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Lumberjack 100 - NE
Udell, Michigan, USA, June 14, 2008
Schalk and Sornson on top in rain-soaked Michigan
By Harlan Price in Michigan
Not to be outdone by the first two rain soaked races in the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series, stop number three at the Lumberjack 100 saw 11 inches of rain and 80 mph winds the night before the race in the worst storm the area had seen in 30 years. The winds and rain forced a marathon clean-up of debris and trees from the trails, but by the time Saturday morning broke all that was left were a few welcome log hops and three muddy sections that grew as the 250 racers passed through them. Fortunately due to the nature of the mostly sandy course, the majority of the trail was well drained and the amount of standing water was limited to only those three short, but treacherous sections.
Undeterred by the conditions, Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW) maintained his control over the series lead with another close win by only a minute over Oregonian, Evan Plews (Scott/ Capitol Subaru). So far each of Schalk's three wins in the series have been by two minutes or less after 100 miles of racing. A group of eight racers made the early separation through most of the first 25 mile lap, but an attack from Harlan Price (IFRacing.org/ Industry Nine) on the first eight mile section of the second lap whittled the group down to five racers; Schalk, Plews, Chris Eatough (Trek/VW), Christian Tanguy (American Cycle and Fitness) and Price.
Price repeated the same attack on lap three and thinned the group down to himself, Schalk and Plews, but his early efforts took their toll towards the end of the lap and Plews and Schalk moved up the road without the Independent Fabrication rider.
Schalk led most of the fourth lap and found all of his attacks answered by a tenacious Plews, who was still contending despite a flat early in lap two. It wasn't until about five miles to go that Schalk was able to get a gap and hold it to the finish despite some cramping. Filling the last two positions in the top five were Eatough in fourth and Tanguy in fifth.
In the women's field Cheryl Sornson (Trek/VW) took home her first win of the NUE series with a full day riding in front of the rest of her competitors. Sornson was off the front from the beginning using her improved 2008 form to stay away on on course that favored a rider capable of staying on the gas and riding smart lines through the narrow and curvacious singlerack. Her win put her in the overall lead for the series. Seventeen minutes back from the Trek/VW rider was Karen Potter (MTB-Mind.com) from Massachusetts and rolling across the line in third was last year's winner and local Daniel Musto of the Kenda-Titus-Hayes team.
The singlespeed division saw a new face on the top of the podium. Ronald Sanborn (McLain Cycle and Fitness) found himself in the fortunate position of first by only a minute over second place John (Fuzzy) Myline (Sho-Air, rock and Road/ Niner) with a time of 7:57:19. Third position was occupied by Nate Versluis (Founders Ale / Alger Racing) and not far behind was the series singlespeed leader Dejay Birtch (Niner Bikes).
How it unfolded
The only consistent factors in the first three races of the NUE series have been Jeff Schalk's wins and bad weather. The women's field has seen a different winner each race, the men's second through fifth positions have shifted unpredictably amongst seven different riders, and course styles keep changing. The Lumberjack 100 is the only race of the series to utilize a repeated lap format and a 100% singletrack course.
As the course careened through the Manistee National forest riders got to see their cars, support crews and chairs eight times during the race. That proximity to comfort was probably a huge factor in the attrition rate of the race where only about 150 of the 245 starters finished. Some credit for the fallout rate has to be given to the unusually large and deep mud sections at about mile 17 and the extra tree shrapnel looking to claim derailleurs. The actual race day weather was on the perfect side with temperatures in the mid 70s [degrees Fahrenheit], but it was the historic rain and wind storm the area suffered through two nights before that set the course conditions up for less than perfect racing.
On the line was a smaller field than the first two races of the series, but the depth of competition only suffered minor set backs. The women's field still had the hard charging Cheryl Sornson (Trek/VW) and last year's race winner Danielle Musto (Kenda, Titus, Hayes). Stepping in to fill the empty positions were Karen Potter (MTB-MIND.com) and Master's rider Anne Grofvert (Bicilibre/ Founders). For the men, the absence of Sam Koerber and Josh Tostado gave a bit of relief, but the presence of Schalk, Chris Eatough (Trek/ VW), Evan Plews (Scott/ Capitol Subaru), Harlan Price (IFRacing.org) and Christian Tanguy (American Cycle and Fitness) left no sure bets available.
Race promoter Rick Plite took the riders two miles down the paved road before the trail entrance to give the racers a chance to spread out before hitting the opening singletrack and climb that would be seen four times through the day. For the men Michael Simonson (Trek/VW) led much of the first lap, and he used his local knowledge of the trails to put pressure on the other riders who were less familiar with the fast cornering required for the course. Tree slaloms, beach-sand corners and a bit of leaves on top of some slick dirt made a technically weak course, more challenging as speeds increased. About half way into lap number one a group of eight riders split off the front of the race. Simonson, Plews, Schalk, Price, Eatough, Tanguy, Gerry Pflug (Speed Goat) and John (Fuzzy) Myline (ShoAir/ RocknRoad/Niner) held a steady pace coming into the end of the first lap.
