are concluding and school is starting signals that not only is summer over, but so too is Mid Atlantic Super Series (MASS) racing for 2014. In one last final salute, over five hundred and fifty racers showed up this past weekend at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Fairhill MD to give it one last go at earning MASS series points in both Cross Country and Endurance events. Hosted by Trail Spinners, the Fair Hill Classic has long been a popular race due in part to the long 23 mile loop format and fun twisty fast trail. For 2014, endurance race participants were treated to one giant 40 mile loop, a remarkable feat, considering the relatively small land mass of the Fair Hill park. Rare Disease Cycling riders Selene Yeager, Cole Oberman, Kathleen Harding, Nikki Thiemann, Jesse Kelly, Andrew Dunlap and Shane Pasley threw their hats in the ring, and in what has become a habit for Rare Disease Cycling, podium appearances were made.
Leading the way for Rare Disease Cycling was Selene Yeager who came away with the win for the Open Endurance women. Normally endurance racers do two a short prolog followed by two 23 mile laps. This year’s edition featured a single 40 mile loop. It’s a long race and a lot can go wrong. Yeager, who’s never really ridden to her full capabilities at the Fair Hill endurance event, finally put together a performance to be proud of. “I love riding at Fair Hill and have always done fairly well at the early XC race there.” recounted Yeager following her win. “But the endurance race has been a bit of a nemesis for me. I generally manage to pull out a good result, but not without a fair amount of misery. I’ve botched my nutrition. I’ve botched my hydration. I’ve gotten dizzy on that Crackhead Bob trail. I’ve made bad passes and almost taken out my own teammates. This was the first time I managed to put together a good day start to finish. I also felt monstrously good. Maybe it was Leadville sinking in or having all that wonderful oxygen to breathe, but I was able to finish as strong if not stronger than I started.”
Yeager’s winning time of 3:25 had a comfortable margin over second place and was good enough for 11th overall in the Endurance distance. Katrina Dowidchuk (Mid Atlantic Colavita Women’s Team) finished 2nd, Jennifer Tillman (Joe’s Bike Shop) 3rd, Missy Nash (Toasted Head Racing) was 4th, and rounding out the podium was Joanne Abbruzzesi (Bike Line).
In the men’s Cat1 / Pro Open event, RDC’s Cole Oberman finished 20 seconds behind winner Cameron Dodge (PURE ENERGY / SCOTT BICYCLES). “After a long and painful start drag, I led the group into the woods.” describes Oberman of the start of the Cat1 / Pro Open Men’s race. “My forte at the front quickly came to an end as I smashed my front wheel into a hole in the bottom of the first stream crossing. After ejecting onto the far shore and collecting myself, I began the chase back to the front group.”
Oberman remade contact and sat in to recover behind Aaron Snyder (STAN’S NOTUBES TRANSSYLVANIA EPIC ELITE MTB TEAM) and Cameron Dodge. “I let Cam set the pace for the first half of the race and tried to recover the best I could.” recalls Oberman. “With about 40 minutes remaining I went to the front and began hitting both the climbs and descent as hard as possible in hopes that I would force an error. In the end it wasn’t to be, I bobbled in the last section of single track and gave Cameron a 20 second gap which he held to the line.”
Dodge finished first, Oberman 2nd, and Aaron Snyder squeaked out 3rd just ahead of Andrew Freye.
“All in all it was a great way to end the XC mountain bike season.” said an excited Oberman at the finish. “Now its time for some cyclocross!”
RDC’s Jesse Kelly finished 12 in the Cat 1 / Pro Open event, 10 minutes back. RDC Philly Regional rider Shane Pasley finished 23rd.
In the women’s Cat 1 / Pro Open event, RDC’s Kathleen Harding and Nikki Thiemann finished second and third respectively behind NoTubes Elite Women’s team racer Vicki Barclay.
RDC DC regional rider Andrew Dunlap finished 12th in the Open Endurance Men.
Full results here. PJFreemanPhotograpy.com event photos here. Ty Long NoFilmPhotography photos here.
I decided to change things up for the Hampshire 100 and race in the singlespeed class, instead of racing my geared bike in the open class. Not racing my singlespeed since the Cohutta 100 has been an interesting change for me, but I’ve got to admit that I felt more at home racing on a SS bike again. In addition to my change back to a SS bike, the 2014 edition of the Hampshire 100 had some of its own changes in store for the racers this year.
