Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic 2016

Ever since the Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic, also known as Singletrack Summer Camp came into existence about seven years ago, I have had the itch to race this beast. Every June, I would tune into social media and track who was in the lead for each stage and follow along with videos and photos posted. This just seemed so out of reach for me, but it would happen, eventually.

Transylvania Epic Logo

Fast forward to this past November and I reminded my husband, Jack, about how badly I wanted to race the #TSEpic (it’s almost second nature to hashtag it now). Jack was supportive about it and decided to help make this happen. The entry fee is sort of a hefty one, but through the support of some family, friends and Jack, as a surprise Christmas present, I was able to register for TSE.

A little information about TSE; it is a five day mountain bike stage race that is similar to what the Tour de France is, but with mountain bikes and way cooler. Mike Kuhn is the brainchild behind this amazing event and other events as well.       In each stage, there are also endure segments that are timed and racers can get enduro points and possibly podium for this separate classification.

Training began early January with Coach Jonny Gabor and I knew immediately, this would be tough work, but it would pay off. Months passed and after many hours on the trainer, road, mountain bikes and time in the gym, it was MAY!!! TSE was merely a week away and we packed and prepped and the nerves settled in.

My family and friends were so kind to say that I would win it or be in the top three. Granted, I have been on the podium many times in the past, but I knew this would be a different scenario. I was going to be racing against pro women and women who have done stage races before. The goal for myself was at least top ten or better and to complete all five days successfully.

Last Saturday, we hit the road with our borrowed pop up camper and we were packed to the brim. We arrive, unpack, set up, get our bearings and the “tent city”, see Mike Kuhn, who was setting up course marking for Monday. Mike seemed to be in good spirits and was ready to get things started. My nerves were getting the best of me, but I prepped for Monday and thankfully, had Sunday to spin my legs and relax.

STAGE 1: COBURN 36.9 miles 4,015’ climbing

All smiles before the week begins!
All smiles before the week begins!

Today’s choice was my Cannondale Fsi, as there were a lot of dirt roads in the first stage. Sporting my Rare Disease Cycling kit on the line, checking my Garmin, realizing I forgot my sunscreen, I was ready to roll and get things started. Neutral roll out from camp and then instantly shot into windy singletrack around the camp and back onto dirt. I remember thinking how great my bike choice was once on the dirt roads. I felt okay throughout most of the stage, but started experiencing bad leg cramps around mile 27. I was hydrating, getting nutrition, but they still appeared. I had to hop off the bike once to stretch them out and let out a little yell because of the pain. This allowed for two girls to scoot past me, but it’s the first day, don’t panic.

I managed to get out of the singletrack and finish up for the day in 12th place. I was not very satisfied with this finish, but again, it’s the first day and I needed to stretch and focus on the upcoming days.

STAGE 2: TUSSEY RIDGE 36.9 miles 3,921’ climbing

Tussey Ridge has to be, by far, some riders favorite stage. The ride/race up to Tussey is not an easy one, but it is well worth it. I decided to switch over to the Cannondale Scalpel as today would be more singletrack and technical.  I felt pretty good, cramps were lingering, but nothing to stop me. I downed a water with a ton of sodium in it at the aid station, which helped. I felt great in the singletrack and was right behind some girls who finished up in the top ten the day before. Not sure what my deal was on the dirt roads, but either my legs or mind was not pushing. I never stopped on the climbs, but my speed was not there.

After accomplishing a successful ride across the ridge (my best ever time on Tussey), it was a long fun, enduro segment that was flowly, filled with berms that just naturally took you around and shot you to the next turn. I could have ridden that all day. Onto some more roads, knowing I was maybe close to top ten, I pushed on and finished up feeling happy and satisfied with my day. I ended up in 11th place, still not happy, but inching closer to top ten.

STAGE 3: GALBRAITH ENDURO DAY!! 29.5 miles 4,377’ climbing (5 timed downhill segments)

Enduro day! The buzz for today was how “relaxed” the day is compared to the others. With five timed downhill segments that are used for the day’s results, I was confident that I could possibly do a little better than the previous days. I was again on my Cannondale Scalpel to best tackle the downhills. I saw everyone else on their big travel bikes with dropper posts, knee pads and baggy shorts and there I was in my lycra, no knee pads, but just as ready to get the day going.

The rollout was from State College and it was a long ride, hike and wait at the top of the first segment. The first three segments seemed pretty tame and I thought my times were decent. The climbs in between were long, but it was a day to spin up them and keep the heart rate lower. The vibe of the day was definitely different, as racers would gather at the bottom of segments to compare their runs and strategies. I moved along without too much stopping because I was afraid that if I stopped much, those silly leg cramps would come back.

Segment four was lined up and I was being warned by the guys in front of me how rocky and steep it gets. They were not trying to scare me, but reassuring me that if I just “let it roll” I would be fine. I made it down that famed “Wildcat” trail and survived, as I just “let it roll”. I did take a moment to just let my arms hang by my side, once at the bottom. I got my arms alive again and completed segment five.

Photo credit: N. Thomas "Letting it roll" at the bottom of Wildcat.
Photo credit: N. Thomas
“Letting it roll” at the bottom of Wildcat.

Results were posted that night and finally I was in 10th place. I was kind of satisfied with this, but wondering what I could have done differently, but there were two more days to go.

STAGE 4: R.B. Winter 35.2 miles 4,515’ climbing

This stage was also said to be pretty technical with a lot of climbing on dirt roads as well as singletrack climbing. I was nervous, knowing I only had this day and the last day to put up better results. Off we go!! Straight up a massive hill and I was slowly losing sight of the women in front of me. They were all climbing so great all week and for some reason, I could not find my normally strong climbing legs. I kept on rolling and made it into the singletrack, where It started to drizzle, then rain heavier, then it turned into the heaviest downpour. My glasses were completely fogged, so I took those off and chanced my contacts falling out, just to be able to see the trail.

I had a “dark” moment at one point early in the race when I almost wanted to cry. I felt like I have never raced before and feared not catching anyone ahead of me. This tough moment passed pretty fast as I was not going to feel sorry for myself mid race. I kept rolling and it was absolutely pouring. Some people were walking their bikes up the greasy singletrack trail, but I was able to keep pedaling as my tire choice was perfect for these conditions (Ignitor on the rear and Rampage in the front).

The aid station was approaching and I saw some girls standing there in the rain. I was not sure who they were or what class, but I knew if I wanted to make any time up, I had to just roll through and keep moving. I did just that, but pretty soon, Karen did catch me. I was able to hang with her on the singletrack, but once we hit that dirt road climb, she rode away from me and I had trouble making up that difference.

I was not sure what place I was in, but thought maybe I had managed to pass a few more at the rest stop. The rain continued to come down until a few miles from the finish. Covered in mud, soaking wet and a little chilly, I crossed the line and went right to the bike wash to get the mud off of the Scalpel.

Today’s results, 10th place. Again, happy to scratch the top ten, but slightly disappointed that I did not end up better than this. I would have ended up in either 11th or 12th place if I did not stop at the rest stop, so I was happy I made that decision.

STAGE 5: COOPER’S GAP 34.5 miles 5,466’ climbing

The rain rolling in.
The rain rolling in.

Last day and I reminded myself to make the most of the day. We started at a remote location, but finished up at base camp. This day was again a mix of long dirt road climbs, singletrack climbs and fun technical singletrack sections. We knew there was a chance of showers, well, it showered for sure. It poured again for a few hours of the race and at one point, the aid station was just about under water. Drop bags were sitting in a “river” and volunteers were covered with umbrellas still making sure racers got what they needed as they rolled through.

There were times that the rocks on the singletrack were under water and finding the right “line” was tricky, but I was able to manage good riding in the rain. I was back and forth most of the day with singlespeeder, Karen Brooks. I am not sure how people can do this on a singlespeed and I praised every one of them that I saw.

The rain stopped in time for the final climbs of the day and became muggy and humid too. The final climb came with a warning from a fellow racer. He said, “This climb sucks. I’m not trying to scare you, but just being honest.”

