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Cohutta 100, NUE #1 - NE
Ocoee, Tennessee, USA, April 19, 2008
Sawicki and Schalk fight different battles for wins in NUE series season opener
By Harlan Price in Ocoee, Tennessee
A full night of rain paused just long enough for the 7:00 am start of the Cohutta 100, giving the 250 racers a chance to warm up before they were peppered during the first three hours of the race with occasional showers, fog and changing temperatures due to the mountain microclimates.
Fighting through slick singletrack and wet gravel roads the men's winner, Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW) had his hands full with an elite group of riders stacked unlike any of the 100 milers 'til this point in the series' three year history. The early group of seven included Chris Eatough (Trek/VW), Floyd Landis (Smith&Nephew-BHRhip.com), Oregonian Evan Plews (Scott USA/CSC), Harlan Price (Fitness Together/ IFracing.org), pro roadie Dan Vallencourt (Toshiba/Santo) and Chris Beck (Gary Fisher). Eventually Schalk held off Vallencourt for a two minute advantage after racing for six hours and 48 minutes.
The women's field came fully loaded with the talented Hawaiian Pua Sawicki (Team Mata) firing off for a dominant first, leaving the other podium spots open for a game of musical chairs. Taking second, Cheryl Sorenson (Trek/VW) had to go the rounds with Trish Stevenson (FitnessTogether/ IFracing.org) for 40 miles before Stevenson faded to fourth and then the 2007 NUE series winner Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) hovered two minutes behind Sorenson for the last 40 miles keeping her on the rivet. The sun's reappearance about five hours into the race ensured that everyone had a warm finish to the start of the 100 miler season.
How the men's race unfolded
Like the stories typed by Snoopy, the story of the Cohutta 100 started with "It was a dark and stormy night...", but it ended with bikes instead of birds and preschoolers. Fortunately the night's torrential downpour eased off, and with the morning came a momentary sense of peace as a grey dawn emerged from darkness. 250 riders from across the country made the cut of the 1,000 people looking for entry into the season opener of the National Ultra Endurance 100 Miler series at the Ocoee White Water Center in Ocoee, Tennessee. The atmosphere was one part reunion and one part nervous tension as new and old faces to the series met on the start line under the low hanging clouds.
Jeff Schalk of the Trek/VW East Coast Regional team, decided to throw his helmet into the series after taking nine minutes out of Jeremiah Bishop's Shenandoah Mountain 100 record time in 2007 last fall. From the West Coast, Oregon's Evan Plews of Scott USA/CSC made the journey, with hopes of continuing his marathon racing success. Returning to defend their hold on the top two places in the series were Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) and Harlan Price (Fitness Together/ IFracing.org), first and second overall in the 2007 NUE series. 2006 Tour of California and Georgia winner, Floyd Landis (Smith & Nephew-BHRhip.com), upped his interest in 100 mile racing by getting his sponsors to back the series while dedicating himself as a contender. Along with the commitment of familiar faces to the series were a few unknown individuals waiting their unexpected turn at the front.
Racers went off on time at 7:00 am, and were instantly introduced to a three-mile road climb that was handy for sorting people before diving into the first 20 miles of singletrack. Positioning was critical going into the woods since passing would be difficult on the narrow track and chances for getting caught behind pile-ups were increased by the overnight birth of wet roots, bridges and greasy corners. Team-mates Eatough and Schalk dove in first, followed by Landis, Vallencourt and Price. The bare trees awaiting spring's leaves gave riders a chance to look over their shoulders and see a train of riders two or three turns behind on the winding trail.
Trail conditions limited the leaders to a conservative pace which kept the train from breaking up for the first few miles, but as risers started to appear, the chain began splitting up. A rolling piece of dual track acted as a quick intermission before jumping back into four more miles of trail. Eatough controlled the pace for the first few sections of singletrack and Schalk took the lead in the second section, but after a couple of spills by Shalk, Vallencourt had his chance for fresh lines. Schalk shook off the minor slideouts and hardly lost a beat, before the meat of the race began.