I’ve done the Hampshire 100 the past two years and it is always a hard 100 mile race, but the new course layout made this race even tougher than it was in previous years. Most of the 100 mile racers had finishing times about an hour slower than previous years. The slower times were due to a few issues including: the removal of about 10 miles of rail-to-trail, the addition of some very freshly cut trail, and the course receiving over 3 inches of rain a couple of days before the event.
At the beginning of the race, Dan Rapp was able to get into the single track a head of me and put a little time between himself and the rest of the SS field. I was eventually able to catch him after exiting the first section of new trail with the help of another singlespeed racer, Will Crissman. From that point, the three of us worked together until we were caught by a group of geared riders that also contained singlespeed rider Ernesto Marenchin. This occurred at the end of a long rail-to-trail section and before heading up a steep and loose climb about 20 miles into the race.
Upon getting caught by this group, Dan Rapp and I increased the pace by running and fast-walking up the climb and only Crissman followed. The next split in the singlespeed race came on the powerline climb, which was mostly another hike-a-bike section. On this part of the course, Crissman was not able to run/walk as fast as us up the hill and he fell from the pace Dan and I were setting. From that point, Dan and I rode together at a fairly steady pace until the aid station at around mile 50. I was able to leave the aid station a bit quicker than he was, which gave me an opportunity to put distance between my fast singlespeeding competitor and friend.
I was certain Dan was going to bridge back up to me, so I kept my speed high as possible, which quickly moved me past three other open class riders and into fourth place overall. I never saw any other singlespeed racers after leaving Dan and managed to hold-on to my lead for the rest of the race to take the win. After doing the past five NUE Series Races on a geared bike, it felt good to be back on a singlespeed again. It has been said that variety is the spice of life and this has certainly been true for my 2014 NUE Series race season!
It always feels good to give a victory salute!
Even though the course was much tougher and finishing times were significantly slower than previous years, it was still a fun race and definitely interesting to ride. The cool thing about doing these 100 mile NUE Series Races is that each course is a little different and has its own feel. They have different ways of making a rider suffer: some with long climbs, others with high altitude, and others with soft, freshly cut trail, like at the Hampshire 100. The challenge is to do your best at the race no matter how the conditions happen to be.
I can’t end this post without saying a big thank you to the race promoter, Randi Whitney, and all her help for making the Hampshire 100 run so smoothly and be a great 100 mile race experience! To see how awesome this race was, check out The Hampshire 100 Video by Thom Parsons of Dirtwire.tv.
Spreng takes second overall. Masse second place in Masters.
August 17, 2014. National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series racers converged on Greenfield NH this past weekend for the Hampshire 100 Ultra Endurance mountain bike race. With just a few races left in the series, this is the time of the year where series division contenders try to gain a points advantage heading into the Shenandoah Mountain 100 and the Fools Gold, the final races in the series. Rare Disease Cycling teammates Gerry Pflug, Rob Spreng, and Roger Masse exemplify series competitors in this situation and in the end came away with some solid performances.
Leading the way was Gerry Pflug with a win in the single speed category. Pflug, who is a five-time NUE series winner in single speed, is also a 2014 series podium contender in the open category. With the single speed win at Hampshire, “the Pflug” took a big step towards achieving his goal as being the first person ever to earn an NUE series podium in both single speed and open in the same year.
“Since I’ve done the Hampshire 100 the past two years, I knew it would be a hard 100 mile race, but I didn’t realize how much harder the race would be with the new course layout.” explained Pflug referring to the large number of new and difficult trail added to this year’s edition. “Most riders had finishing times about an hour slower than previous years.”
The new difficulty was due to the removal of about 10 miles of early rail-to-trail replaced with some very freshly cut trail that involved soft loamy climbing. The fact that the course receiving about 3 inches of rain a couple of days before the event did not help matters.
“At the beginning of the race, Dan Rapp was able to get into the single track a head of me and put a little time between us, but eventually I was able to catch him with the help of another singlespeed racer, Will Crissman.” remembers Pflug about the early positioning of his single speed rivals. “From that point, the three of us worked together until we were caught by a group of geared riders that also contained singlespeed rider Ernesto Marenchin.” explained Pflug about the growing chase group by the end of the long rail-to-trail section. “Upon getting caught by this group, Dan Rapp and I increased the pace and only Crissman followed.”
On the powerline climb, Crissman fell from the pace set by Rapp and Pflug. “From that point until the aid station at mile 48 I rode with Dan at a fairly steady pace.” recounts Pflug. “I was able to leave the aid station a bit quicker than he did, which gave me an opportunity to put distance between my fast singlespeeding friend and competitor.”
