Carey Lowery, the 2010 pro women’s winner describes Syllamo’s as “much rockier and technically challenging” than Cohutta.
She emphasizes the importance of the start. “The start is crucial: 0.9 mile double track at 10% gradient and then you are funneled into the Yellow Trail,” she explains. Once on the singletrack, passing becomes difficult and the trail becomes technical quickly so those who can reach the funnel in a good position will immediately have an advantage.
The Syllamo Trail is a series of intertwined loops, designated by color, each with different characteristics. The Syllamo 125 uses many of the classics in the route, starting with the Yellow Trail.
According to Lowery, the Yellow Trail is tight and smooth with a few punchy climbs that can quickly force riders off their bikes if the trail becomes wet or clogged with riders, further emphasizing the importance of the start of this race.
The route quickly proceeds to the Blue Trail, otherwise known as Scrappy Mountain Loop which is covered in rocks that Lowery warns can be extremely slippery when wet, which is always a possibility in the area in May.
The course continues to sample the different trails in the area, including the Orange Loop that Lowery says, “is like riding a rocky creek bed (that can have water flowing through it if raining) with a few rooty sections thrown in for good measure.”
From there, it’s back onto the Blue Trail and the Stairway to Heaven which will give even the most adept riders a chance to walk, or run, their bikes.
Afterward, it’s back onto the Red Trail for some smooth, rolling trail to give weary bodies a slight respite from the rocks.
Amanda Carey (Kenda-Felt) praises the diversity of the course after racing it last year. She says, “the riding is so diverse, mentally. There’s a lot to look forward to when your brain needs a change.”
The loops within the course create the variety of riding conditions that makes for a challenging 125 kilometers of racing. “The course is great because there are distinct loops that are different — one is super technical, with big, slippery rocks, one is super-buff and punchy and rolls fast and the others are somewhere in-between.”
Because of the technical nature of the course, the route favors a racer who is a skilled technical rider. Most of the climbing is short and steep, so those able to put out large amounts of power for shorter periods of time will excel on the course with few sustained climbs.
In addition to the challenging course, the weather can add a huge challenge and can play a large part in the race outcome. With a chance of rain every day in the month of May for the area, there’s no guarantee for a dry trail. What is guaranteed though is that if it rains, the trails quickly becomes muddy, adding additional obstacles to an already challenging course. The other end of the weather spectrum, which the weather seems to be trending towards for the 2012 edition of the race, is the hot and humid weather characteristic of the south in the summer. For those not acclimatized, the heat can be a major factor.