It didn’t scare me, but I knew I had to ride up it the whole way as I was sure I had at least another 10th place position. The climb was quite awful as it did not seem to end, ever. I get to the top and there was a guy there and he says, “all downhill from here.”

I knew this couldn’t be true, as there was still some more elevation to gain. After some more climbing on doubletrack and then a little greasy singletrack, camp was finally in sight. I could hear people and I shot out below our “tent city” and around to where the big, Stans NoTubes finish line was. Dave Pryor was there to give finishers a hug and high five and Jack was also there, taking photos and cheering me on. I was covered in dried mud, I was tired and a little in disbelief that after so many months of planning and training, TSE was over, just like that. 175 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing later and it was all finished.


My results for the final day, 9th place! I was satisfied with this finish and secured 10th overall in the solo women general classification.

We spent that evening, as we did previous evenings, recapping the day by watching Firespire Photography’s photos and Thom Parson’s video of the day. It was amazing to have completed five days of racing in such a fantastic area. Mike Kuhn and Dave Pryor kindly recognized all 150 racers as they gave finisher awards, jerseys and called the raffle numbers. It was a fun way to end such a fun week. Everyone was tired, but in good spirits. Jack had a great week too, helping out at aid stations and lending any helping hand he could when Mike or Dave needed him.

I will be racing this again next year and of course, will be hoping for continued improvement with my results. I am happy though. I successfully raced all five days, I rode hard, I pushed myself and made top ten. I learned a lot about myself as a rider and a racer. It’s not always about the podium, although it’s pretty nice to be up there sometimes. Every race, every ride is a learning experience. Learning from what we do helps us grow and hopefully, teach others in the future. The support I received from friends and family were amazing and greatly appreciated before, during and after the race. I truly could not have done this without my husband, Jack, who supported me every second of the way.

This write up might have been long, but it is merely a glimpse into what the week really was about. I was proud to represent Rare Disease Cycling/Keswick Cycle and will continue to do my best throughout this season.

2016 Cohutta 100 and Old Copper 20

This past weekend Renee and I decided to take a little road trip from Philadelphia down to Ducktown, TN for the second stop in the National Ultra Endurance Series, The Cohutta 100.Cuddy_Cohutta1_med

Renee, having no interest in spending the better part of a day on a bike decided to race the Old Copper 20. This was the first year the promotor, Trail Head Outdoors, added the 20 miler on top of the tried and true 100 and 65 miles distances.

Not holding anything back, Renee hammered the competition. She had a great day handily taking the win. The trails were flowy and the gravel climbs suited her strengths. Afterwards she took to relaxing and lounging about the Ocoee White Water center while I sold my soul in the Cohutta 100.

I managed 10th overall, surprising myself a little on such a climbing intensive course. It was a 100 mile race and we raced every bit of that 100, it was no joke! It was really exciting to be a part of.

I didn’t catch the break with the front group into the single track at the start. I didn’t think it was too big of a deal at the time but looking back now, it was. Around mile 20 the single track ended and the gravel forest roads started. It was endless climbing and white knuckle descents on very loose, dry gravel through fast sweeping turns.

As I started up the gravel, I bumped into local Pennsylvanian, Stewart Gross. We teamed up and quickly got to work trying to catch the front group and amassed a decent sized following of other riders. I stopped at an aid station around mile 27 to grab a bottle and was informed that the lead group was only a few minutes ahead. I caught back up to the chase group and stiffened the pace for the next 10 miles. It took some time but the work paid off, I could see the lead group up through the trees! I was excited but a little concerned that I may have burned a few too many matches pulling the chase group to the front of the race.

Towing up my new found friends made the lead group about 30-35 racers deep. We were rolling in a really solid peloton through the forest, 37 miles into an NUE race. There would be a good amount of drama involved in pairing this group down before the end of the day.

Cuddy_Cohutta2_medAround mile 46 we came to an aid station, a total gaggle with so many guys. A few racers bypassed it and attacked the climb coming out of the aid station. This shattered the group. I managed to grab two bottles and get to work chasing. It was vicious but I managed to get back on after a few minutes of hard work. At this point, 8 to 10 racers didn’t make it back, the group was now a little smaller.

This was the start of a 32 mile loop (roughly mile 46 to 78) which entailed a lot of punchy climbs. As the miles wore on, the group got smaller and smaller. Every climb there was a push and another rider would pop off, usually never seen again.

As we finished that loop we came back into an aid station around mile 78. I refilled my bottles and found myself the last rider out. Luckily we went into a descent and I caught back up. The group was down to around 10 riders at this point.

Around mile 80, we took a left hand turn onto a steep climb. Dylan Johnson attacked and the group shattered. I was in no condition to match the pace at that point. I found myself in no mans land pretty quick but didn’t worry much. I was still climbing well and stayed focused. The next 10 miles were some of the biggest climbs of the day. I passed droves of Big Frog 65 racers throughout the next hour. Those were some hard miles and they let me know.

The single track started around mile 90. I spent a few minutes getting into the flow of things but couldn’t hide from my legs as they started tightening up and cramping. I ate a snack, drank some water and took it easy for a few minutes. I got myself back together but not before I was passed by another racer named Anthony. I didn’t let it get to me, I have been a racer for years and thought to myself, “It’s not over until it’s over!”

As I came out of the mountains and dropped onto the highway heading towards the finish, I could see Anthony a few hundred yards ahead. I buried myself, full on time trial trying to reel him in. Unfortunately he looked back and saw me coming. He was frantically pedaling trying to hold me off. The yards were closing fast but I ran out of time and we finished only a few lengths apart with a time of 6 hours and 55 minutes.

It was an aggressive weekend but also a great adventure. Tennessee was beautiful, my Cannondale FSi worked flawlessly, the racing was epic and I am really glad that we all get to enjoy racing and riding our bikes for fun. Life is good!

That’s a wrap – Shenandoah Mountain 100

Second place finisher Christian Tanguy congratulates 2015 SM100 winner Jeremiah Bishop just after the winner's course record setting performance
Second place finisher Christian Tanguy congratulates 2015 SM100 winner Jeremiah Bishop just after the winner’s course record setting performance

The trails at Shenandoah 100 suit me pretty well, so it is actually the race where my results have been the most consistent. However, with Keck Baker, Brian Schworm and Jeremiah Bishop in attendance (just to name a few), a podium finish felt a little further away from my reach than usual.

The dry conditions and the mild temperatures in the morning made for a fast start. This year again, few handlebars came into contact in the short downhill leaving the campground but we kept it under control and made it safely to the paved road. The pace was pretty high but the group stayed together such that when the course brought us to the forest access roads. It was a little sketchy between racers that try to stay near the front and those who would like to be there.

My legs felt good, so a quarter of the way up Narrowback Mountain; I took the lead and rode my own tempo with an open jeep road in front of me. It was probably the best move I made all day. When we turned into the single track trail climb, I really started to enjoy myself. Riding single track up or down is the reason why I love mountain bike so much. Except for a few tricky spots, the climb has no difficulties and before I knew it, it was downhill time. My lead must have extended during the climb as I could not hear the noise of a close by bike in addition to my own.

I am not much of a jumper over bumps but I could not help it to go over a few of the doubles even if I kept the wheels firmly on the ground if I deemed the jump would have sent me too high in the air. Only on the dirt road at the bottom of the valley, I peeked behind me. Jeremiah was 30 yards behind closely followed by a group of ten or so.

During the transition from the first downhill to the next climb, the group doubled in size but I managed just fine to position myself behind Keck in first place and Jeremiah in second place up the tight and steep single track climb. To be honest, I wished Keck would have ridden a little faster just because I wanted to have a higher cadence but could not shift down since I was already using my smallest gear (32 in the front, 42 in the back).

Nonetheless, at the top I was really feeling the effort and indeed just the three of us were still together. Jeremiah took the lead, then Keck and I followed. Thanks to few areas where the trails goes up and thanks to the trail not being ridiculously steep or rough, I managed to stay close to Keck the entire length of the downhill. It was all good fun and once again on the transition roads at the bottom of the valley, we had a little pace line going.