“I was certain Dan was going to bridge back up to me, so I kept my speed at a high pace and eventually moved into fourth place overall.” said Pflug of the miles of trail just after the mile 48 aid station. “I never saw any other singlespeed racers after leaving Dan.”
Pflug managed to hold-on to his lead to take the win at 8:57. Ernesto Marenchin (Pivot Cycles/Twin 6 Labs) crossed the line in second 14 minutes later. Daniel Rapp (Toasted Head Racing) followed in third 5 minutes behind 2nd. Paul Simoes (Bikeman.Com) was 4th and Will Crissman (B2C2 P/B Boloco) rounded out the single speed podium in 5th. “After doing the past five NUE Series Races on a geared bike, it felt good to be back on a single speed.” said Pflug after the event. “Like they say, variety is the spice of life!”
Rare Disease Cycling’s Rob Spreng, competing in the men’s open division, had an awesome race, adding a solid result to an already stellar season. Finishing ahead of all but Sho Air Cannondale rider Jeremiah Bishop when the day was done, Spreng puts himself into position to compete for a very high 2014 NUE series ranking.
“Once we all got going in the singletrack there was some changing front positions for a little while.” recalled Spreng about the start. Once everyone got settled in, it was Spreng, Bishop, Tinker Juarez (ShoAir Cannondale), Dan Timmerman (Nalgene P/B Mt Bora) and Mike Barton that formed the front group. A short while later, Spreng recalled seeing Mike off of the trail with a mechanical issue, reducing the lead group to four.
“I’m not sure when, but Tinker was the first to fall off.” Spreng recalled. In the single track following the mile 48 aid station where Gerry Pflug would shortly get separation from fellow single speeder Dan Rapp, Dan Timmerman was losing contact with the leaders. “The remaining three of us were together until somewhere around mile 50.” remembers Spreng. “From there I think JB and I started putting a little gap on Dan Timmerman.”
Spreng and Bishop were together through the start-finish area at mile 62 and for about 10 miles after that. “He starting turning up the pressure around mile 65 and I stayed as long as I could.” recalls Spreng about the final separation with the eventual winner. “I had to eventually let him go and ride my own race from there to the finish. From then on I kept my gap on third place and rode the rest alone. I had a ton of fun finishing! My Specialized S-Works Epic World-Cup was loving the last 10 miles of awesome trails.”
Bishop won the day with a time of 8:22, nearly one hour slower than his 2013 winning time. Spreng finished 2nd 16 minutes later. Dan Timmerman finished 3rd, Matthew Merkel (Riverside Racing) 4th and Toasted Head’s James Mayuric rounding out the top-five. With 2 second place finishes and a 4th, Rob Spreng is well positioned to vie for a top-3 series finish in the open men.
Rare Disease Cycling rider Roger Masse briefly challenged Masters winner Alec Petro (Corner Cycles) with a catch at the mid-way point. It didn’t last. The same single track section where Dan Timmerman lost contact with Spreng and Bishop; and where Dan Rapp lost contact with Pflug; Masse also lost contact with the Masters race leader.
“I jumped ahead of Alec into the Prolog single track at the start, but he caught and passed me on the first pavement climb” recalled Masse of the early test of his rival. He wouldn’t see him again till the half way point. “Rolling out of the aid station at mile 48, I nearly regained contact with Alec again, hanging about 30 feet off his wheel for a mile or so.” remembers a surprised Masse. “I thought he was gone… but there he was. Unfortunately, I couldn’t capitalize. I had just finished 25 relatively fast-paced miles of single track with Jeff Mandell (Finkraft Cycling Team), Crystal Anthony (Riverside Racing) and eventual 6th place open finisher Ross Andersen (Pure Energy – Scott Elite Cycling). At that point in the race, I needed to settle down a bit so he slipped away.” Meanwhile, Petro jockeyed back and forth with the eventual Women’s 100K winner Crystal Anthony all the way to the start-finish, out-of-sight and together gaining time on Masse. Petro hung on for the win with Masse crossing in 2nd 23 minutes later. “I was hoping to be a bit closer to Alec in the end, but I’m happy with the second place finish.”
Masse, who had taken over the Masters series lead following a mechanical-filled day which landed him a disappointing 6th place at the Wilderness 101, lost the series lead for 24 hours to Marland Whaley as his rival won the Masters race at Pierre’s Hole in Wyoming. Masse’s 2nd place at Hampshire replaces the 6th place finish from Wilderness 101 and moves him back into the series lead setting up a winner take all showdown with Whaley at the Fools Gold in September.
