Text and photographs courtesy of the TSE Media Team
Racing started with a bang for some and a whimper for others in the first stage of the week-long NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike race presented by Dirt Rag Magazine in the wilds of western Pennsylvania.
Sunny skies and mild warm temperatures showcased the best of Pennsylvania in the spring and added to the fun-time feel of the “Singletrack Summer Camp” vibe surrounding the race. However, while the weather was mild, the racing was far from laid-back, since the BikeFlights and Grimpeur Bros presented by SMCC individual time trial first stage is one of the major determinants in placings for the rest of the week.
The 15-mile time trial had some new singletrack sections added, making the race truly East Coast technical-style riding, complete with an “East Coast Rocks” race section as well as the SRAM Enduro section. Flats and crashes were par for the course, and it was a rare rider who came across the finish line without any mud splatters, thanks to some massive downpours the day before.
In the men’s race, no one was surprised to see Sho-Air/Cannondale’s Jeremiah Bishop post the fastest time of the day with a 1:03:13 finish, a full 90 seconds ahead of second place, former teammate Benjamin Sonntag (Stan’s NoTubes). Fifteen seconds behind Sonntag was Bishop’s training partner, Nick Waite (ProTested Gear). Bishop predicted that the two will be his top competition for the week.
Bishop has won the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic (TSEpic) three of the three times that he’s raced, and the only thing that kept him from his true love of stage racing last year was chasing a top spot in the US Pro XCT Series for his team.
“But as a stage racer, this is my home,î Bishop said, grinning and clearly thrilled to be back. “This is my house. This is what I do best, and it feels good to be back in the driver’s seat at TSEpic 2014.î
The course was primarily technical singletrack, and Bishop worked his way through the entire field of solo women and many of the Masters men as well.
“I would call it a finesse course. It’s a really interesting course,” said Bishop. “Two years ago, it was definitely a power course. But now, there was some serpentine singletrack that kept riders on their toes. It’s really easy to crash and then it’s game over.”
“I had really thin tires on today, so it was a little tenuous at times on the rocks, and I was glad to come in clean.”
Not all of the racers were as lucky: Last year’s overall winner Justin Lindine (Redline) was unfortunately one of the many to end up with a flat after a rocky section, pushing him more than nine minutes behind the leaders.
While former Olympian Mary McConneloug‘s last minute entry into the race may have made some of the top women quite nervous, it was Cheryl Sornson (Rare Disease Cycling) who took the stage win, with McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes) coming in second place behind her.
Sornson has a minute lead on McConneloug, but McConneloug managed to outshine everyone in the technical sections, giving her both the SRAM Enduro and the Bear Creek Resort East Coast Rocks wins for the day. Behind the two was Sarah Kaufmann (NoTubes Elite Women’s Team).
“The course felt much better than it did yesterday when it was muddy and rained on,” Sornson said. “It felt like a stage, not a time trial! But today it went so quick, and I knew the climbs were in the beginning, so I just had to get through that.”
As far as keeping the leader’s jersey goes, Sornson has mixed feelings. “I came in thinking that it’s a really competitive women’s field,” she said. “So I was hoping to get on the top step one day and be in the jersey for one day. But now I’m thinking about keeping it. I’ll do my best but I’m realistic: it’s seven days, these are good women, and anything can happen.”
McConneloug, who is an experienced World Cup and stage racer, but is new to the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic said, “We’re trying out shifting to stage racing, though we’re still going to maintain some cross country but we’re stoked to be here.”
“I’m trying to focus on how I’m going to manage seven days! It’s going to be grueling. So I knew I would go out steady today, and when Cheryl caught me, I was like, well, she caught me!” McConneloug said. “I wasn’t worried. It’s a long week.”
U25 men and women
One of the bigger surprises of the day came in the form of Payson McElveen, who took not only the BMC Under 25 win and leader’s jersey, but also the Bear Creek East Coast Rocks segment for the solo men. The 21-year-old Richard’s Rainwater MTB Racing rider is having a breakout year, with a sixth place finish in the elite field at the US national series opener, the Mellow Johnny’s Classic. Today, he took three titles at the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic: solo men East Coast Rocks, BMC U25 general classification, and the Epic Team win.
“The team is a group that Colt McElwaine put together,” he said. “Some people are coached by him. It’s myself, Levi Kurlander, Cameron Dodge and Mike Sampson.”
As far as the Bear Creek East Coast Rocks segment, McElveen wasn’t expecting it, so it came as a pleasant surprise. “I wasn’t sure who was going to be swiping, so I figured I would the first day to see where I stacked up,” he said. “I think I might keep swiping!”
The overall BMC Under 25 leader’s jersey is currently in his possession but despite his early season and early race success, McElveen remained humble and said, “That’s a goal, but there are a lot of fast U25s here, Cole Oberman, Cameron Dodge… and I think I have a lead of only seconds, so it’s going to be tight all week.”
Racing within the solo men’s category, especially during the standard race stages where tactics among the men and the U25 racers will come into play, will be a challenge for all of the young riders, and McElveen is prepared for it.
“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “It leaves room for a story to play out. I’m happy to have it today but we’ll see what happens tomorrow, and I’m excited to fight for it.”
