Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee brought soaking rains into a region that was already water-logged from hurricane Irene, however, not before the NUE Series finale wrapped up its fifth epic season in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia.
The Shenandoah 100, a highly anticipated one-hundred-mile showdown that would ultimately decide who would be the NUE Men’s Open and Masters Division Champions included shakeups in every division followed by unrivaled post-race race festivities that carried on well into the evening but, for one NUE Series Contender from Michigan, it would be a day that threatened to forever change his life.
Sornson pulls out all the stops, winning the biggest race of the NUE Series
While Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) celebrated her second straight NUE Series victory and the win at the Park City Point to Point on Saturday, another thirty six deep, talented women’s field made the journey to Virginia on Sunday for a final opportunity to improve their series standing.
2008 NUE Women’s Champion, Cheryl Sornson (Team CF), has never failed to take the podium at every race she finished this year, including wins at the Mohican 100 and the Fool’s Gold 100.
According to Sornson, “The race was awesome and epic as Shenandoah 100 always delivers. This year lots of the trails were improved and more enjoyable than ever to climb and bomb down. On the flip side, some areas were wet and freshly graded which made things a bit slow, especially the hanky climb.
Going into the race I was very positive and determined to enjoy my ride. I started out very conservative and planned to pick up the pace as I warmed up. Vicky, Karen and I were together until the road section leading to climb two. I believe they were on the train leading to the single track but a few riders back. I was relieved to go into the climb first and that is when I got a gap and never saw them again.
Not knowing what the gap was, I did need to keep the gas on for the whole race. Fortunately, I felt good and, although it was very hot, I managed to hydrate and fuel well without distress. The aid station volunteers at this race were beyond amazing. Every rider is treated like gold and the hand offs and assistance given is first class.”
According to race director, Chris Scott, “Vicki Barclay (Freeze Thaw/Stans NoTubes) was able to put her back pain aside for the first two mountains, challenging Sornson for the victory before yielding to sharp pain that would shoot from her backside without any rhyme or reason eventually causing her to pull out of the event.”
In the end, it was Sornson who would claim her third victory of the year, the only woman to finish in sub nine at 8:49:43, and in the process, second place overall in the NUE Series.
As Sornson rode away from the pack, another battle was brewing for the final podium position. Brenda Simril (Motor Mile) and Karen Potter (MTBRacenews.com), rivals last season as well, went down on the death climb. Simril led out of Braley Pond, aid station four, but was overtaken by Potter who held onto the second spot until the finish, 9:01:43.
In doing so, Potter not only completed her fourth qualifying race, but tied Simril in the points. In the NUE Series rules state that all ties are broken at the final race which gave Potter the exact margin she needed to take the podium and third place overall in the NUE Series. Simril finished just minutes later, 9:08:43, to take third in the race and fourth overall in the NUE Series.
With Vicki Barclay dropping out, Andrea Wilson, who finished eighth on the day, moved into fourth place overall in the NUE Standings. As an added bonus for being the only woman to complete the series on a singlespeed, Wilson received her own bottle of champagne, celebrating by shaking it up and spraying over any and all men who dared to stand nearby. She encouraged women to give singlespeed a try next season.
Tanguy fights for the win at Shenandoah, obtaining his first NUE Series Title
For three time defending NUE Series Champion, Jeff Schalk, this race would very well be his final ride as the marque “Trek Racing” professional endurance specialist before he begins his third career next week, the second time as an engineer.
No other racer has claimed three straight NUE Series wins yet, for Schalk, the consummate professional, one more win would elevate the bar even higher for those that would follow and it would allow him to go out on top as the undisputed reigning endurance champion, following what was has arguably been the most difficult title defense of his pro racing career.
For Christian Tanguy (Team CF), Shenandoah represented one final opportunity to obtain his first NUE Series victory since he will likely be absent for many years to come, and could be potentially “retired” from the NUE Series, with a move overseas to pursue his career as an engineer in China.
Schalk and Tanguy both entered the race tied with four points, each having at least four wins in this “best four of eleven” series. With all ties broken here, both racers realized that the entire series was on the line, each as highly motivated as the other to make this final one hundred mile journey the greatest of their racing career.