This is where I noticed how incredibly great shape were both Keck and Jeremiah. I could not believe the speeds on my computer. Over 30 mph each time the road was pointing down even if so slightly. Of course, nobody bridged back and the three of us started the climb up the third mountain of the day. Keck and I shared the lead until the intersection with the trail leading to the start/finish line. Jeremiah would lead us to the very top of the mountain at the same climbing tempo.

Jeremiah had some special plans for us. Having better handling skills than Keck and myself he opened gaps even on the shortest downhill section. Then Jeremiah pushed hard on the next uphill portion to make any racers wanting to stay within reach to make an extremely violent effort. I have experienced this technique first hand on many occasions. Should I have been alone with Jeremiah, I would have let him go away right there but I thought that if I could keep up with Keck, I would have a very strong partner on the transition roads at the bottom of the valley. Meanwhile Keck was certainly thinking that if he could stay with Jeremiah and drop me before the bottom of the valley; the chance of me bridging back were lower.

The only winner in that situation was Jeremiah. Keck and I were completely out of breath and the long downhill had not even started yet. Jeremiah was almost already out of sight and Keck was a good 20 yards in front of me when we hit the steeper part with some large steps/drops. I can ride this trail fine but I cannot ride it nearly as fast as Jeremiah or Keck. I just burned a big match for a failed attempt to keep up with Keck…

Later on, when the trail is far less steep, I noticed Keck on the side of the trail working on his bike. Shortly after, I was at aid #3, in no man land transitioning between mountain #3 and #4. Of course, Jeremiah was nowhere to be seen. The fourth mountain is a nice climb, this year I was not as smooth as previous editions but except for a couple times where I put a foot down, I made it to the top in pretty decent shape.

The downhill from there is my favorite of the day; it is fast and not too dangerous. I was just not looking forward to the very long flat roads leading to the soul crusher climb. At aid #4, I just had a longer stop to get the reach of my front brake lever adjusted. I rode down the 4 previous downhill with my lever almost touching my grip.

My legs were really sore and I kept looking behind hoping not to see a raging Keck Baker closing the gap at incredible speed. The miles to the finish were trickling down and that is the only good thing about these flattish roads. Finally, I reached the real climb and the heavy soreness in my legs transformed into really pain. In one of the steeper pitch I was at the verge of cramping.

At aid #5, at the top of the mountain, my old teammate Harlan Price was there. It was great to see him. He asked what I needed: my mind had the perfect answer: “Could you please ride my bike to the finish for me?” But I said I was fine, and I was off.

Being under the constant pressure of thinking that Keck would bridge back in the long downhill did not allow me to really enjoy the trails between aid 5 and 6. The body was in great pain. I realized that I was really fatigued and intentionally rode a bit slower in the downhill.

The entire day, I was thinking about the last long uphill before the finish line. Being there was a relief and somehow I even had a second wind. I climbed the second time around almost just as just than the first time with Keck and Jeremiah. Despite my really good effort in the climb, I was getting extremely nervous to see Keck storming back on the downhill forest road leading the finish. However, my efforts were good enough to cross the finish in second place. I was delighted and improved my time from 2013 by an impressive 12 minutes.

Once again the Specialized bike and components were flawless. Some people asked me if the SWAT box holding my tire lever, tube and tire inflator comes open under the rough riding. Let me assure you, it did the job perfectly both at Wilderness 101 and Shenandoah 100.

White knuckles time – Wilderness 101

The Baker chase group: Tanguy, Blair, Tredwell - photo credit Tomi McMillar
The Baker chase group: Tanguy, Blair, Tredwell – photo credit Tomi McMillar
This year again, I made the pleasant trip from south east Michigan to Central Pennsylvania. The weather was just perfect to spend 6-7 hours on the bike. I have done this race 7 times so I pretty much know what is in store for the day.

Despite riding a good tempo on the first climb, the size of the group reaching the top was still larger than any previous editions. Now a lot of riders are much better prepared and can challenge more established riders. With the dry conditions, I left plenty of space between me and the rider in front of me during the fast downhill on the dirt road. Few years back I witnessed a rider crash at top speed and I just wanted to be ready to avoid the pile up should this event happen. It was not necessary in that particular downhill but it proved a smart move when a rider washed out just before aid #1.

By now, some riders started to feel the effort and the lead group trimmed down to a dozen riders. The following downhill was uneventful except for the snake the lead guy and myself, in 2nd place, almost rode over. I heard the leader yell something, when I looked down my first thought was: “Please people, pick-up your old tubes…” and as I came closer I realized it was a large black snake with gold patterns. All this happened in a flash as we were riding well over 20 mph.

Approaching the Three Bridges single track trail, I rode harder and found myself in the lead. I made a good push in the trail and by the time we came out on the dirt road, the lead group was fragmented. I continued with the fast pace going up the road and finally it was just 2 of us at the top. We rode together until aid #2 where the chasers finally closed the gap.

I hope they had to commit some effort to join back to us because I felt as though I put in a good effort myself. Shortly after aid #2, there is a long climb and I was getting tired. We were 4 riders at the front and Keck Baker increased the tempo towards the end of climb allowing him to enter the rough single track downhill first. I came down in 4th position just behind Dereck Treadwell. Dereck and I were riding pretty much the same speed where Keck was gone in a flash and 2nd place rider put a 30 second gap on us. Shortly after the descent Gordon Wadsworth bridged back.

The three of us chilled out on the flat/down roads leading to the next big climb. I was really tired by then and decided to ride my own pace. Dereck followed me as we reeled back the 2nd place rider. We lost Gordon in the process and entered the 2nd stretch of rough single track downhill. Just like the previous time, I came last of our group of three. My hands and arms were still not fully recovered from the firm grip needed during the first downhill. I was looking where I could stop and rest my upper body. It was really rough trail and another couple miles of that riding would have forced me to stop and rest.

The three of us reached aid #3 and we rode the uphill right after that. Only Dereck could follow this time. I thought I made a great tempo but Keck was nowhere to be seen. His time gained in the rough trails was just too great to overcome in the climbs especially when he climbs extremely well himself.

On the previous rough section I noticed that I could ride a tiny bit faster than Dereck. At the top of the mountain I sped up to enter the flat rocky single track first. In a few hundred yards, I already had a sizable gap and it was probably the most enjoyable stretch of the race for me. My Specialized Epic was riding great. Despite all the vibrations, the SWAT case stayed closed and the tires were holding well on the sharp stones. I came down the 3rd very steep single track downhill. With my bike skills, I feel that all I can do is slow down; should I need to come to a complete stop I would have to find a spot where crashing will hurt me the least. My arms and hands were to the verge of cramping but also my legs from balancing me around the bike.

When I indeed put the roughest section behind me (without falling), my legs cramped in places I never experienced before. The downhill smacked me and I was in total distress mode. Somehow the single track riding along the creek was a good distraction for the mind instead of focusing on my hurting legs.

I reached aid #4, still in 2nd place but any desire to chase was out the window. I stopped for a long while especially knowing that course goes back up on long jeep road. Very strangely, I was able to pick up the pieces during that climb. I even forced myself to ride harder well knowing that I would lose my advantage on the flat/downhill dirt roads after that.

As expected, the dirt roads were just a nightmare; the legs were cramping every two minutes and I had to stop pedaling to loosen up the muscles… At least the volunteers at aid #5 had some good news; the finish was only 6 miles away.

I followed closely the arrows marking the course. I came to the bank of a river. There was a trail going left and one going right but no arrows. I turned back thinking I missed a course marking but the only arrow I could see was the one pointing straight. I scanned the other side of the river for a piece of tape when I finally noticed the arrow on a rock above the water in the middle of the river. This river crossing was a blessing. Of course, walking waist deep in running water comes with some challenges but my legs loved the cooling effect. Now 5 miles from the finish, I felt I came too far to lose my second place by not trying hard enough.