The defining characteristic of the Cohutta is the 65 miles of gravel forest service roads that lay between the two sections of trail. By the time the front group popped out onto the start of the gravel, the lead group was well formed. Schalk, Landis, Vallencourt, Eatough, Price, Plews and Beck began to distance themselves from the rest of the racers. Recently maintained gravel roads and the rain ensured no rider would finish clean, and any rider who was not on the attack and sat in would have to take a face full of spray from whoever was in front of them. The first 35 miles was punctuated by small accelerations off the front from Vaillencourt, Plews and Shalk. Price, Eatough, Landis and Beck were content to stay steady and pull back up as the attackers slowed after their initial bursts.
Beck was the first of the group to go off the back after chain suck ripped his derailleur off. The forest road's constant roller style of terrain coupled with the attacks from the front group minimized the amount of drafting, and forced everyone into a heavy work load. Landis would prove to be the next casualty to the terrain, weather and pace. To the surprise of everyone, he dropped during the first big climb around mile 30. With Landis fading Schalk increased the tempo to solidify the gap. As the road continued upwards Vallencourt, Plews and Shalk continued to match each others accelerations until Eatough drifted off the main group a couple of miles before coming into aid station two. Price was still working to stay with the lead four, but a slow transition from aid station two put a gap between him and the top three. Plews also lost contact with Schalk and Vallencourt as they accelerated when the gap was exposed. Plews and Price couldn't bridge back up and were forced to watch their time splits slowly increase.
On their own for the rest of the day, Schalk and Vallencourt barely spoke. "From mile 35-60, I attacked like crazy, but Dan matched everything," said Schalk in a phone interview after the race. "It wasn't until aid station four, that I knew who he was, when he called out his name looking for his drop bag." Vaillencourt was certainly the dark horse of the race.
A member of the domestic pro road team Toshiba/Santo presented by Herbalife, he has been living in Athens, Georgia, where the team is based. "Schalk was definitely pulling on all the climbs. I thought I'd be able to make a move in the last few miles, but he rode away from me in the singletrack." At Aid station four, the two leaders took a neutral feed, and Schalk eased up on the pace 'til the last 15 miles.
"After he matched my early attacks I didn't think I was going to be able to drop him. He went first into the opening descent of the final 15 miles of trail. I passed him on the next section of trail that climbed, and when I sensed he was struggling, I tried to ride as if it was a short cross country race. I wanted to get out of sight hoping he would give up." said Schalk of his final attempts to lose Vaillencourt. His efforts worked, and after negotiating without error the Thunder Rock Express, the most dangerous section of trail in the race, Schalk came across the line at 6:48:12 with the Toshiba/Santo rider 2:24 back.
Evan Plews who had dangled alone for the better part of three hours, crossed the line 10 minutes back at 6:58:30. Pulling in for fourth was Christian Tanguy (American Cycling and Fitness), two minutes behind Plews (Scott/CSC) and two minutes ahead of Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) in fifth. After the race, Eatough was in good spirits despite his not so stellar day. "I didn't have great legs today, but the level of competition has increased, so I'm still happy with how I finished. The legs didn't cost me a win, maybe just a spot or two."
"My time was slower than last year, but the course was much more difficult." Eatough has a good excuse for feeling a bit tired, having just finished the Absa Cape Epic Stage race, and he is in the process of moving house. "I didn't have an optimal recovery from the Cape Epic, but that is life and the trick is to stay focused while taking care of the other stuff in life."
How the women's race unfolded
If you need proof of the growth in popularity in 100 mile mountain bike races, look no further than the 2007 Cohutta women's finishers list compared to the 2008 list. With a field size twice the size of the previous year, and world caliber racers like Pua Sawicki (Team Mata) showing up between World Cup Marathon races, you know there is a buzz in the air. Sawicki came looking for new challenges and found herself dominating a group of women who might have become comfortable with their top ten finishes. She left the battle to the rest of the women to be raged for the remainder of the podium spots. Cheryl Sorenson (Trek/VW) brought her new season goals to the Cohutta and found herself in the uncomfortable position of fighting for second for the first half of the race, then stressing to keep it for the last 40 miles.