In the open women, Elizabeth Allen (Danielson Adventure Sports) finished first at 11:30, followed by Anne Pike (Blue Ridge Cyclery Racing) three minutes later. Third place went to Lenka Branichova (Lapdogs Cycling Club).
Full results here. CyclingNews.com coverage here. NUE Series standing through Hampshire 100 here.
RDC’s “FitChick” earns age-group third at the “Race Across the Sky”.
August 9, 2014. Approximately 2,000 racers converged on the small historic Colorado mining town of Leadville, essentially doubling it’s normal population of roughly 2,500, to compete in the 21st edition of the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. In 2009, the race became known as the “Race Across the Sky“, after a short movie with that name was released chronicling Lance Armstrong’s win of the event and his improbable setting of a new course record that year. The 103 mile course takes riders from a starting elevation of approximately 10,152 feet to the Columbine’s elevation of 12,424 ft, where riders are turned around to head back to Leadville. Leadville never seems to hold much attraction to the typical National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series mountain bike racer, in part due to it’s reputation as a minimally-technical “roadie” course that is held at altitude. Despite this, the Leadville 100 has attracted many super-stars of our sport to contest it’s peaks over the years, so much so that the race has evolved to iconic state, virtually on every endurance riders bucket-list.
Rare Disease Cycling rider Selene Yeager threw her hat in the ring for this year’s event on the brand new not-yet-in-production 2015 Specialized ERA, a women’s specific full suspension 29er.
“I’ll confess that I’ve never really had any interest in doing Leadville.” recalls Yeager about past thoughts of including Leadville as a race in her season. “I just didn’t really believe the hype. It also has a bit of a reputation as a “roadie course,” so I didn’t think it would be interesting. Plus it’s an out and back, which never really appeals to me. So yeah. Leadville. Whatever.”
“I was wrong. Really wrong.” confesses Yeager. “Leadville is actually all that it’s hyped to be and maybe then some—brutally hard, amazingly beautiful, very humbling, a bit of a road race, more of a mountain bike race than you think, and the kind of experience that seeps under your skin and becomes a little part of you.”
“It’s the only race I’ve ever done that has a downhill start, which is as sketchy as it sounds, and always leads to a crash or two that can take you out before you even start.” remembers Yeager about her start. “Survive that, and before you know it, you’re onto the first climb and the day is on in earnest.”
Despite disciplined pacing, Selene feeling as though the climbs were endless, started to come unglued at around mile 85. “I was convinced I had blown my sub-9 goal and as everything started to hurt and shut down, I wasn’t sure I cared.” recalls Yeager of that dark final hour. This is around the point where Selene found Rebecca Rusch, Specialized Bicycle sponsored athlete and her 2013 Brazil Ride partner. “She rolled up and I was transported back to Brazil where we’d pushed so far beyond our limits day after day.” recounts Yeager. “Suddenly 7 or 8 more miles seemed easy. We hit the pavement and I could see it… the red carpet and the finish line. I wanted nothing more than to hit that red carpet and be done.”
Yeager finished the brutal day in eight hours and thirty nine minutes, good enough for 3rd place in her 40-49 age group for women, the age group of most of the top women finishers.
When later asked about how the new women’s specific Specialized ERA performed, “It was awesome. Very light and responsive.” Yeager remembers about the bike. “It’s women’s specific geometry. More like a Fate than an Epic.”.
The ERA, which comes with a Brain equipped version of the new inverted Rock Shox RS1 suspension fork, is apparently very good on small-bump compliance. “I LOVED it. Very, very supple.” exclaimed Yeager about the fork. “Reacts perfectly to the ground without transfering any unwanted feedback into the rider.”
Despite being extremely prepared for the event and riding an awesome bike during it, Yeager was completely spent at the finish. “I stopped dead and slumped over my bars as depleted as I’ve ever felt…and as satisfied too.” said Yeager. “I did it. I finished the race and got the big belt buckle.”
Read Selene’s full blog and race report here. CyclingNews.com coverage here.
If I’ve been asked that once, I’ve been asked 100 times. Tell someone that you race mountain bikes and that’s one of the first questions that leaves their lips. I’ll be honest; I’ve often been a little annoyed by it. You can tell them you’ve raced on the moon, and they’re just not all that impressed, maybe even a little disappointed, that you’ve never done the big Race Across the Sky.
While I’m being honest, I’ll confess that I’ve never really had any interest in doing Leadville. I just didn’t really believe the hype. It also has a bit of a reputation as a “roadie course,” so I didn’t think it would be interesting. Plus it’s an out and back, which never really appeals to me. So yeah. Leadville. Whatever.