According to race Director Chris Scott, “Chris “Chas” Michaels (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac) led it out on his home course like a champ up Narrowback Mountain with his teammate Robert Marion (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac) in tow. “Chas” let Schalk, Tanguy, and Michael Simonson (RBS Trek MTB Team) pull through and lead into the singletrack at the tower while the sun rose over Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley below.
The lead group of more than ten hit Tillman Road at mach speed! Schalk and Tanguy displayed their determination as they pounded it, trading pulls at the front leading into Lynn Trail that was just freshened up last weekend by the Bridgewater College Cross Country team, while everyone just tried to hang on.
Schalk and Tanguy escaped on the super steep Lynn trail ascent and took a left at the top of the mountain on Wolf Ridge Trail. The trail had been eagerly awaiting this event since October 2010 when Trail Dynamics rerouted the bottom half of the trail onto a sustainable alignment, removing it from a super steep fall line route that is considered a legacy trail or an old logging road or fire line ridge top access road.
The reroute is the result of five years of collaboration between the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, The United States Forest Service with leadership planning assistance from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. The trail was completed as a small part of the SVBC North River Trail Restoration Grant funded by the Department of Transportation FHWA Recreational Trail Program.
Sam Koerber (Trek 29er Crew) was easily able to bridge up the Wolf Ridge Trail as it flowed down to Tillman Road. Kevin Carter (Gripped Films) caught on just as the leading trio was about to escape for good on Tillman Road.
Following down Wolf Ridge trail was “THE” chase group consisting of Brandon Drauglis (Team CF), Greg Kuhn and Mike Simonson (RBS Trek MTB Team), Chris Beck (Team CF), Jens Nielsen (Sport System), and Jonathan Schotttler (Michelob Ultra/ Big Shark) with Matthew Baily (Trek 29er Crew) and Chris Michaels following just thirty seconds back.
The lead group of four stayed together until the steeps on the death climb when the Schalk/Tanguy dual commenced. Schalk was feeling strong and increased the tempo disposing first of Kevin Clark with Koerber soon to fall off. Tanguy sat on patiently for Schalk’s acceleration and then responded with his own attack. Schalk was unable to respond and fell off what became the winning pace.”
According to Jeff Schalk (Trek), “It was a very appropriate final race to the NUE season, with the year-long fight between Christian and I being settled without much outside interference or mishap. Both he and I appeared to feel good and be in top form, and neither of us had a mechanical or a flat.
We also marked each other all day long, trading pulls at the front of the race. Only Sam Koerber and Kevin Carter were able to stay with us past mile 25, and they both let us go once we got to the base of the big climb around mile 70. I think both Christian and I knew that the race would be settled there. Althugh he is a better climber than me, I thought I had the race in the bag at that point because I noticed that he was completely out of water as we began to climb. It was a relatively humid/hot day, and I knew that the 2000′ + ascent would last at least 30 or 45 min. So when he began to attack at the base, I allowed him some leash just to keep my own effort under control. Once he’d gain 10 or 20 seconds on me, I’d bridge back up, and continue to bide my time as I waited for him to blow up in the heat. But after several rounds of rubber-banding behind him, I began to realize that I was the one beginning to blow up and he didn’t seem affected by his lack of water. He was gone for good near the top of the mountain, and I mentally went into retirement for the final 15 miles.
I ultimately feel that he was simply the better climber this season. I couldn’t match him for the final showdown since Shenandoah has too many big mountains. We ended the season with five wins apiece, and we both really pushed ourselves and suffered greatly to beat each other at each of the events. So it really turned out to be a close and interesting matchup. He is a phenomenal athlete and I have a ton of respect for what he accomplished this year.
I really had a much bigger range of emotional highs and lows this year than any of the past three seasons when I was able to win the series. I started the year a bit off and had trouble focusing on the task at hand since I knew that it was going to be my last season. I was also trying to focus on transitioning my life away from racing so when Christian was up three wins to one on me, early in the season, I really thought that I was out of it.
I was really hard on myself and feeling quite low about the situation. However, I was able to turn it around while having my back against the wall. I began to race well in July, taking the Breck 100, and was on a big emotional high for being the first person to dethrone Josh Tostado at that race. I then went on to win a hard fought battle against Christian at the Wilderness 101, and continued riding really well with a win at Pierre’s Hole.