The legs were as tense as they could be without completely locking up. It was a very, very painful last five miles but it was all worth it after I crossed in 2nd place. Congrats to Keck for an awesome ride. I hope to come more prepared to Shenandoah to challenge him until the end.

Full results here.

The Open Men's podium with Keck Baker on top.
The Open Men’s podium with Keck Baker on top and Christian Tanguy in 2nd, Dereck Treadwell 3rd, Ryan Serbel 4th and Gordon Wadsworth 5th

Lumberjack 100 Report

It was the ninth time I’ve put my bike on the start line for this race. If I were playing the odds at Vegas, I might have put some money on me, as I’ve never finished below 5th place in my 8 previous attempts. Nonetheless, the lineup of serious competitors was giving me the chills…

I don’t know how I messed up my preparation, but I forgot my favorite GU gels at home, then I did not put my “racing” prescription glasses, and kept my regular glasses that have the tendency to slip down my nose, plus the cold temperatures had me wonder if I should wear a sleeveless wind jacket or not during the first lap. I opted for the latter and I glad I did, otherwise I would have overheated in no time.

The start on the pavement was maybe not faster than previous years but way more nervous. A lot of fast competitors were fighting for a good spot to enter the single track. Anyway, I managed just fine and then we were off for a quick first lap in the Manistee forest. And quick it was indeed! Even with the roll out on the road we completed the lap in 2 hours and 12 minutes. That is not completely surprising but what was is how many racers were in the lead group. We were over a dozen riders!

All of us were riding strong leaving no gaps between riders. However, I started to feel the effort and I guess I was not the only one. At the front, Mike Phillips was pushing a great pace thru the Road Monkey trail section: a flattish single track quite twisty at times forcing anyone to be on the gas at all times. Then I took over the lead for the last 8 miles of the second lap and continued the fast pace. More riders fall of the lead wagon and we were a much smaller group to reach the aid zone at the start of the lap.

In the succession of small hills up and down, Brian Schwarm was on a mission drilling the up hill so much so that I was wishing I was wishing for a slower pace. I got my wish granted but we were only 3 that could hold on to Brian’s rear wheel: Tinker Juarez, Jorden Wakeley and myself.

RDC's Christian Tanguy leads Jorden Wakeley, Brian Schworm, and Tinker Juarez
RDC’s Christian Tanguy leads Jorden Wakeley, Brian Schworm, and Tinker Juarez – Photo credit Rob Meendering

I led our small group again thru the road Monkey section. We were riding at good speed and lost Jorden and Tinker. Shortly after the mid lap aid station, during a short uphill, both my legs cramped. We were about one hour from the finish but I had to back off the pace or I wouldn’t see the finish line.

Now, really tired and looking for my path around the trees thru a veil of fog, every pedal stroke was a struggle. The dust I was riding through all day finally impeded my vision by scratching the front surface of my eyes.

Despite the cramps, the foggy vision and the less than optimal nutrition from the get go, I managed to reach the finish line in under 6 hours 30 minutes. That was 2 minutes off the pace of Brian but I am satisfied by my 2nd place result.

Like at every race, I gave it all and I could not have gone any faster given the circumstances.


A Battle to the End

Dylan Johnson leads Keck Baker, Christian Tanguy, and Brian Schworm over the "Bridge of Dreams"
Dylan Johnson leads Keck Baker, Christian Tanguy, and Brian Schworm over the “Bridge of Dreams”

I came to the Mohican 100 with confidence as I could finally log some quality rides outside. Every year, I wonder if I should go for the $200 prime for the first rider to reach the city limit. The road leading out of the city is steep, than get steeper to finally be a gentler grade. If I really wanted, I had an opportunity to be in the mix for a shot at the prime but it was a big match to crack. From experience, I know that energy saved early might be decisive at the end.

Christian leads Gordon Wadsworth and Brian Schworm down the "water bars" section
Christian leads Gordon Wadsworth and Brian Schworm down the “water bars” section

I actually spent more energy on the road leading to the single track to make sure I was not going to be stuck behind a slower rider. I managed just fine as I actually was first for a while. Then a large group latched on. When we reached aid station 1, we were still all together. As the race progress, I maintained myself in the front position and I don’t know the specific but the group started to whistle down. By aid station 2, there were only 5 persons left in the group: Tinker Juarez, Keck Baker, Brian Schworm, Dylan Johnson and myself.

Now on more open roads, I rode to the front in an effort to keep the chasers at bay. After a while, we had a little pace line going and this when Tinker was dropped. The four of us had fun but being on the open roads with no shade, I started to really feel the effort. Especially reaching to aid 4 was a struggle, I was out of water for a good 20 minutes. By now it was obvious than Keck and Brian were the strongest on the open flattish roads, Dylan was the fastest on the technical single track and I was the most at ease when the course was pointing upwards.

Brian Schworm in the early single track
Brian Schworm in the early single track

5 hours into the race, I was the one ridding the most at the front and I was not sure how it will play at the end. I knew that the one entering the last stretch of single track will have a great chance to win the race. We reached the steep downhill leading to the suspension bridge over the river. All four of us managed to make the right turn at the bottom of the trail. I don’t know for the others but in all the previous editions I went straight right into the bushes.

Tinker Juarez was with the leaders though the single track
Tinker Juarez was with the leaders though the single track

Then we reach to the steepest most difficult dirt road climb of the day. Over the years, I learned to be humble to this climb; one time I had to dismount and push my bike. For this edition of the Mohican 100, I had much more energy and decided to ride tempo. My goal was to get my lead group companion tired rather than distancing myself. However, by the top I had quite a large gap on Dylan and could not see Brian or Keck. With 10 miles to the finish I saw my chance to reach the single track first. I rode hard on the flat road and was only a mile or two away from the single track entrance when I spotted a rider in aerodynamic position charging at me.

I could not be Dylan (as the rider was not riding a white helmet) and he was way too fast for a 100k racer. In no time, the rider reached back to me, it was Keck. Shortly after he entered the single track in front of me. It let me wonder what I could do, but then the single track widens up with two good possible lines. That was the opportunity I was looking for. I passed Keck and gave every thing I had. I know that I am not the fastest single track rider but I also know that after six and half hours of high intensity effort I can hold my own.

Keck Baker carves a corner in the early single track
Keck Baker carves a corner in the early single track

All the 100k racers did a great job leaving me good opportunity to go around them. I was getting a little anxious to get a flat when I heard several times the tires making loud noises on the stones. However, the equipment held on just fine and I kept my lead to the finish line. I could not be happier with my race as it took every bit of energy I had to separate myself from the group and then attack in the single track.

Christian Tanguy celebrates his Mohican 100 win with a podium shower
Christian Tanguy celebrates his Mohican 100 win with a podium shower

See more RDC coverage of the Mohican 100 here.

Photos by Butch Phillips.

Full results here.

Thom Parsons video coverage here.

Listen to Mark Stover’s account on MountainBikeRadio’s The Last Aid Station Mohican edition.

Michaux Maximus

The Michaux Maximus Women's podium (from left) Lindsey Carpenter 3rd, Selene Yeager 1st and Jennifer Tillman 2nd
The Michaux Maximus Women’s podium (from left) Lindsey Carpenter 3rd, Selene Yeager 1st and Jennifer Tillman 2nd
Photo by Joe’s Bike Shop Racing Team

It was an unseasonably hot one at Michaux Maximus, the first stop on the Volvo Michaux Endurance Series. I hadn’t raced Michaux for a couple of years, but wanted to get a hard rocky race on my new S-Works Epic 29 World Cup that I’d just gotten built up the Friday before. So, I packed plenty of GU Brew with me as I loaded up the car 5 a.m. Sunday morning for what promised to be a great adventure.

And a great adventure it was. Perennial Michaux favorite and RDCRacing teammate Cheryl Sornson who had been crushing it down in Marathon National Championships in Georgia the day before was missing in action, and I hadn’t checked the start list ahead of time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured I would just line up behind some of the familiar faces who always toe the line at the front of the pack in Michaux and hope for the best.