Lap number two saw eventual third place finisher Price accelerating through the first eight mile loop and putting the pressure on the the group to take the corners a little faster. "I knew Jeff and Evan were a little more timid in the corners, so I used my brakes as little as possible and since I could hear when they touched their brakes I would take an extra pedal stroke coming out of corners. It was a really fun course if you liked to lean it over and get loose."
Going into the outer 17 mile loop a group of four had come back together, with Schalk sitting in front of Eatough, Price and Tanguy. Plews had actually made a very quick recovery after changing a front flat early in lap two. "I started washing out and since it wasn't sealing up I had to make a quick change. I chased really hard, and made it back up to the group at the mud hole." The mud hole was really three different sections about 50 yards total, consisting of standing water in the forest as high as the hubs. It was a minor inconvenience compared to the flooded houses that lined the road on the way to the race course, but it wrecked havoc on drive trains, resulting in dry chains and poor shifting. Many racers choose to run the sections to avoid complications.
Since it was a lap race, riders could plan their race tactics based on an intimate knowledge of the course, and by the third lap Price had decided that the first eight mile loop was the place to attack again. His repeated acceleration dropped a cramping Eatough and Tanguy, but he was unable to shake Schalk and Plews.
When asked about how the course played to his strengths, Schalk recognized that this was not the ideal course for him. "I came in planning to just trying and keep in sight of the front of the race." He executed that plan flawlessly, always bridging back to Price on his attacks, and when the IFracer started to fade going in to lap four, he was able to take advantage of the opportunity to pull away with Plews close behind.
For 20 miles the Trek/VW rider tested Plews by attacking on the small rises but he was unable to get away from the tenacious Oregonian. "Jeff was standing up on every climb, but I was more fatigued and it was more comfortable for me to stay seated and close the gaps on the flats," said Plews.
"It was like the Monty Python sketch in the Holy Grail, where every time I thought I got away I'd turn around and he'd be there." Schalk said. Eventually with about five miles to go he was able to pull away and put a gap between Evans and himself. Still by the finish line Schalk only had 1:03 min on Plews. Afterwards Schalk was happy with his finish. "The fact that I've only won by a minute or two each time is sort of a miracle. Each time it's been a slightly different scenario, and required some different strategy." It seems his ability to adapt race strategy is proving to be as valuable as his physical strength. With three wins Schalk is poised to take the NUE series without a hitch.
Cheryl Sornson (Trek East Coast) made no hesitation on her way to snagging her first win of the NUE series by putting 15 minutes into her nearest competitor Karen Potter (MTB-MIND.com). On the start line Sornson stepped up to the front line ready to apply a new race strategy after a bonk at the Mohican 100 two weeks before had put a severe hurt on her standings in the series.
Despite the difficulty of eating and drinking on a trail that consisted of such tight singletrack she was able to stay on top of nutrition and the competition for the whole day. Sitting on the front all day in a mass start race provides its own difficulties. The paranoia of not knowing who was coming up from behind until they got to you, or who that is just in front can make for a nerve racking day. "I had no idea where anyone else was all day. I had to keep going as fast as I could. Fortunately I felt great all day," said Sornson in a phone interview on the long trip back to Pennsylvania after the race.
Her nearest competitor for the day was Shrewsberry, Connecticut resident Karen Potter. Also on her own all day, Potter suffered through the unknown and overcame the third and fourth laps when the course no longer seems to be fun, to hold onto a 100 miler best of second place. "There was a lot of singletrack, and I liked the twisty stuff a lot." When asked about her plan's for the NUE series she officially threw her hat into the ring, saying "I hope to be competitive. But there are some pretty strong women out there." A sixth place at the Mohican 100 and the second on the weekend definitely puts her in a strong position to challenge in the podium race.
Team Kenda-Titus-Hayes rider Danielle Musto showed signs of a recovery to form after a rough start to 2008, with a third place finish on her home course. She won the race last year, but her attention for this season has shifted more to the 24hr racing she has done so well with in the past. Her chances of a home course advantage has been narrowed by the number of women participating in the races these days. "Things are definitely more competitive these days. The first Lumberjack had like 10 women and now it's 30. It's awesome," said Musto.
Stepping up and showing a strong finish was masters female rider Anne Grofvert (Bicilibre/Founders) who placed fourth overall in the women's field.
The men's singlespeed category also saw a shuffle in the upper deck of the field. Dejay Birtch (Niner) lost his grip on the top spot he seemed to have a firm hold on with wins in the first two NUE races. Stepping up to push the Niner rider back to a fourth place finish was Ronald Sanborn (Mclain Cycle and Fitness), John (Fuzzy) Myline (ShoAir/ RocknRoad/ Niner), and Nate Versluis (Founders Ale/ Alger racing). Chip Meek (Spin/ Dieringer) rounded out the top five, nine minutes behind Birtch. Both Sanborn and Fuzzy managed to get top ten overall finishes in the men's field with one minute separating their for eighth and ninth overall positions.