In the end, I’m really just thankful to have found my niche in 100 mile racing and I’m very thankful for the organization of the NUE series; the NUE provided a platform off of which to base my career and Trek was super supportive of my efforts. I ended up winning 18 NUE races of the 32 that I entered in the last few years, and I’m really grateful to have been so fortunate to find such success in this category of racing.”
Taking the third spot on the podium was Sam Koerber (Trek 29er Crew) 7:18:06. Fourth place went to Kevin Carter (Gripped Racing) 7:23:12, fifth to Brandon Draugelis (Team CF) 7:37:38 and sixth to Greg Kuhn (RBS Trek MTB Team) 7:43:29.
In a major unfortunate turn of events, Michael Simonson (RBS Trek MTB Team) of Michigan, in a bid to displace Josh Tostado from the number three spot on the NUE Series podium, suffered a life threatening crash on the steep Chestnut Ridge Trail descent, near aid station six, about 84 miles into the race.
Simonson, who has little memory of exactly what happened, claimed he washed out at high speed, going over the bars before colliding with a tree. Sven Baumann, who was not far behind Simonson was on the scene first and immediately stopped to offer assistance. What he found was shocking as Simonson was covered in blood, mainly resulting from a large gash on his neck caused by a stick or something that lodged in the strap of his helmet, slicing into his neck. Doctors later discovered that the deep cut was just one centimeter from his severing his jugular vein. Simonson also suffered a cut to his forearm, nearly severing tendons that could have resulted in extensive surgery.
However, despite the remote location of the collision, Race Director, Chris Scott and Aid Station Captain, Christopher Hoy, were prepared with emergency procedures and an evacuation plan in place. Amateur Radio operators were also on hand to communicate with emergency personnel who airlifted Simonson to UVA Hospital in Charlottesville, about an hour from the crash site.
Fortunately, a team of specialists were able to stitch both wounds, however, the worst news for Simonson and his wife Michelle was yet to come. Michelle had volunteered to help out at aid station two which was also aid six. Upon hearing the news, and as her husband was being airlifted, she drove to Charlottesville only to learn that Michael had also suffered four fractured vertebrae in his neck.
It was a long two days and nights before doctors were able to assure her that the spinal injury would not require immediate surgery. Simonson’s fitness was noted by doctors as a benefit and his vitals remained strong. Doctors believed that the vertebrate, though cracked, would fuse and heal on their own over time although more x-rays and visits with doctors in Michigan will be required to ensure that they are healing properly.
NUE Series Director, Ryan O’Dell, “At the hospital, I visited Michael after he was moved from trauma to his own room. He was not allowed out of bed or even allowed to elevate more than twenty degrees to eat or drink. But, in a testament to his strength of will, rather than focusing on his injuries, Mike, the now leading contender for the 2012 NUE Series along with Josh Tostado (Bach Builders), was already looking forward, talking about his plans to get back on the trainer as soon as possible so he could begin recovery and preparations for the 2012 NUE race season!”
NUE defending champion, Robert Herriman (TREK 29ER CREW/WSC/ACFSTORES.COM) opted out of the NUE awards presentation to be at the side of his training partner. Later, upon hearing the good news that Mike was allowed out of bed and would soon be released to make the ten hour drive back to Michigan, Herriman commented, “Yeah, It’s pretty hard to stop the SiMONSTER!!”
The Pfluginator leaves no doubt, winning nine of ten races for the three-peat!
According to Race Director, Chris Scott, “Mike Montalbano (Dark Horse Cycles) pushed a big gear early on and distanced himself from the NUE Series leader and eventual winner Gerry Pflug (Salsa NoTubes/Pro Bikes).
Wonder Boy, Dylan Johnson (Oasis Bike Works), flatted early nearly crushing his dreams of challenging the big guns in his home state event. Johnson was able to stay relaxed and make little gains all day long advancing through the field into the death climb where he finally laid it down and reeled in all but NUE Series Champ Gerry Pflug, a super impressive ride for the young rider who showed signs of greatness this season at the Cohutta 100.
At Cohutta, Johnson was in early lead group, before crashing and dropping out for a trip to the ER to treat a concussion. Then, at Mohican, he missed a turn while in top 20 overall, then, at Wilderness, he made the lead break and fell off HARD. Johnson finished second 8:24:34.