We got the 10 second countdown and I gunned it behind Brandon Draugelis and Aaron Albright—two fast and steady wheels I’ve clung to (albeit for short stretches) at other events. We throttled behind the lead moto for just over a mile before hanging a right into the woods and starting our day in earnest. I decided to not look back for the first 5 to 10 miles and just race with eyes forward and see if I could establish a healthy gap.

It worked. I felt pretty strong all race and only put a foot down twice, which is unheard of at that place, so it was indeed a good day. I started to see spots about 24 miles in, when I ran dry on Brew and the aid station I’d been anticipating actually ended up being 3 miles further into the race. But a quick refill and dump of water over my head revived my spirits and I was able to pick it up again for the final home stretch. Ended up keeping my lead and getting the win for the day.

My Season Opener – Cohutta 100

Gordon Wadsworth, Christian Tanguy, and Brian Schworm are the first three racers across the line at the 2015 Cohutta 100
Gordon Wadsworth, Christian Tanguy, and Brian Schworm are the first three racers across the line at the 2015 Cohutta 100
To cut to the chase, this was a brutal race opener. For the last year and a half, the training has been very erratic and significantly less in volume and in intensity as I was able to do during my 2010 to 2013 seasons. The last time I raced was the 2014 Wilderness 101 and it was also the last time I rode my bike for more than 2 hours in one shot.

Of course, this year, I tried to squeeze as much training as possible but it is never more than one hour at a time. I make it count by replacing volume by intensity. This is a poor substitute but well, it will have to do…

The morning of the race, the rain was coming down pretty good and I actually had to re-park my car as a giant puddle was forming underneath my car. I was thinking that could be a really long day on the saddle with a real chance to get hurt in the process. I was in deep thought weighting the pro and cons of racing in those conditions. I came pretty close to drive home before the race even started but I got ready and it was not that bad. In any case, the course allows for an easy bailout about 1 hour after the start when the trail comes back to the start/finish area.

Despite the rain, the trail was not too muddy and more amazingly I could see fine as I did not get much projections from the tires landing on my glasses thanks to a little fender on my fork (lessons learned from the 2013 Cohutta race)

I started to enjoy myself on the trails and the rain stopped. Wow, could it be that I could get the opportunity for a good ride? I was in the lead group and feeling ok. I was bracing for the later hours in the race where each pedal stroke is accompanied by pain.

This edition of the Cohutta 100 has a very large amount of dirt road so much so that one of us in lead group joked that a cyclocross bike would be more appropriate. I must admit it went thru my head as well. I thought that the 2013 edition was much better as there was more variety.

By mile 50, Single Speeder Gordon Wadsworth asked me if I was fine; my answer was quite short: “No, I am tired”. He was obviously feeling better than any of us as at some occasions he would sing… How can this guy do that and ride a single speed???

Not much happened until mile 70, when Keck Baker accelerated. I was really hurt and the legs did not wanted to spin any faster. I was so sure I would not see any of those guys; I wished them well with a nice “Goodbye”. I was already satisfied with my effort and I my entire focus was to reach the finish line rather than coming up with a plan to move up a spot in the classification.

I kept pedaling and I must say I was very surprised to reach back to some very tired riders. As usual for me during those 100 miles race, my heart was feeling fine but my legs were just quitting. In some sense, I did not feel very tired (no cramps, no blurred vision,…) just the extremely painful legs!

When I reached the last aid station, the cheerful volunteers shouted “Just 15 miles to the finish!”. They meant well but it crushed my spirit. All I wished was to stop and cool my legs in large bucket of ice water! Like everybody else, I had to endure. I kept telling myself that the final downhill to the finish was near but when I finally reached it I was not satisfied: The trail was slick with mud and I almost crashed twice.

Somehow, I finished 3rd place behind the 1st place open men (Brian Schworm) and the 1st single speed racer (Gordon Wadsworth). It is an incredible result especially when in one race I double up on my mileage for the year. I hope the legs will hold a little longer during the Mohican 100 next month.

Barry Roubaix 2015

barry icon

Barry-Roubaix, in it’s sixth year, is quickly becoming a spring gravel road race classic. It’s a 100km course, rolling hills, often windy, a few short, hard climbs. The weather is a toss-up: in the four years I’ve done it I’ve seen sheet ice to dry roads, 15 degrees to 60 degrees. This year, it was 20 degrees at the start, warmed up to 30. The roads were dry and the sky was blue, so it felt like ideal racing conditions for a spring event in Michigan.

Returning from a victory in 2014, winning by a two-second margin over MacKenzie Woodring of Foundry Cycling, my goal was clear: to defend my title against multiple-time Barry-Roubaix champion Woodring – and also 2015 Worlds Cyclocross Team Member Crystal Anthony – participating in this race for the first time.

At the beginning of the race, Crystal Anthony rode by with a friendly “hello”. I trust her wheel and know her strength well, having finished behind her twice at the Hilly Billy Roubaix– so I was happy to ride behind her. Riders in our 200+ field vied for position, and crowded me in as a car passed, and I lost her wheel. This lack of assertion cost me.

Shortly thereafter, the pace really got going. After the third roller, our field was strung out double, then single-file. A gap formed about 10 riders ahead, and I hung on to the wheel in front of me. The gap widened, and it was clear: I was on the wrong side of a crucial split.

Riders surge up a dirt hill. Photo credit - Barry Roubaix facebook page.
Riders surge up a dirt hill. Photo credit – Barry Roubaix facebook page.

I found myself in a pack with about 20 riders, including four women: Kae Takeshita, Verdigris-Village CX, Kathryn Cumming, Cyclocross Magazine, Vicki Munnings, WAS Labs Cycling, and Victoria Steen, Lady Gnar Shredders. Victoria was quite active in the front of the pack, with Kae lingering in the middle. Kathryn and I were riding toward the back, and although we didn’t know each other, we quickly became race “co-conspirators” – discussing the pace and the other women in our pack, and who might be ahead of us. We estimated at least two riders – Crystal and McKenzie – were up the road.

The pack hummed along at a good clip when we turned into Sager Road, about 20 miles into the race. Sager is a rutted four-wheeler road with a few small rocks and some sand in sections. There was also a sink hole with ice on it. I passed Kae early on, after encouraging her to push through up a riser. That was the last I saw of her in the race. There were three crashes on the uneven road, which I did not get caught in.  However, many riders hesitated to pedal through the lumps and bumps, simply coasting. I encouraged them to pedal, “Pedal”! What I should have done was find a way to ride through them. When I got to the end of Sager, the strongest members of the pack were about 10 bike lengths up the road. I put my head down and chased, which was a bad decision, because some stragglers had reassembled, were chasing hard, and I was so gassed out by the time they passed me that they rode me off their wheels.

Sager Road at Barry Roubaix, courtesy of their facebook page.
Sager Road at Barry Roubaix, courtesy of their facebook page.

I spent the next five miles chasing that group into the wind. The pack in my sights, I simply could not bridge – despite numerous full-out sprints (and recoveries).  In a lucky twist, the pack was slowed down behind a few cars at a left hand turn, and I was finally able to latch back on. I was hoping to be the only woman to make it this far with the group, but I found Victoria and Kathryn mixed into the pack after I caught on.

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful. Victoria got dropped at an uphill feed zone. A mystery woman who was further up the road from our pack (and who would have finished 3rd or 4th) got a flat – Kathryn and I passed her as she repaired it. Kathryn fell off our group about 10 miles from the finish, and I rode over the finish line with the pack, finishing fourth behind MacKenzie, Anthony, and Kelli Richter (PSIMET Racing) who was, unbeknownst to me, three minutes ahead.

The podium, and me in 4th. Photo credit to Crystal Anthony.
The podium, and me in 4th. Photo credit to Crystal Anthony.

Fourth – I was hoping for top three, but an (extended) podium finish is still gratifying. More importantly, this race has set that fire in me to be more assertive, even aggressive. A little hesitation at the beginning of the race can cost all. Sometimes I need a race like this to remind me how important that is. My next race is Amish Country Roubaix in Ohio – and I just might play the start a little differently.

