Racers found Wednesday’s stage 4 to be the most challenging yet.
Stage 4 of the Trans-Sylvania Epic is unlike any other stage in the week-long event and unlike any stage in any other endurance oriented stage race. Rather than racing in the typical cross-country format used on other stages, the SRAM/Bear Creek sponsored stage uses a full-on enduro format. The 22-mile course contained five separate enduro segments that required riders to push their technical skills on some of the best descents in Rothrock State Forest.
Riders passed between the enduro segments at their own pace, a luxury after three days of hard racing. Though many riders used the untimed segments to rest their legs and limit their efforts, the roads between the timed enduro segments were marked by long, sustained climbs through the forest’s gravel and dirt roads, thus making the stage far from easy.
The first enduro segment – Green Shoot Trail – gave riders an appropriate sampling of Rothrock’s diverse trail system. Green Shoot begins with a swoopy, flowing descent sure to please riders from all areas. As riders descend the trail from Bald Knob Ridge, they find themselves challenged by an increasing density of rocks until the bottom, where the trail turns upward for a short, punchy climb to the end of the segment.
After climbing away from Green Shoot to the top of Laurel Run Road, riders are treated with the second enduro segment, a combination of Little Shingletown Trail and Sand Spring. Little Shingletown’s gorgeous ribbon of trail cutting through an overgrown fireroad forces riders to charge forward in a full sprint to reach the entrance of Sand Spring, where short, steep chutes and rocks lead riders to a cold spring-fed creek crossing before clocking their time for the second segment.
Another long climb, and riders reach segment 3 on Croyle Run Trail. A favorite for many locals, Croyle Run lets riders build up tons of speed on a long, clean stretch of singletrack with few corners. But, the intermittent chunks of granite littering the trail force riders to be attentive in order to save their speed through the top section. Coming into the bottom portion of the segment, riders face more rocks and fast, sharp corners leading to the finish.
On the fourth segment, riders descend the famed Wildcat Gap Trail. What was once “wild cat” log run, where early foresters rode massive tree trunks down the side of the mountains, often risking their lives, is now a mountain bike descender’s dream. The primary features of this test are harsh, steep trails and a large, complex rock garden to test even the most competent technical riders. Wildcat’s steepness forces riders to be judicious with their braking in order to avoid skidding off the trail and landing on an unforgiving piece of Pennsylvania rock.
After one more climb, riders reach the fifth and final segment of the day, combining Old Laurel Run with Three Bridges. Though Three Bridges gets its name from its distinctive series of water crossings, Old Laurel Run gives little indication of its technical descent in its name. Old Laurel sends riders down a straight, rocky chute that will rattle riders regardless of their suspension choices. The unrelenting descent flattens out only in the last quarter of trail, where more pockets of large rocks interrupt a deceptively flowing trail. Turning into Three Bridges, riders face a short uphill rock garden before crossing the narrow, namesake bridges and a short uphill burst to clock their time and end the day’s competition.
Madison Matthews (The Bicycle Shop/MBR/Maxxis) dominated the stage with a winning time of 20:11, more than twenty seconds faster than second place finisher Derek Bissett (NoTubes/Trans-Sylvania Epic/BMC, above). Forgoing his standard cross country race bike, Bissett instead chose a bike more focused on descending, noting, “It was a lot better for those of us who brought big bikes to this race; bike bikes and big tires actually helped a lot today.” Proud of his performance, Bissett felt that he was “ripping” the enduro segments and that “it always feels good whenever you stomp a trail.” Drew Edsall (Kenda/Felt) took third place with a thirty-second deficit to Bissett.
Though Madison had the fastest overall time for the day, and took the stage win, the Enduro competition, which is based on points rather that time, for the day went to Derek Bissett, who scored him two more points than Matthews. In the overall Enduro competition, Drew Edsall retains the Enduro Leader’s jersey, but holds only a three-point margin over Bissett.
Sue Haywood (Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team, above) had a masterful performance today, taking first place in the Open Women’s stage result by over a minute to second place finisher Andrea Wilson (Brickhouse Racing). Though initially Haywood found it “hard to get in the rhythm” of the day’s enduro format, her strong technical skills made her one of the fastest riders of the day. Local Vicki Barclay (Stan NoTubes Elite Women’s Team) finished third in the day.
In the overall Enduro competition, Wilson edged out Haywood in points to take first place in the day. After today’s finish, Wilson and Haywood are tied for the overall enduro competition leader’s jersey.
In the Single Speed competition, race leader Matt Ferrari (FreezeThaw/Hubcap Cycles) adopted a more safe approach, holding back on some of the more aggressive descents to finish third in the stage. Dax Massey (Breck Epic/HoneyStinger/Light and Motion) pushed hard through the five enduro segments to finish first, over one and a half minutes ahead of second place Dejay Birtch (Ride for Reading/Stan’s NoTubes/Maxxis/Pivot).
The strong duo of Jon Firth and Drew Simson (TransRockies/HoneyStinger/Planet Foods) continued their control of the Duo Men field with another strong victory in Stage 4. The pair added another three and a half minutes to their lead over Philadelphia Ciclismo riders Mike Festa and Craig Lebair, who finished second in today’s stage. Christian Baks and Paul Wojciak (Pawling Cycle and Sport) mixed up the top three with their third place finish in the stage.
The Duo Coed competition retained their status quo after Stage 4, with Lawrence Plug and Kaarin Tae (Java Blend) once again taking first place over Libbey Sheldon and Chris Mariam (Crosshairs Cycling). Griggs Orthopedics riders Elizabeth Shaner and Sean Riley took third place, resulting in no changes to the overall GC standings.
With Alex Hawkins taking a strong win in Stage 4, he successfully unseated Nathan Ruch (Evolution) from the top position in GC and claimed the NoTube’s Leader’s Jersey. Jon Stang, with a second place finish in the stage, remains in third for the GC. The 40+ category is one of the tightest competitions in the event and is far from over as Ruch calls tomorrows stage, “one of my favorites.”
For the first time this week, Jim Matthews relinquished his hold on the top podium position after a second place finish in Stage 4. John Williams surpassed Matthews for the day, putting almost two minutes into the GC leader’s time. However, his finish was not enough to unseat Matthews from the overall GC lead, as Matthews still leads by over an hour over second place.
The U25 men’s race was dominated today by Madison Matthews, above, who not only won the U25 race, but the Open Men’s stage overall. For Matthews this was sweet vindication after mechanicals on stages two and three took him almost 11 minutes out of the lead. Gunnar Bergey (Cannondale/Champion Systems) still holds second overall in U25 GC as Cory Rimmer defended his lead sensibly and sits more than five minutes ahead of Bergey in the overall.
Sam Koerber rallying through the first enduro descent.
Brian Matter decending through the first enduro segment.
Andrea Wilson corners a loose segment of Stage 4.
Justin Lindine rallies on the trail of Stage 4 after an early mechanical.
Drew Edsall creatively carries the enduro tag at the end of the fourth segment.
Michael Wissell carries momentum past the onlookers at the bottom of Wildcat Gap Trail.
Theo Procopos crosses at Three Bridges on the last segment of the Enduro Stage.