Matt Ferrari (Freeze Thaw/Hubcap Cycles) went out on the offensive after being heckled by race promoter Chris Scott about lacking the fierceness to lay into the race early and ride away for a win. Ferrari ended up on the defensive after taking a nasty spill. Jason Pruitt (29er Crew/LAS/Hudson Bay Company) traveled from Lafayette, Indiana, hoping to move up in the NUE Series and displace Ferrari from their second place tie. Ferrari was able to keep pushing hard covered in gauze from wrist to triceps with blood seeping down his leg yet finishing a very strong fourth 8:43:24, just behind Montalbano who settled into third place 8:31:17.
According to race winner, Gerry Pflug who finished sub eight at 7:58:24, “By the time I lined-up on the starting line, I knew my bike and body was ready for the 100 miles ahead, even with the little sleep I had. I also knew it was going to be a fast start. They always are, but the SM100 has about two completely flat miles of pavement before the climbing starts.
Spinning along at 22+ mph on a single speed is never that much fun. But, fortunately, the first two miles were not too fast this year and I didn’t have to work very hard to stay up front. The pace began to pick-up on the first climb, but I was able to hang with the lead group until the top of the climb. The only other single speed racer with me at this point was fast Mike Montabano.
Mike and I rode together until towards the top of Wolf Ridge. He got away from me on the hike-a-bike section before the ridge top. I knew it was a long race, though, so I was okay with getting into my own more comfortable pace. During this time, I noticed that my saddle bag had somehow come undone. It was moving around and making noise. I briefly looked back at it and tried to tighten it up while continuing to ride, but as I did, I also unknowingly entered into a rock garden on the trail. I quickly fell off my bike and on to my right side, hitting my hip and knee pretty good. There was a sharp pain at each location, but no blood, so I quickly hopped on my bike and started riding again. After the crash, my riding didn’t seem as effortless and I was feeling discomfort on the lateral side of my knee. I also noticed that my saddle bag was still screwed-up and was making all kind of noise bouncing around on the back of my seat, since I failed to fix it after my crash.
It wasn’t long after my crash that another fast SS racer, Matt Ferrari, caught me on the descent off Wolf Ridge. I had a slight gap on Matt by the time we made it to the fire road after the descent, so I stopped to tighten my saddle bag. As I tightened the bag, I noticed that the zipper on my bag was also about halfway opened at this time and that only my spare inner tube remained in the pack.
Great, I thought…now I have no tools, no CO2 cartridges, a sore hip/knee to deal with for the remainder of the race and Mike was nowhere in sight on the long straight gravel road ahead. Suddenly, I felt like my shot at winning the race was slipping away. Matt then rode by, so I quickly got on my bike to continue riding with him. We were all alone on this mostly flat and fast section of the course. On sections of race courses like this, I hate being on a single speed bike. I feel helpless just spinning away and not really going anywhere fast. At times like these, I can’t stop thinking about how nice it would be to have the ability to shift into a big chain ring.
Matt and I talked about Mike choosing a bigger gear for the race than we had and we both knew he was putting valuable minutes on us during this time, but Matt didn’t seem too eager in wanting to chase down Mike as we rode together. I knew that if we had any hope in catching Mike, it was going to be my responsibility to do all the work, so I went to the front and started pulling. Fortunately, a couple of miles before checkpoint #2 Matt and I got caught by some geared racers and I was finally given some help with my chase.
After a very quick stop at the checkpoint, I was able to escape from the rest of the group with two geared riders. Angry Andy and fast master’s racer, Doug Andrews, were the two others that got away with me. It’s always nice to ride with guys willing to work like these two. The three of us worked well together and we quickly got a nice gap on the other riders leaving the checkpoint later than us.
After a few fast flat miles, one of the major climbs on the course started. By this time, my body and mind started recovering from my little crash and I decided it was time to race again. I started catching a bunch of riders on the climb. It seemed like every time I caught someone on the climb they would tell me that Mike was just ahead. I continued climbing hard and soon caught Mike somewhere before the top of the climb, probably around mile 40 or so.