I was wrong. Really wrong. Leadville is actually all that it’s hyped to be and maybe then some—brutally hard, amazingly beautiful, very humbling, a bit of a road race, more of a mountain bike race than you think, and the kind of experience that seeps under your skin and becomes a little (or for some folks a big) part of you.
I found myself heading to Leadville this year because that’s where Rebecca Rusch (the Queen of Leadville as well as pain) and I were launching her new book I co-authored, Rusch to Glory. Specialized had offered me a media slot to race their brand new Era (a sweet full-suspension women’s-specific 29er). How could I not go?
So, I’ve been preparing physically since, oh, February. But mentally? Not so much. I’ve never been there and didn’t really know what to expect. At the last moment my housing fell through, I had zero support, and I wasn’t 100% sure what bike I was going to have at my disposal. Hell, just a few weeks out, Reba and I were starting to freak out that we might not have our books done in time.
Then in a blink of an eye it was here. I was actually going. The books were in. I had a bike and a place to stay and a race entry. And I was scared to death. There’s so much hype around Leadville that it’s hard to not get tangled up in it. Columbine climb at 12,424 feet of elevation. Powerline (Dear God. That one deserves the hype…especially on the way back). It could snow. It could sleet. It could freezing rain. It could be a 100 degrees. Maybe all in the same day. I packed like I was going off to battle and I had nearly as much trepidation.
Choo choo. Here comes the pain train.
(Photo by Linda Guerrette)
After much car and plane travel (and delays), I rolled into town very late Tuesday night thoroughly exhausted and feeling utterly alone. I awoke a bit more positive, but still overwhelmed. I needed to get my bike and hopefully see at least some of the course. I ventured downtown to the Specialized pop-up store to find that my bike would be ready in about an hour. So I moseyed up the block and into an old Westerny looking restaurant for some huevos rancheros. As I dug into my eggs, my ears were filled with anxious race talk from patrons at the other tables.
“Yeah, I didn’t make the cut off last year. Came undone on Powerline.” “I’m volunteering this year. Gonna try again next year.” “We’re from Atlanta, the elevation is crushing us.” I drained my coffee mug and slipped away from the nervous din. Back at the pop up store my Era was ready to roll. Now I just needed to figure out where to roll with it. My first stop was Reba’s place up on 9th street.
I rolled up to find her on the massage table, a couple of her friends hanging out on the sofa chitchatting while she got her knots worked out. She wouldn’t have time to ride today. My heart sunk a little. I’m a big girl and can and often do ride alone. But today I really wanted some company to get away from my own head. “Brian and Dan are riding some of the course at noon today,” Lauren said, looking up from her phone. “I’ll text them and let them know you’re coming.”
My heart should’ve lifted but it sank a little more into my belly. I was feeling insecure and overwhelmed. I knew Brian, who is Mr. GU and very nice, but not Dan. I’ve never ridden with either and I really didn’t want to slow them down on their shake out ride. I nearly said forget it but I was desperate for company, so I decided to suck up my insecurities and show up. It’s probably the best decision I made all week.
They say in Leadville that once you toe the line you’re part of the Leadville family. It would be easy to roll your eyes at that, since it’s an Ironman-level enterprise at this point. But honestly, I couldn’t have ended up better taken care of had my own mother been in town. You quickly realize while you’re out there that it’s not you against all these other people in town, but it’s all of you against the Leadville 100. The sense of mutual respect and camaraderie is palpable.
To that end, I not only had a really wonderful ride with Brian (who was gunning to break 9 hours) and Dan (who was nursing some cracked ribs and would be supporting) that gave me a glimpse of the start and the finish (four miles false flat and incline…sadistic really), but the guys at the GU house, Dan and Yuri in particular, took me under their wing for the duration. They served up amazing breakfasts and dinners and offered me a home away from home where I could be in the happy company of others and out of my own head. They also offered to support me on course.
Which was awesome…and mind-boggling. See Brian, being the CEO of GU and all, is let’s say a bit analytical. After the ride, he showed me the course profile he had printed out complete with predicted times he would hit key points on the course along with every single bit of fuel/hydration he would put in his maw along the way. I was dumbfounded. I’m screwed was all I could think. “What do you want me to have for you at those points?” Dan asked looking over my shoulder. I stared back at him blankly. I consciously lowered my voice to sound casual and confident. “I’m still sorting that out.”