One highlight of the event, unrelated to cycling, is that promoter Rick Plite asked me to come on stage after awards and sing a song with the band. How so? Over the course of the last year, I’ve been posting to youtube and facebook silly videos of myself singing. I’ve also done some more formal recordings with family friend Richard Franklin, who is a concert guitarist. My postings must have set the idea in Rick’s head to have me sing, and I was thrilled! In the midst of the training and racing, it’s easy to let other hobbies fall by the wayside. Here I was combining two things I love to do.

Singing on the stage at the after-party.
Singing on the stage at the after-party.

I chose “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, popularized by Mama Cass – because I’ve been singing that song since childhood and I knew that regardless what state I was in after a 60 mile race, I’d remember the words.  It wasn’t a perfect rendition, but I must give the band, Sweet Japonic, great credit for a superb accompaniment – considering we had not practiced once together. So in that regard, despite a race that didn’t quite go my way – the event did, pardon the pun, end on a good note.

Special thank you to promoter Rick Plite, all the volunteers and timers, the town of Hastings and surrounding areas for their warm welcome. Hearty congratulations to all finishers and especially those who made it on the podium. I can’t wait to see what weather holds for Barry 2016!

Monster Cross 2015

logoAfter being postponed from the original race date of February 22, due to ice and snow on the course, the re-scheduled Monster Cross gravel/dirt road race took place on March 8, 2015, at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, VA. After a winter of heavy snow and cold temperatures, we were greeting with a warm, sunny day of around 60 degrees. This 50-mile race consisted of two loops on rolling dirt roads – and I’ve been told it’s a fast course – however the road surfaces were water-logged, with a sticky kind of mud that slowed everyone down.

 The men’s and women’s elite group started as one, and we swooped together through the asphalt turns leading to the first trail. Once on the trail, the women riders fell off the elite men’s pace one by one. Teammate Selene Yeager held on to the lead group the longest. I trailed behind in second and Erin Silliman-Wittwer was close behind in 3rd.  I sat up a bit to ride with Erin. What I had in mind was to trade pace and ride with her, but it was my best to sit on her wheel. After a few miles, I fell off her tempo, so I resigned myself to riding a smart race within my limits, and focused on not falling back any further.

 Soon, the single speed men (who, with the rest of the competitors, had a staggered start), came whizzing past me. My heart sunk as I could not hold their pace for very long. Small groups passed me, I stuck with them for a while, got dropped, and finally settled in with a nice group of about seven riders on mountain and cyclocross bikes. (I was riding my Specialized Carve with a rigid fork.) We stayed together until the finish of the first loop, at which point the group dispersed, with some of the riders stopping at team tents.

The gently winding trails of Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield, VA.
The gently winding trails of Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield, VA.

 I headed into the second loop with a rider who looked smooth and set a nice pace – so I followed his lines and appreciated having someone to ride with. After a few miles, I told him he had a very smooth pedaling style and after chatting a bit, he admitted that he was a multiple time national cyclocross champion Fred Wittwer. He was also Erin’s father-in-law. I told him that Erin was in second place.

 And speaking of Erin – at about that point in our conversation, we both spotted Erin up the road! We inched our way closer to her and caught her around 15 miles from the finish, where she stopped briefly at a water station. Fred called out and asked how she was, and from her unenthusiastic reply, it sounded like I might have a chance of getting away and maintaining my lead. On the other hand, I feared that Fred would sit up and pace her to the finish line – as any good Father-in-law would do – so I quickened my pace and tried to get a nice gap.

 And then who should come along but Paul Mica. Paul is a road racer from Alexandria with DC Velo who carpooled to the race with Roger Masse; I had met Paul at the starting line. Mica had the misfortune of breaking a chain four miles into the race, so after repairing his chain (which is not a quick repair), he had decided to just “ride it in”. As Paul rode by, I did my best to match his pace, and in doing so, maintained my time gap on Erin. Paul’s cooperative attitude and riding really boosted my spirits.

 When I crossed the line, I figured I was in second place and was very happy with this result – for my first race of the year. To my dismay, I soon found out that my teammate Selene, who had been leading, had gone off course and did not finish. So – that put me in first place: I had won Monster Cross!

 After the race, I returned to my car, got changed into some street-clothes, and headed back to the finish line, where Lee’s Famous Chicken and Strips was catering the event and the Friends of Pocahontas State Park were serving Center of the Universe beer. First things first – I went to find my Monster Cross pint glass provided to all participants. I went up to the first cyclist I saw who had a beer glass, and asked him where he got the glass. He replied -those men over there by the boxes are handing out the glasses, but they are only for the athletes. I said, “I’m an athlete!” He told me that since I’m an athlete, maybe they’d sell me one….

 And that is the lucky story of my 2015 Monster Cross!

Congratulations to teammates Cole Oberman and Roger Masse on their successes this weekend! Special thank yous to race promoter Mark Junkerman who endured the whims of mother nature and prevailed to finally hold the race, and to the most-hospitable Ann Hardy and Chip Atkins for hosting our group of four Pittsburgh racers for the weekend.

Women's Elite Podium
Women’s Elite Podium
My Monster Cross medal.
My Monster Cross medal.

Single at Monster Cross

MonsterCrossStartMark Junkerman and the folks from run-ride-race supported by Groundforce IT do an incredible job with this early event. Held in Pocahontas State Park just south of Richmond, the 48 mile Monster loop is where the action is at. Not really a mountain bike race nor really a cross race, Monster Cross walks that fine line of UltraCross the long distance moderately techie, mostly-dirt-or-gravel fast paced brand of racing. The timing for this race makes it the first competition of the year for me and an opportunity to test out early season fitness. I signed up for the Single Speed mountain bike category, cause I love racing the Single Speed and most of the rest of the year I’m racing a geared mountain bike AND I have an awesome Specialized Carbon Stumpjumper Single Speed with a Chisel rigid fork that weighs 17 pounds that is perfect for UltraCross.

I raced the Single Speed Mountain Bike category at the 2014 Monster Cross and was very fortunate to win against the 2014 National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) Single Speed champion and arguably the best endurance single speeder in the country, Gordon Wadsworth. How, you might ask is that possible? Well, at last year’s event, only minutes into the race Gordon’s furious pace had force an elite selection that I did not make. But as luck would have it, he suffered a chain tensioning problem that forced him off the bike for a lengthy repair. Gordon chased valiantly after the repair catching the entire single speed field except for yours truly.

I’m certain Gordon is waiting for the right moment to exact his revenge and I thought the 2015 edition would be the place… but a conflict with the new rescheduled date kept him away.

My job was not going to be much easier as also entered in Single Speed mountain bike was Toasted Head Racing’s Mike Montalbano, who has won both the Mohican 100 and the Shenandoah Mountain 100 on single speed… but he too sat out this year’s Monster Cross with a conflict.

So with two of the best single speeders in the country not in attendance, the door was open. I drove down to Richmond from DC with my frequent winter training buddy, DC Velo rider Paul Mica. Paul is super-strong and has great mountain bike skills. With a solid ride, he could be on the podium in the pro-elite category in which he was entered.

I lined up right at the front of the huge 2nd wave for the start. Bang! Two minutes after the pros, we were off. As soon as the pace vehicle waved us on, a 10-20 rider front group quickly formed. Within 10 minutes it was down to about 8 riders that included single speeders Igor “Piki” Danko and Brian Patton. Both were riding very strong.

We soon caught and passed my Rare Disease Cycling and eventual pro women’s winner Stephanie Swan who was digging deep… but she was not in the lead at that point. I got gapped once on the first lap due to Brian’s strong effort up the long soft climb on the southern loop section but was able to close it back down on the descent. By now the group was 4 or 5.

Soon after we passed eventual 2nd place pro women’s finisher Erin Wittwer and finally we caught up with last year’s pro women’s winner and my RDC teammate Selene Yeager who was able to latch on our group and ride with us for half a lap or so. Selene later got off course and was forced to abandon. Bummer!