I got away from Mike a lot easier than I expected on the climb, probably because he was using a gear bigger than mine, but I knew that more than half of the race was ahead of us and that anything could happen, yet. So, I stayed on the gas and continued riding as hard as I could with my one gear. I was climbing great it seemed, but my rigid fork was definitely taking a toll on me during the long technical descents. To make matters worse, I noticed on the long descent to checkpoint #3 that my front brake was losing power. I was suddenly able to pull my front lever all the way to the grip, which only gave me any real stopping power in the rear brake. I added this problem to my list of things that had gone wrong today, but knew that there was nothing I could do about it except learn to live without the use of a front brake for the next 3-4 hours.
Luckily, the rest of the day seemed to go pretty well and I didn’t have any other issues out on the course. I would look over my shoulder on the long climbs to see if any other single speed racers were chasing me, but I saw none. I ended-up racing with small groups of geared guys for the rest of the race and using my finish time goal as my motivation to keep my speed high. I wanted to beat the eight hour mark and to also set a new single speed course record.
My time was just a little short in 2010 with a 8:02 finishing time. The course seemed a little slower this year, however, because of the soil being a little more damp and because of the really hot and humid weather conditions. But even with the slower course, I was still somehow able to beat my time from last year by finishing with a time of 7:58. I’m not sure if it was due to having better fitness or using an easier gear than I did a year earlier. I’ll take the better time either way because it was a perfect way to end an almost perfect season.
Winning the Shenandoah MTN 100 gave me 9 NUE race wins for the season out of the 10 NUE races that I did. Winning this race was also a nice way to put a cherry on top of my third straight NUE Series SS title in as many years….a 3-Peat. It’s been an exciting and pfun year of racing for me and I am already looking forward to attempting a fourth straight NUE Series SS win next year.”
Readers can read more and follow the Pfluginator on his blog at http://pfunwithpflug.blogspot.com/2011/09/3-peat.html
“The Hulk” Doug Andrews smashes the cranks, snatching his first NUE Series title
According to race director, Chris Scott, “Roger Masse (Trek 29er Crew) and Mike Ramponi (Independent Fabrication) were being hyped as the riders with a chance of riding away with a Master victory on the very challenging Shenandoah Mountain 100 course that they are very familiar with.
However, Masse was not able to cover the pace laid down by NUE Series leader, Doug Andrews (GeoLadders.com) nor defending NUE Masters Champion, Rob Herriman (TREK 29ER CREW/WSC/ACFSTORES.COM).”
With four wins, Andrews, nicknamed the Hulk for smashing the field by hours, instead of minutes, knew that he needed to prevent the defending champion from getting his fourth win. For the defending champion, Herriman, only a “W” would allow him to defend his title but that meant he needed the ride of his life to get past Andrews, Ramponi and Masse among the top contenders in a strong singlespeed field.
Chris Scott continued, “Ramponi, sporting his mohawk that made him look like what his son called “an exotic bird”, gave it his all hoping to ride fast ALL DAY LONG. However, Ramponi fell short of his expectations and suffered in the heat finishing far back but with a smile on his face.
Masse, never having had a good ride on this course close to his home in Maryland, felt pretty happy with his third place finish pumping his first fiercely at the finish as he rolled in at 8:49:16. Last minute entrant Bob Koerber, father of pro racers Sam and Willow, put in a solid ride taking fourth 9:28:38 with past champion Bill Nagel (Guys Bicycle Racing Club) rounding out the podium in fifth at 9:41:19.
Robert Herriman, whose motto is “The best way to predict the future is to create it!” finished second at 8:36:54, “Shenandoah is right at the top of the list on the NUE calendar when it comes to that sketchy, rocky, east coast style single-track trail which is kinda like my kryptonite. But, on the plus side, the SM100 also has tons of Herriman friendly fire road climbs, so I was still hopeful to be competitive. The race started out great and I made it over the first big climb of the day with no issues.
Starting out on the second big climb of the day (mile 12) it was the top three masters in the NUE series (Doug Andrews, Roger Masse, and myself) riding wheel to wheel on the trail. I was the first to drop off as I struggled to keep the bike on the trail in the steep rocky single-track. I would catch back up to Roger with a flat tire at about mile twenty.