I left with my head spinning. It was like Ironman all over again…walking around desperately trying to wrap my slippery monkey brain around what I would need on all these points along a course I had never even seen let alone ridden. After hours of mental gymnastics, I lost my mind and bought six Honey Stinger waffles (to complement eight PowerBar Blast packs and seven bars—seriously), a super light rain jacket, and four more water bottles. Finally, late into the afternoon I’d had enough of myself. Selene, it’s a big bike ride. Carry 1000 calories and two bottles. Have another 1000 calories and 8 bottles on course. Look at the weather and carry a rain jacket if it looks iffy and be done with it already. And with that it was like I was Sisyphus and had finally gotten that damn boulder up the hill. Relief.
The next morning I woke up at 6:30 am and kitted up just as I would for race day, filling my pockets with exactly what I would carry and went out to do my shake out ride. Summer mornings resemble early winter in these high mountain towns. I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t be cripplingly cold off the start, yet still comfortable as the day warmed. I felt just right in a light base layer, jersey, arm warmers, vest, shorts and high socks. I went home and laid out everything just as I would put it on the next morning.
After waking up every hour on the hour, my eyes popped open for good 4:15 race day morning. I was nervous, but not insanely so. I had prepped all I could. I was confident in my clothing selection. I had support. And I felt good. I cooked up some waffles, slathered them in almond butter and Greek yogurt, nuked a side of veggie sausages and washed it down with some Maxwell House left for me by the landlord. Then I rolled down to the GU house, conveniently located right on the start, and stayed warm until it was close to go time. At just a few minutes before 6, I warmed up by going up and down a side street three times for luck and lined up among a sea of buzzing racers.
It’s the only race I’ve ever done that has a downhill start, which is as sketchy as it sounds, and always leads to a crash or two that can take you out before you even start. Survive that and before you know it, you’re onto the first climb and the day is on in earnest.
I had made one single promise to myself: Don’t go into the red. You can’t recover at 10,000 feet. I learned that the hard way the opening stage at Breck Epic two years ago. I would ride my ride and not worry about anyone else. I very much wanted a sub-9 hour belt buckle and I knew the only way I would get one was if I didn’t blow myself up.
I’d love to give a blow by blow of the day. But it felt otherworldly…surreal. And honestly I’m still processing it as it buzzes around my head like a dream. The climbs were endless. The descents even longer. And since it’s an out and back, I was acutely aware that every long descent was going to come back in spades later that afternoon.
I was never alone, but very often a bit lonely, surrounded by fellow racers who were friendly, but not friends. I was riding hard, but my motivation to push myself wasn’t particularly high. So I was happy midway through the day when I heard a female cough that I recognized. It was Rebecca, who was pacing her friend Lisa for her first (hopefully) sub-9 finish. “Hey!” I called out as she rolled next to me. Just being around a friend was the emotional lift I needed.
We spent the rest of the race jockeying back and forth. One of us would go off or drop back only to find each other again a few miles down the road, each of us staying our course, riding our rides. We lost each other in the final aid station before the climb back over Powerline, which in retrospect, is the worst place to find yourself without a friend.
What goes down must go up…and up…and up.
(Photo by Linda Guerrette)
It’s endless. Actually it’s worse than endless. It seemingly ends about 10 times before it actually for real ends. And this is where the wheels started coming off. The odometer was pushing into the nineties and I could no longer do math. I was convinced I had blown my sub-9 goal and as everything started to hurt and shut down, I wasn’t sure I cared.
I’m firmly convinced this must be where people lose hours…and their will…and those precious buckles…in those final 10 to 15 miles when you’re drained beyond comprehension but there’s still an hour or more left to go and your belly wants no more food and your mind wants to get the hell out of the dust and wind and just be done but your legs won’t cooperate.
And this is where I found Rebecca again. She rolled up and I was transported back to Brazil where we’d pushed so far beyond our limits day after day that suddenly 7 or 8 more miles seemed easy. She smiled and pressed on, calling for Lisa to dig deep. I joined her. We hit the pavement and I could see it…the red carpet and the finish line. I wanted nothing more than to hit that red carpet and be done.
Somewhere, somehow, I found that magical race day gear and stood up on my pedals and went. The red carpet seemed to get further and further away. I pushed harder, everything aching and threatening to shut down for good. And then I hit it. The finish, eight hours and thirty nine minutes. I stopped dead and slumped over my bars as depleted as I’ve ever felt…and as satisfied too. I did it. I finished the race and got the big buckle. (For the record, Lisa did too…smashing her previous PR).
Leadville, you’re for real. And it was real. I can’t say I’ll ever be back but I also know you’ll be with me, deep inside, for the rest of my days wherever I go.