Off the start line, Sawicki stuck to the front group of men looking for a good position going into the woods. With that secured she was able to settle into a pace behind men who might be stronger on the road approaching the start, but struggled with trail technical skills. In co-ed start races, that is often the story for the women who must struggle with riders who can't match them in bike handling skills, but were able to get into the trails first thanks to their greater power. Trish Stevenson (Fitness Together/IFracing.org) was the next woman into the singletrack, followed by Sorenson and Michelle Stoppard (VisitPA).
While Sawicki was up the road chasing a course record, Sorenson was looking at Stevenson from behind until after aid station two. Stevenson is coming off a hamstring injury and was happy to be on the bike after a long time off. She was expecting to fade about four hours in, and when she did, Sorenson took the second place spot on the road. Even though she spent most of the day alone, the Trek/VW rider wasn't able to relax. Once Stevenson dropped off, the 2007 series champion Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store), hovered about two minutes back for the remaining of the race. Lowery was able to get splits at the aid stations too Sorenson, but Sorenson was unable to enjoy the same luxury of knowing how much time separated her from Lowery. Stevenson managed to hang onto fourth staying just ahead of Rebecca Tomaszewski.
Most of the women spent the day riding alone, suffering the same weather the top men were, but their trail conditions in general had suffered from the men softening the course. Most of the women agreed that having the men around helped keep them motivated to keep their pace up. For Sorenson, "Having the guys in front of you pushes you to pick them off, and if they are behind you don't want to slow them down, or have them catch you."
Lowery was excited by the number of women showing up to compete, and Sawicki harbored similar feelings. "We went independent his year with sponsors, so we could try out different events, and find new women to race." said Sawicki in the post race interview. She plans to do four of the NUE series races in between her National 24 hour solo racing tittle contentions and World Cup Marathon efforts.
Sawicki gave the promoters a lot of credit for creating a great race. "It's cool to come back to grassroots racing, everyone is so nice. People go out of the way to help and volunteers are so excited." For her, it may be a welcome change of pace from the World Cup scene and NMBS short cross country racing.
Race Promoter Barbara Border was happy with the day's outcome. "The rain made things more dangerous, but it kept riders cool and the day ended great with sunny skies."
"We were really happy with the way things went this year, and it was exciting to have the elite level of racers show. The race is a great way to show off our region and promote our company New Leaf Adventures. Plus we gave proceeds to two organizations: Open Arms of Blue Ridge and American Association of Adaptive Sports."