On the next road I saw a little black bear run across the road about a hundred feet in front of me. That was pretty cool. From there on Roger and me swapped spots several more times as he flatted again and would catch back up in the technical trail. The race seemed to pass by very quickly for me and was mostly uneventful from there until I happened across my good buddy Mike Simonson who’d had a wicked crash.
Mike was with medical aid crew and was waiting for a 4-wheeler to get him out of the woods. He gave me a message to relay to Michelle that he was just scraped and banged up. It was a scary moment for sure and put things into a different perspective.
I finished up the race and then discovered Mike had been air-lifted out. Yikes!! Michelle and I packed things up and drove the 60 miles to join Mike in the ER. I missed being able to chat with friends after the race but obviously there are some things that are more important.”
In the end, it was Andrews that put thirty minutes on the field to finish 8:06:48. According to Andrews, “Flew from California with a bike box and small bag of gear, food and clothes. Everything was good although tricky getting the bike box under 50lbs. I stopped at Shenandoah Bicycle Shop in Harrisburg to pick up Big Air canisters that I reserved with Kyle since compressed air is not allowed on flights. Kyle was super helpful and clued me in that there was no lodging close to the start and camping was the way to go.
I got lost on the way to the campground when my iPhone ran out of juice. So I watched for cars with bikes and made it the last 15 miles to the campground. Went to build my bike and realized my tubeless back tire had a slow leak. I fussed with it all day, no go so I decided to let it sit overnight.
I had no tent or sleeping bag for the campground, so I threw the padding from my bike box in the back of my rental SUV in hopes of getting a good night sleep, that worked well. I woke up refreshed…and a little greasy from chain lube on one of those bike pads. Got things together, but my tire was not holding air. 15 minutes before the start, I finally had to pop a tube in. I then realized my rotor was rubbing. I fussed with it for a long time but could not resolve the rubbing.
Time started really slipping away, 7 minutes to start, and frantically I decided to loosen the caliber as a last resort, bad idea, it became worse. Now I was in a panic with 5 minutes to start and still could not fix it. I started running with my bike towards the start line hoping to find a bike stand, then realized everyone was lined up already, oh crap, major panic.
I knew Robert Herriman was there, last year’s Masters Champion, and the only person I had to beat to win the series. Also Roger Masse would be battling me hard for the days win (although not the series). All three of us are closely matched. I lined up at the front of the line, to the right of Garth Prosser (Cannondale), but out of the way of the pack.
For me the entire series had boiled down to what happened in the next 60 seconds. There I was at the start line and my bike was un-ride-able. If I got caught behind the entire field it would be impossible to catch Robert and Roger. I had ridden hundreds of miles at NUE races this season, traveled thousands of miles between NUE races, conquered numerous issues and problems along the way, and there I stood with an unrideable bike and 60 seconds to the start of the final, tie-breaker race.
I pulled out my Lenz tool (not a Lenz plug, although sounds good) from my jersey pocket, pushed down on the handlebar, pulled the brake, and firmly tightened both bolts on the caliber. Only 30 seconds to start, picked up by my front wheel, gave it a spin. Aahhh, no rubbing! I almost couldn’t believe it, what a relief! Slipped my tool in my jersey, 5 seconds, and bang we were off, …still didn’t even have my gloves on. I managed to work those on amongst the mayhem of the first few turns out of the campground.
If there’s one thing the NUE series teaches you it’s ‘never give up!’
15 minutes in, I was around 15th, and could not shift to my big ring. Fussed with the barrel adjuster, but had to get off and retention the cable with my Lenz tool (still not a plug). Both Robert and Roger passed me. After I fixed my shifting issue, I caught some good pulls from a few riders and was able to catch them after about 45 minutes.
We rode together for maybe half hour then I got a bit of a gap on them. I didn’t see them again, although they weren’t far behind. I know Roger ultimately suffered two flats. I leap frogged up a few groups here and there and then caught up to Gerry Pflug on the flats and rode in a group with him for many miles. Gerry eventually dropped me one of the long climbs in the last 25 miles.
My smartest tactic of the day was ‘not’ drinking some of my drop bag pre-mix bottles and instead grabbing fresh ‘water’ bottles at three stations that I had not planned on. It was very hot and staying hydrated was critical.”