Jesse Kelly wins 45+. Harding second in women’s race.
August 9, 2014. The Mid Atlantic Super (MASS) Series endurance competition resumed this past weekend near Lynkens PA as the Ratting 50 took center stage. Known for it’s rocky challenging terrain, the 50 mile course in Weiser State Forest was once again the place where riders brought their biggest tires and and their biggest game to tackle what is likely the most challenging technical course in the MASS series. Rare Disease Cycling rider Jesse Kelly brought home the gold in the Masters 45+ category after a tough back-and-forth battle with Joe Johnston and Rolf Rimrot.
“I was a bit jaded beforehand having looked up my strava from last year and seeing I’d described it as ‘five hours in a tumble dryer'” said Kelly about his thoughts before the race.
The Rattling 50 course starts with an immediate 10 minute climb up 800 feet to the single track in the Weiser State Forest. “I wanted to battle it out with the big boys in the open including traveling partner Francis Cuddy, but he and the top dogs left left the field in the dust from the start.” recounts Kelly. “The course looped differently this year and I was confused pretty much the entire race. After the first long climb the singletrack quickly showed its character and I was no match for the numerous rock gardens.”
Nutrition strategy is important at the Rattling 50. As an August race with stops at mile 10, 20, and then a long skip to mile 40, It’s easy to run out of water. “It was not as hot as last year but a 20-mile section with no stops meant at least two hours with no refills.” remembers Kelly. “Nutrition was vital. Fortunately the Specialized S-Works Epic holds two bottles in the frame, but I still grabbed an extra for the jersey pocket. I’m very glad I did as even some of the riders with hydration packs ran out! Even drinking plenty I finished dehydrated. It was just so tough at times to attempt to drink in all the singletrack, and when doubled track appeared it was still too tiring to let go of the bars!”
The Masters 45+ race played out as a battle between Kelly, Joe Johnston (BLACK BEAR CYCLING / FASCAT COACHING) and Rolf Rimrot (Bike Line). “I would make headway on the tamer trails and continually be hunted down and often passed in the rocks.” said Kelly about the early back-and-forth. “I mostly stayed near Joe running first or second, but Rolf sailed by about half way leaving me in 3rd for a long while.”
Kelly was also duking it out early with open rider Jeff Mandell (FINKRAFT CYCLING TEAM) who eventually rode away to place fifth in the Open Men, and Jamie Huber (TOASTED HEAD RACING), who went on to take the single speed win. Also with Kelly was the young Andrew Bobb (MOUNTAINSIDE RACING) who’s had a stellar year. “Andrew’s technical abilities are unbelievable!” recalls Kelly. “He invited me to follow his lines in the rock gardens but sadly I could only wish to do so! All these guys were so powerful through the toughest sections, and fighting back up to them time and again was taking a toll.”
“After collecting myself at the final aid station and with the wonderful encouragement from the volunteers, I was ready to rocket home.” recalls Kelly about the final 8 miles to the finish. “Sadly, Rolf had a hard fall at some point, but he still hung on for 3rd. And I was able to get some space in front of Joe. I screamed down the last doubletrack descent along with Brian Shernce (CYCLE CRAFT/BULLDOGS) to the finish. That was the most thrilling part of the race, with my primary motivation at the end to just satisfy the cravings for hoagies and cola :)”
RDC’s Kathleen Harding placed second in the women’s open event behind Vicki Barclay (NoTubes Elite Women) and ahead of third place finisher Jessica Nankman (GIANT NORTHEAST GRASSROOTS TEAM). “Endurance racing is rough.” recalls Harding, who primarily focuses on shorter cross country distance events. “Probably should’ve had more hay in the barn before taking on the Rattling 50. On the upside, got to check out some incredible trails.” When a teammate asked how the course was, Harding was overheard to say “it felt like riding a jackhammer for 50 miles with a sandpaper saddle. Ha!”
The overall winner and Open Men’s division winner was Ryan Serbel (CREATEX COLORS – BENIDORM BIKES) followed by Scott Gray in second, and Andrew Freye (Bike Line) in 3rd.
Jamie Huber (TOASTED HEAD RACING) won the Single Speed, followed by Scott Green in second and Dan Bonora in third.
Aug 2, 2014. The Mid Atlantic Super Series (MASS) cross country mountain bike race series took a playful twist this past weekend with “Midnight at Marsh Creek” a nighttime start for what would otherwise be an ordinary cross country race. In the words of race promoter Leif Lucas, “Yes, you will need lights”.