While the three-woman field may not sound like a large group comparatively, it’s already shaping up to be one of the biggest battles of the week. Ellen Noble (Bear Development Team), Kaysee Armstrong (Kona/TBB Race) and Emily Shields (BMC Project Dirt) are spaced 90 seconds apart, with Noble taking the win over Armstrong by 25 seconds and finishing seventh out of all of the women.
“I’ve never done anything like this, but I’m hoping to maintain the jersey,” Noble said of her win. “I was surprised by how technical it is, but I’m very, very happy with that. The more technical the better.”
As far as her potential overall in the solo women’s category this week, Noble just isn’t sure after an individual time trial stage. “I honestly couldn’t tell you,” she said. “I have no idea! I don’t really know who’s racing right now, but definitely, I’ll see how it plays out tomorrow and hopefully maintain this position tomorrow.”
In the SRAM Enduro classification for stage 1, local rider Aaron Snyder (TSEpic.com/NoTubes) finished first among the menís field to gain an early lead in the points-based competition. Tristan Uhl (787 Racing), who finished first in the BMC Under 25 field, followed in second place.
Mary McConneloug (Kenda/NoTubes) leads the women’s field in the SRAM Enduro competition after stage 1, with Cheryl Sornson finishing in second and Kaysee Armstrong in third.
The top three riders in the everyone else enduro category all come from the same Epic five-person team: Cody Phillips leads the competition, followed by Payson McElveen and Michael Sampson.
East Coast Rocks
In the Bear Creek East Coast Rocks competition, five-person Epic Team teammates Payson McElveen and Cody Phillips tied for first place in the men’s field, finishing the technical section in 7:24.
Among the women, Mary McConneloug beat overall stage winner Cheryl Sornson by a mere four seconds. Stage 2 will provide the racers one more segment to separate themselves in the East Coast Rocks competition, after which the riders will have to wait until stage 5 for another opportunity.
In the singlespeed category, 2013 overall winner Matt Ferrari (FreezeThaw/Hubcap Cycles) proved he was ready to defend his title with a dominating ride in the stage 1 time trial. Ferrari finished the course in 1:14:39, over four minutes ahead of second place finisher John Merriam (Crosshairs Cycling). However, the singlespeed podium remains far from decided, as Kurt Gensheimer (Ibis) trails Merriam in third place by only 29 seconds. With tight time gaps separating the top half of the field, the singlespeed podium may see numerous changes as the riders encounter longer and more technical stages throughout the week.
Nathan Ruch (Pure Energy Scott Elite Team) returns to the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic this year to defend his 2013 victory in the BikeFlights.com Masters 40+ overall competition. The defending champion encountered strong competition from David Thompson and Mike Hebe (Team Novo Nordisk), who finished first and second, respectively, in today’s time trial. Ruch trails first place finisher Thompson by just over two minutes. With the top five finishers in the Masters 40+ field separated by less than three minutes, current leader David Thompson will need strong finishes in the coming days to protect the leaderís jersey.
After finishing second overall in last year’s Masters 40+ field, Alex Hawkins opened the 2014 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic with a first place finish in the Masters 50+ field. Hawkins leads the Masters 50+ field by 38 seconds over second place finisher and State College local Jim Matthews (Toasted Head Racing). In the 2013 race, Matthews developed a significant lead in the first few stages, but later was out of contention for the GC after receiving a DNF on stage 5. Rick Landry (speedriver.com) finished third in today’s stage.
TS3 – Three-day Trans-Sylvania Epic
Barry Wicks (Kona Bikes) won stage 1 of the brand-new-for-2014 three-day Trans-Sylvania Epic, known as the TS3, by almost 10 minutes over second place finisher John Burns. With few elite riders competing in the three-day event, Wicks described the effort as a “pretty mellow day” that allowed him to focus on the enduro competition within the race.
In the women’s TS3, Mireille Montminy (Lambert) finished first with over a 13-minute lead on second place finisher Jessica Kutz, whose local trail knowledge may prove invaluable in the last two days of the race.
In the TS3 men’s enduro, competitors raced through the enduro segment twice. Barry Wicks (Kona Bikes) posted the fastest time on both attempts, thus securing first place. Jeff Lenosky and Stephan Kincaid are currently tied for second place.
The TS3 women’s enduro competition is currently led by Mireille Montminy (Lambert), with local rider Jessica Kutz sitting in second.
Daily video coverage
Keep track of top riders with SPOT tracking
The NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race, partnered with event tracking provider Trackleaders.com, device maker SPOT LLC and Stan’s NoTubes, is the first stage race in North America to be testing the use of tracking devices for top racers. Visit TSEpic.com to follow racers via SPOT tracking during each stage.
Preview: Stage 2
Topeak’s Coopers Gap presented by Backcountry Research, 41 miles
Always a favorite among singletrack lovers, the Topeak Cooper’s Gap stage gets slightly longer and even more singletrack. The 41-mile stage is marked by up to five separate SRAM Enduro segments of tight, technical Pennsylvania singletrack and one Bear Creek Resort East Coast Rocks singletrack section. In a reversal of previous years, the new route finishes with the climb up Stillhouse Hollow, a notorious ascent in the Wilderness 101 and ends with a tour of base campís singletrack. In total, the stage features 5,892 feet of climbing.