By the second lap, Piki finally started to appear tired and was dangling off the back. Finally! Brian smelled blood and upped the pace and Piki was dropped. This time I was sure to stay with him. By the time we got to the southern section again for the 2nd lap, it was just Brian and I (two single speeders) leading the non-pro wave. Wow! We got held up at the road crossing by police due to car traffic and a 3rd rider (eventual Mens CX winner) David Sellars was able to catch us. I got caught between David and Brian when we were allowed to proceed and David allowed a gap to open up… Brian astutely noticed and promptly drilled it. He was taking his shot. By the time I got around David, Brian had a solid lead. I chased but could not catch the now leader of the non-pro wave and ultimately had to settle for 2nd overall in the non-pro wave by 30 seconds, but because Brian was on a cross bike, I was able to capture the win in the Single Speed MTB category again!

Unfortunately for Paul, an early snapped chain and the subsequent lengthy repair took him out of contention. Next time my friend.

But the race of the day was the sprint finish between my RDC teammate Cole Oberman and legendary Pro Mountain Biker and Topeak/Ergon rider Jeremiah Bishop where Cole missed the win by the width of a MTB tire 😮 Well done sir!

I’m super pleased with my result and even more with my early season fitness.

Next up, the NUE opener True Grit in Utah next weekend!

Full results here.

Third Time’s the Charm

NikkiCXNatsI’ve had a goal for winning the Masters Race at Cyclocross nationals ever since I finished on the podium in 2010. After finishing third last year, I came into this season focused on winning this year. While the juggling act of 1.5 jobs, two kids, and training has proved difficult this season, thanks to coach Ben Ollett, I was able to get in some top quality training in preparation for the North Carolina Grand Prix and then again in preparation for Nationals. I knew after two solid results at the NCGP that I was in good form, and that if I could keep it together and stay healthy, I could make a run at the top step in Austin.

When I awoke on race morning, it was misting and a balmy 38 degrees. We headed to the course and I picked my lines on a course that was slightly damp but not super muddy. Full of nerves, I headed to the line focused on one thing – getting myself across the finish line before everyone else. NikkiCXNatsCloseup1024x1024My plan was to ride a conservative first lap and gauge what was happening and then attack at the barriers. To my surprise, we were informed they’d shortened the course and removed the barriers, just before we were staged. The whistle blew and I clearly had a lot of adrenaline, as I got the hole-shot and established a small gap. We hit the off camber section, and none of the lines I’d ridden during my pre ride worked, since the course was muddier. I found myself dismounting and running sections I’d had no trouble riding earlier. I panicked momentarily as we headed for the first set of steps. I still had a gap. I pounded up each set of steps as fast as I could. I love to run so I decided to use the steps as a place to attack. NikkiCXNatsFinish I came through the start finish with a gap of about 8 seconds and feeling strong. I rode the second lap with more composure than the first, attacking the straights, finding better lines on the off-camber areas, and sprinting up each set of steps. I came through the finish and saw three to go, still feeling good. I started to wonder if this dream I’ve had was going to become a reality. I headed into the third lap still feeling good, again riding the off camber sections even better than the last lap. As I went past the pit, they yelled that I had a 15 second gap – “No mistakes , keep it together, “ I thought. As I headed into the off-camber hill just before the last descent before the finish, my bike slid out, and I crashed. As fast as I could get up, my gap decreased, and as we headed into 2 to go, the gap was down to 8 seconds. I panicked, got angry, and dropped the hammer. I focused on riding smoothly, on crushing the steps, and staying focused. As we headed into the final lap, I could see I’d increased the gap to around 15 seconds again. I thought, “9 more minutes of suffering and this is yours.” As I headed past the pits for the second time, I could see my gap was bigger, and knew I just had to ride smooth and I’d have the win. I came through the last off-camber section elated, and smiling. All I had to do was make it down the hill, and onto the pavement. Evidentally when I crossed the finish line, I gave the best post-up of the day… I was elated to capture the win, and incredibly excited to have my wife and sons there to be a part of it. The smile on my face sums up the sheer joy I felt as I finished.

Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women's 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals - Photo © Cyclocross Magazine
Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women’s 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals – Photo © Cyclocross Magazine

As I look back on the race now… I still can’t stop smiling. I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Philly cycling community, and am so thankful for all of the texts, posts, and calls I’ve gotten… it’s left me blushing! While I’m looking forward to a little time off the bike and some quality time with my family, I’m already looking forward to next season and to setting some big goals for mountain bike season!
Thanks go out to Cyclocross Magazine, a publication worth subscribing to, for the finish line photo – Nikki will be in the next issue.

End of the Season Update / 2015 Announcements

It’s been a long while since I’ve made an update and there’s lots to catch up on/announce! 2014 was by far the best season of my career. I took my first professional win by sticking a  solo move on stage 5 of the Transylvania Epic, I stood on my first ProXCT podium at the Catamount Classic and finished inside the top-10 at USA Pro XC National Championships.

 Transylvania Epic
Tussey Ridge – TSE Stage 6
Before I get into the late season recap there are a few things that I’ve been itching to make public! Firstly, I am extremely excited to announce that I will be working Jeremiah Bishop and Mike Shultz as my coaches/trainers for the 2015 season and beyond. Over the course of the Transylvania Epic I had the opportunity to get to know Jeremiah and I was immediately impressed with his scientific approach to training and blue collar work ethic. 

Mike brings to the table not only a second mind but a fantastic focus on MTB specific strength training and athletic conditioning. I’ve set some ambitious goals for my cycling career and being fortunate enough to have the support and insight of Jeremiah and Mike gives me the confidence to go after those goals with a hammer!
2014 gave me a taste of success on the national level, and I am aiming to be a consistent domestic podium threat in 2015. In addition, I am equal parts excited, nervous, and proud to announce that I am going to make a run at both the USA National Team for the 2015 XC World Championships as well as the 2016 Olympic Long Team. 
In order to make it happen I’m going to have to prove a lot in a very short amount of time. I’ll give it everything I’ve got and whether I make it or not, 2015 is going to be a wild ride!

USAC MTB National Championships

Now, to quickly recap the fall! After the summer mountain bike season wrapped up I switched into CX gear. I spent a good chunk of the early fall playing in the mud and standing on the podium. I was lucky enough to win two rounds of the MAC series as well as the PA State CX Championships.

CX Season in 10 Seconds

I ended the 2014 race season with an epic road trip to the Iceman Cometh MTB race in Traverse City, Michigan. While poor positioning and being caught behind early crashes meant I just missed the lead group, I managed to finish out my season with a solid 12th place finish at the largest mountain bike race in North America. Iceman was a muddy and wild good way to close out the calendar, I’m hoping to make it a tradition in the years to come!

Mudman Cometh?
After Iceman I finally gave myself a well deserved break from training/racing. Beer drinking, show going, donut eating and late night hangouts ensued. Rejuvenated, refreshed and somewhat repulsed my off-season dietary choices, I’ve since resumed training (harder than ever). Things officially kicked off last week with an awesome training camp at Raw Talent Ranch in WV. A short recap on that to come soon!

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Winners never quit and quitters never win and you can't come home with a good story if you don't stay in the game

When the race leaves you dangling, keep on chasing.

(Photo by Beth Price Photography)

This past weekend, I packed my race bag one more time for a trip to Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan. Saturday was Founder’s Peak-to-Peak mountain bike race, the wrap of my mountain bike season. I’ve been excited about this race for months. For one, I’ve never been to Michigan and there’s no better way to see a place than by bike. It promised to give me an opportunity to race a type of terrain I don’t generally set wheels on: smooth, mostly flat and very fast. It also has a pretty generous purse: $1,000 for first place, $750 for second, $500 for third. I don’t race for money. But it does make it more exciting when there’s a healthy sum of cash on the line.