As the only night race in the series, Midnight at Marsh Creek is a favorite local race in the MASS. Host shop Chester County Bicycles always picks a fun and challenging loop. The start takes you through a field and drops you into single track in the woods before leading riders out along a lake. The rains in the days leading up to the race ended before the 9pm start, but the damage was done. The slippery roots and rocks were more difficult to see and navigate in the dark.
Rare Disease Cycling was well represented with top honors in the Pro / Cat 1 Women going to Kathleen Harding. “It’s always a treat to see the lights of fellow racers making their way out along the lake trail.” described a satisfied Harding of her race. “The roots were slick and the rail trail had some thick muddy spots, but overall the course was in great shape considering the rain we’d had leading up to the race.”
“I tried to make time at the start and maintain that lead for the remainder of the race.” said Harding about her race strategy. “I felt strong and made time where I could on the downhills and the climbs and carefully picked my way through the spots that were more precarious. Getting to the ruins is always a big motivator as you know there’s a big party and cheering section awaiting racers’ arrivals. After my second trip through the ruins there were just a couple of miles to go. I pushed hard and crossed the line in the lead. It was a great event and well run by CCBikes. I’m looking forward to racing it again next year!”
RDC’s Jesse Kelly finished 13th in the Pro / Cat1 Men’s Open.
RDC Philadelphia regional rider John Giordano finished 10th in the Cat 2 30-39 Men’s category.
Aug 3, 2014. The Mt. Davis Challenge Bicycle Road Race is a 42-mile race that traverses the highest point in Pennsylvania, Mt. Davis. The course is lollipop style that starts in Confluence, PA and utilizes the hilly back roads of the Mt. Davis area and climbs to an elevation of 3,213ft. Once over the top it descends on the eastern side and climbs back up on Savage Road before returning to Confluence. Prolonged climbs and fast descents on some rough road surfaces make this a true challenge.
Rare Disease Cycling put it’s stamp of authority on the race with Stephanie Swan taking top honors in the women’s race setting a new women’s course record in the process.
“There’s some fast descents, but they go by too quickly and it feels like you’re climbing the whole race.” said Swan following her spectacular ride. “After a four rolling miles, the major climb begins to Mount Davis, offering little relief until mile 18 at the summit. After the descent down the Mount, riders circle back, cresting the same ridge on another road, but this time it’s “only” an eight mile grind, then rollers to the finish with a few nasty inclines thrown in.”
The women raced together with the masters 45 and older in a pack of about 50 riders that included Rare Disease Cycling’s Gerry Pflug. “I weaved up to the head of the race and watched as Frankie Ross, Sette Nova, led a steady charge up the base of the Mount, as Gerry Pflug, Gunnar Shogren , and four other male riders matched his pace.” described Swan of the selection that began at the base of Mt. Davis as the climbing began. “Soon, I could not hold their tempo, and after getting dropped, sprinting back on, and getting dropped a mile later, I decided to go at my own speed in no man’s land. Luckily, two of the men ahead fell off the lead group, another two riders caught up, and I found myself in a cooperative group of four masters plus me. We rode together most of the way, with one rider from Maryland getting away in the last few miles, and another dropping off behind us.”
Swan, who was the top women, finished for 8th overall in the combined masters/women’s field, was the “Queen of the Mountain” (first women to top Mount Davis) and set a new women’s course record and… “For fun, I sprinted ahead of the final two riders I was with” said Swan describing the finish. Kellie Strang finished second and Patricia George third.
“It’s a shame we did not have a bigger women’s field” reflected Swan. “but I will do everything I can to spread the word for next year. Wonderful to have such a beautiful and challenging race, practically in my backyard!”
RDC’s Gerry Pflug who’s known more for his successes in endurance mountain bike racing, opted to stay close to his Connellsville, PA home and race the Masters 45+ at Mt. Davis. “Gunnar, Frankie Ross and I got into an early break on the first major climb in the 40 mile race.” recounted Pflug of the Masters event. “Eventually, one guy fell from the group and the remaining four of us continued riding at a fast clip. I tried to get away a few times, but was chased down on every attempt.”
The race came down to a sprint finish, and since Gerry’s focus is that of an endurance racer, he did not have the sprint to contest the finish and ended up 4th. “It was my first road race since doing the same race last year. I had a great time and got in a good speed workout!” Frankie Ross (Allegheny Cycling Association) finished first, Kevin Westover (Spokes-N-Skis Racing) second, and Gunnar Shogren (Pathfinder of WV) third.