As happy as she was with the race day Border was disappointed with the number of gel and energy bar wrappers left on the trail after the race and expressed concern that post-race litter could attract bears and jeopardize the good favor of the Forest Service (land managers), who award permits for event. "We asked everyone to not throw their wrappers on the ground. Fortunately we were able to clean up before any of the forest service people saw the litter."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for coverage of the next round of the NUE Series, the Mohican 100 in Ohio on May 31.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by New Leaf Adventures
Elite women 1 Monique "Pua" Sawi (Team MATA) 7.44.38 2 Cheryl Sornson (Trek East Coast) 57.14 3 Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) 59.02 4 Trish Stevenson (IF Racing) 1.14.31 5 Rebecca Tomaszew (Wake-N-Bake Racing) 1.20.51 6 Daniel Musto (Slingshot) 1.29.30 7 Michelle Stoppard (Visit PA.com) 1.37.45 8 Laureen Coffelt (RB's Cyclery) 2.26.22 9 Carol Lawhon (The Path Bike Shop) 2.32.56 10 Aimee Murphy (BVM Engineering/ Sore) 2.40.31 11 Kim Moore (Outspokin' Bikes) 2.50.36 12 Paula Figura (Dark Horse Racing) 2.51.02 13 Karen Moody (Sorella Cycling) 3.05.34 14 Reenie Greene (Igleheart Custom Fram) 3.48.11 15 Rachel Apking (CBC) 3.54.59 16 Susan Williams (Memphis Velo/ Smith a) 4.11.19 17 Patricia Simpson (Sorella Cycling/BVM En) 4.21.26 18 Anet Lamberson (Zanet) 4.27.04 19 Jenifer Smelsner (Bike Zoo) 5.06.56 20 Cricket Butler 5.06.59 Elite men 1 Jeff Shalk (Trek-VW) 6.48.12 2 Daniel Vallancourt (Toshiba/Santo) 2.24 3 Evan Plews (ScottUSA/CSC) 10.19 4 Christian Tanguy (American Cycle & Fitne) 14.23 5 Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) 16.04 6 Harlan Price (Independant Fabricatio) 32.04 7 Gerald Pflug (Speedgoat/SPK/Salsa) 35.18 8 Shawn Adams (Lake Effect) 35.30 9 Michael Simonson (Quiring/Bells) 39.00 10 Josh Tostado (tostado) 39.45 11 Ernesto Marenchin (Speedgoat) 45.19 12 Andrew Gorski (Speedgoat/SPK/Salsa) 49.53 13 Garth Prosser (Sobe/Cannondale) 50.34 14 Greg Gibson (MTB Race News.Com) 55.59 15 Charlie Storm (Inland Construction) 58.59 16 Andy Applegate (Inferno) 1.00.45 17 Shey Lindner (Sobe/Cannondale) 1.09.48 18 Steve Schwarz (Titus Cycles tiol T) 1.12.49 19 Greg Kuhn (Team Fraser) 1.13.54 20 Jason Murrell (Scotts Bicycle) 1.15.16 21 David Sprinkle (SCV) 1.18.47 22 Matt Thourot (Bicilibre) 1.21.29 23 Rich O'Neal (Mt. Nittany Wheelworks) 1.29.41 24 David Hall (Charleston Bicycle Com) 1.29.43 25 Chris Scott 1.29.52 26 Floyd Landis (Smith & Nephew) 1.29.56 27 Mike Schultz (Dirty Harrys/Highland T) 1.33.33 28 Kyle Lawrence (JV Squad) 1.34.42 29 Ross Clark 1.35.05 30 Peter Joski (Dedicated Athlete) 1.40.01 31 Tony Brown (Yerenoa.com) 1.41.04 32 Brian