Of course all of this also left me a bit apprehensive. I knew nobody in the women’s field, though I’d heard of Mackenzie Woodring, a pilot for the US National Paralympic Cycling team and ‘cross racer, who’s won nearly every year. The pros were slated to do three laps on the 12-mile circuit that I’d heard described as a “drag race” through the trees. I wasn’t sure how much of a drag racer I was. But you don’t learn and grow if you don’t step into the unknown now and then. I just didn’t know how many unknowns I was in for…

It started with the bike. For a number of reasons, including cost, convenience, and logistics, I opted to set myself up with a bike through Einstein Cycles in Traverse City rather than pack and ship my own. I’d heard from a few sources, including the race promoter himself, that a full-suspension rig would be overkill, as many of the racers, including Mackenzie (who I was hoping to give a run for her money), go fully rigid. Well, in the six weeks between our initial communication and two days before start time, that bike was sold. You can’t blame a bike shop for selling a bike, of course. But now my options were, let’s say, limited. After a bit of handwringing by all parties involved, the owner set me up with one of his personal bikes, a sweet carbon Foundry with a 1 x10.

“Are you a good climber?” the mechanic on board asked as he recharged the Stan’s. “I am, why?” I said. “It’s got a 36 on the front,” he replied. I thought for a moment. Course mostly flat with one stoutish, but not long climb at the end? Better overgeared than undergeared. “No problem,” I replied, deciding it would be fine no matter what.

The next day I was scheduled for a “Ride with the Pros” at 4:00, where I’d take folks around for a lap of the course and chitchat about training and race prep and such. I was going to ride earlier, but the course wasn’t yet marked and by the time it was a cold rain had started to fall and it seemed foolish to go out and get wet twice in one afternoon.

So a bit before 4:00 I rolled over. A small group had gathered at registration, but decided they’d rather not get wet even once that day. That left just me and two hardy locals, a couple who were fairly new to the sport. She’d been riding less than a year after taking up mountain biking to quit smoking. I was happy to have company in the misery. We rolled out into the rain. The course was the most beginner friendly I’ve ever ridden—buttery smooth, twisty singletrack through brilliantly popping foliage. There was one little kicker somewhere in the middle and then a climb up and over the back of the ski mountain before you bombed down the front side and through the start/finish area. I spent most of the ride encouraging and coaching the woman who was angry with herself for smoking all those years, but was really making remarkable progress in a short amount of time.

My hope was to make this a shakedown ride to be sure everything was dialed in. But Michigan mud—at least this Michigan mud—is a unique blend of sand, silt, and other gritty earth substances that pretty much stop most moving parts from running smoothly. My gears seemed to be rubbing an awful lot, but barrel adjusting did nothing and I decided to leave well enough alone, till morning anyway.

I didn’t race until noon 30, so the next day at 10 a.m. after the first wave of racers were off, I headed over to the venue to have one of the mechanics tweak whatever needed tweaking. With some help of a few volunteers we lubed the chain and twisted the barrel adjuster until it ran a bit smoother and rubbed a bit less in the higher gears. After some last minute prep, I lined up and, realizing that I was in the wrong gear for the fast downhill start, lifted the back wheel to click and spin it into a harder gear. The timer started counting down. Thirty seconds. My plan was to stay with Mackenzie as long as possible or until I could maybe make a move.

The whistle blew and we were off…except I wasn’t really off. My chain started jumping madly on the cassette while the field sped off. It was sort of like a bad dream. But I was wide awake. I had tested the gears under pressure on the high end, but not the low end…and now the problem had shifted there. My heart sank as I muttered many bad words. I briefly considered pulling the plug, but then I remembered Iron Cross 2009 and Ironman 2008 and a few other races where I had mechanical problems early on, but still pulled out a good result. Problem-solve this. Find a gear, any gear and make it work.

So I did, sort of. But it was too late to catch Mackenzie who was now out of my sight. So I settled in with a small group that included two other women and hammered the working gear as hard as I could. After a few minutes I glanced back. No one in sight. But the troubles were not over. Going into a strand of trees I needed to shift if I wanted to stay in contact. Click. The chain skipped and dumped, I clipped a tree, and went down as they slipped away.

I got up, spun the chain into a working gear, and chased, chased, chased. I caught them again. I looked down and saw an empty space where my Garmin had been. The day just keeps getting better, I thought. Guess you’re racing 100% by feel today.

Staying in the game makes you stronger than throwing in the towel. (John Bullington Photography)

A few miles later we hit the only real technical stretch of the day, two mud bogs that, if you were careful, you could pick your way through, which is exactly what I did to get away while the others dismounted or got hung up in the mud. I charged hard to gain a gap and going into the final climb I had a small one. My legs burned a little up the steep pitches but I was glad for the big gearing because it forced me to climb faster than I might if I were to spin. Okay. You’ve got this. Just keep your head and crank, I thought as I sailed down the hill and into my second lap.

The chain started jumping again as I charged through the transition. I twisted the barrel, praying for a little relief. Then I looked up and saw that I’d hit a dead end at a putting green. Oh dear Lord you’ve gone off course. Somehow I’d missed a course marker and had taken the wrong path off the road. I turned around, realizing I must’ve now lost my second-place slot and saw riders on a path across the field where I should have been. I bushwhacked my way over and once again gave chase. I started passing people down a stuttery descent when—thunk. My chain came completely off the front ring and was dangling around the crank.

“Okay my race is over,” I say out loud to nobody, as I stopped, thinking the chain was broken. When I saw it wasn’t broken I honestly very briefly considered breaking it myself so I could stop the madness of this day. You’re so close to the start. Just call it, I thought. Then I imagined how disappointed Tad the race director, who was so excited I came, would be. I thought of Rebecca Rusch and that book I wrote with her, which talks about never, ever quitting. Reba wouldn’t quit. You’re not quitting. I put the chain back on and chased some more.

At that point, the bike mechanical gods must have decided that I’d passed my test because, though the shifting was still far from perfect, I could find at least five or six of the 10 gears where it ran pretty smoothly. The sun started to peek through the heavy clouds and I pedaled with everything I had. I passed two women and suspected that I was sitting in third. Be smooth. Be fast. I put a song in my head and wove through the trees, actually really enjoying the chase.

Unbelievably (or not), I made the same course error going into the final lap, but caught it and bushwhacked my way back before I’d gone too far astray. Pedal, pedal, pedal, hammer, hammer, hammer. The miles ticked off. And as I passed the marker for three to go, I saw a rider with a ponytail up the trail. Holy s***, you caught her. There was second place. I clicked into a harder, working gear and said, “Hey there…coming by on the left,” pushing with all I had, hoping she wouldn’t be able to jump on my wheel.

It worked. Going into the final climb of the day, I had a gap. You did it. I was thrilled. It wasn’t the race I expected and certainly not the race I wanted, but it was one that I’ll never forget, and probably one I’ll be able to draw from again…I just hope it’s not too soon.

Epilogue: The shifting snafu was the result of some problems with the limit screws. After some postrace TLC, the bike worked flawlessly and I was able to pilot it for the win at Crystal Cross the next morning. And a trail angel found my Garmin and is shipping it back. All’s well that ends well, as they say.

Iron Cross 2014

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.

The Pine Grove Stack Furnance at Pine Grove Furnace State Park produced iron from around 1764 to 1895. Photo courtesy of
The Pine Grove Stack Furnace at Pine Grove Furnace State Park produced iron from around 1764 to 1895. Photo courtesy of

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.

Riders make their way up a gravel road at Iron Cross. Photo courtesy of
Riders make their way up a gravel road at Iron Cross. Photo courtesy of

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.

Whether you push or shoulder your bike up Wigwam trail, either way it will sap you. Photo courtesy of
Whether you push or shoulder your bike up Wigwam trail, either way it will sap you. Photo courtesy of

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.

Selene on the top step, flanked by Ruth Sherman in 2nd, Katrina Dowidchuk in 3rd, me in 4th, Nicole Dorinzi 5th, and Sally LaCour McClain in 6th.
Selene on the top step, flanked by Ruth Sherman in 2nd, Katrina Dowidchuk in 3rd, me in 4th, Nicole Dorinzi 5th, and Sally LaCour McClain in 6th.

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.”

Kickin Off Cross in Style

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…

Happy Racing all!