Blair (The Path Bike Shop) 1.41.19 33 Nathan Smith (Charleston Bicycle Com) 1.42.40 34 Wild Bill Lanzilotta (Wake-N-Bake Racing) 1.44.55 35 Jimmy Mcmillan (Giant) 1.46.10 36 Chuck Gibson (Felt) 1.48.08 37 Kip Biese (Old Town Bike Shop) 1.49.05 38 Andrew Howe (KnoxVelo) 2.02.58 39 Jesse Epstein (Team Marty's) 2.04.57 40 Brad Cobb (Motor Mile Racing) 2.05.36 41 Tab Tollett (Motor Mile Racing/ SCV) 2.06.31 42 Drew Scharns (Boone Velo) 2.14.05 43 Jon Rittling (Endorphin Fitness) 2.18.41 44 Wesley Jones (cmr) 2.21.36 45 Chris Goddard (Team Fraser) 2.21.50 46 Adam Jones (New Leaf Adventures) 2.24.32 47 Scott Hammontree (Cartecay Bike Shop) 2.24.39 48 Calvin Hill (Solo) 2.25.20 49 Alex Ransom (Dark Horse) 2.26.29 50 Hamsley Bingley 2.30.16 51 Jarret Kinder 2.31.18 52 Greg Casteel (KnoxVelo) 2.42.21 53 Tige Lamb (Cowtown Cycling Team) 2.45.00 54 Doug Milliken (The Bike Doctor) 2.46.05 55 Wade Newell 2.48.14 56 Richard Lengyel 2.49.14 57 Patrick Jones (Independent Fabricatio) 2.50.53 58 Chris Cyr (Bikeman.com) 2.51.14 59 Ken Waring 2.51.48 60 David Stowe 2.51.53 61 Dan Frayer (Autism Speaks.org) 2.53.29 62 Christian Baks (Pauling Cycle & Sports) 2.53.36 63 Taylor Sullivan (Organic Systems) 2.55.53 64 Ryan Heerschap (Team Bulldog/Campmo) 2.58.04 65 Shane Cusick (designforum) 2.58.39 66 Tim Barnack (Monte InSano) 3.00.28 67 Jonathon Laroy (Team Tomato) 3.01.33 68 James Hurst (Motor Mile Racing) 3.02.37 69 Chris Pesce (motor mile racing) 3.02.54 70 John Dove 3.05.02 71 Brian Bergeler (Bull City Empire) 3.05.10 72 Jay Cullen (Endorphin Fitness) 3.08.06 73 Roger Dunn (Bike Center) 3.14.38 74 Ryan Knopf 3.17.21 75 Ryan Allen (Team Jib) 3.17.28 76 Matt Hoffman (Rocky Mounts/ Izze) 3.17.42 77 Harry Mcintosh (Cycology/Dancing Bear) 3.18.48 78 Daniel Wren (Oxford Cycling) 3.20.14 79 Chris Young (Off the couch) 3.20.18 80 Kurt Rosenberger (JV Squad) 3.21.10 81 Joe Gore (Mt Nittany Wheelworks) 3.21.37 82 Matt Alexander (Cycology/Dancing Bear) 3.23.04 83 Michael Moriarty 3.23.27 84 Monte Hewett (Cartecay Bikes) 3.24.07 85 Tiago Reis 3.26.15 86 Brian Lennon (CAMBA) 3.27.18 87 Ryan Delaney (Potomac Velo Club) 3.35.25 88 Ed Garrison (Stanky Creek Cycling) 3.39.56 89 Joseph Grimes (Columbus Bike Racing) 3.44.35 90 Scott Rogers (Bikes Plus / Lab Rats) 3.44.39 91 Martin Schamis (Farmertan.com) 3.49.45 92 Nathan Mirus (Bio Wheels) 3.50.20 93 Lance Pope 3.52.57 94 Mark Duffus (Body Tec Fitness Club) 3.56.35 95 Abraham Blanco 3.57.13 96 Marcus Furlong 3.57.35 97 Martin Kozera (Kozeraczek) 3.58.15 98 Chad Wamack (Jablowme) 3.59.57 99 Kelly Von Canon (Motor Mile Racing) 4.04.15 100 Dariusz Maciag 4.07.17 101 Michael Ritter (Northeast TN Mountain) 4.10.40 102 Josh Krider 4.15.29 103 Paul Leeger (Team Muffin Top) 4.15.33 104 Nicholas White (Marty's) 4.27.33 105 Nathan Helms 4.33.21 106 Bob Rodgers (Solon Bicycle) 4.33.50 107 Pete Gurney (Team Terpening) 4.34.23 108 Chris Irving (RB's Racing) 4.43.06 109 Chris Locke (Cow Town Cycling Tea) 4.43.22 110 Kyle Wingler (sofa king fast) 4.45.44 111 Ryan O'Dell (Endura) 4.45.48 112 George Scott (Type1Rider) 4.47.16 113 Robert Wray 4.50.31 114 Robert Clifford (Team Rob Bert) 4.51.29 115 Rob Ern 4.51.38 116 Rob Coulter (slakDawg) 4.56.11 117 Charles Myrick Jr. (Pink Turtle Racing) 5.00.10 118 Jono Schalk (Harry Scary Evolutions) 5.01.20 119 Grant Castle (Cumberland Transit Cy) 5.01.23 120 Grant Hammons (NUE4X or Bust) 5.01.26 121 Doug Schmidt 5.01.30 122 Marcin Gembicki (marty's) 5.06.05 123 Cadet Bryant (Ellsworth Bicycles) 5.09.57 124 Kevin Flanders (Peace/Coffee/Racing) 5.17.56 125 Erik Ling (VO2Velo) 5.19.44 126 Jim Capen 5.23.45 127 Andy Johnson 5.23.59 128 Jim Stone (SKS Racing) 5.30.38 129 Peter Rajcani (Triangle Cyclopaths) 5.49.59 130 John Moody 5.55.47 Singlespeed 1 Dejay Birtch (Sho Air/Niner Ergon) 7.46.34 2 Tim Dougherty (Sobe/Cannondale) 0.56 3 Jason Morgan (NCCX / Hammer Nutriti) 8.12 4 Matthew Ferrari (Mt Nittany Wheelworks) 19.48 5 Russel Henderson (NCCX / Hammer Nutriti) 31.42 6 Chip Meek (Spin/Dieringer) 31.55 7 Fuzzy John Mylne (ShoAir/Niner) 35.14 8 William Alcorn (Speedgoat/Moots) 35.19 9 Dave Holmes (Gary Fisher 29er Crew) 35.34 10 Robert Kranz (Team Spin - RR Donne) 40.57 11 Ryan Fawley 42.48 12 Michael Tressler (Rad Racing) 55.22 13 Topher Valenti 57.02 14 Jason Chapman (Lifetime Bikes) 1.01.04 15 Jimmy Bean (Global) 1.12.58 16 Adam Henderson 1.19.36 17 Zachary Broussard (Chaos Engine) 1.21.15 18 David Kelnberger (Bike Doctor/ Bayside V) 1.26.25 19 Doug Jenne (Vicious Cycles) 1.28.11 20 Ben Thornton (Soulcraft Bikes) 1.33.15 21 Tomi Mcmillar (TomiCOG) 1.35.05 22 Brian Roca 1.50.34 23 Tom Green (JRA Cyles in Meffa Mas) 1.51.31 24 Mike Mazzarese (Avalon Cycles) 1.55.10 25 Mark Elsasser (Independent Fabricatio) 2.05.56 26 Bob Lamberson (TGWG) 2.08.03 27 Michael Neumeyer (Yazoo) 2.09.24 28 Scott Mcconnell (Cumberland Transit Cy) 2.09.56 29 Rich Dillen (Team Dicky) 2.13.04 30 Blake Walker (JV Squad) 2.14.26 31 Luis Calderon (Mucaro/twin six) 2.19.02 32 Ryan Mccullough (Honey Stinger six six on) 2.33.53 33 Stephen Janes (Ergotech Cycling Dym) 3.08.51 34 Mike Stanley (Wake-N-Bake Racing) 3.17.06 35 Tony Angevine 3.21.34 36 Michael Davidson (Darkhorse Cycles) 3.24.55 37 Chris Coulter (Cycle Therapy) 3.31.19 38 Eric Tiffany (Cowtown Cycling) 3.33.13 39 Joseph Queen (Wood -N- Wave) 4.14.57 40 Jason Stephens (sco/bikezoo) 4.16.22 41 Ron Bennett 4.38.24 Masters 50+ Men 1 Greg Turner (RBM/Velo VooDoo) 7.55.35 2 Scott Root (Dirty Harrys Bicycles) 38.51 3 Chris Wurster (Independent Fabricatio) 1.25.23 4 James Wilson (Human Zoom) 1.40.22 5 Jay Scott (Freeflight) 1.51.44 6 David Grauer (orthopro) 1.52.06 7 Steve Kinley (Sobe Cannondale) 1.58.04 8 Terry Gardner (Methosalem Racing) 2.11.13 9 David Coar (DRT Consulting) 2.16.01 10 Chris Baker (Bicycle Sport-Shannon) 2.16.48 11 John Majors (Griffin Interior) 2.34.52 12 Carl June (Human Zoom) 2.49.54 13 Matthew Davies (HVVC) 3.55.42