After Sunday’s stage 1 time trial that put returning champion Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing) just over one minute ahead of Barry Wicks (Kona Bikes, above) in overall GC, all eyes were on the two World Cup veterans to see who would emerge victorious in the treacherous 38-mile second stage of the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic p/b Dirt Rag, a stage considered by most to be the hardest and most challenging. Weather reports called for sun and 90-degree temps with maximum swamp humidity.
Luckily, overnight thunderstorms dropped temperatures considerably for most of the stage but in the process left much of the course wet and slick. So much so that a large number of riders crashed going across a snotty bridge in the early miles, including Bishop who suffered a bent derailleur hanger, and women’s fourth place overall Karen Potter (MTBR.com) who was forced to abandon with a hip injury. After a check up at the local doctor’s office revealed no broken bones she said she plans to ride later stages in the week “just for fun.”
Before this, within the first four miles Bishop threw his chain and then fussed with his derailleur barrel adjuster while the heads of state patiently waited, resulting in a more mild than usual starting pace. It didn’t take long though once Bishop rejoined the front for the field to attack the early rolling fireroad section with a group of 15 separating from the pack, setting an early tempo that created the initial selection. As the leaders scaled the slippery, wet rocks of No Name Trail. Bishop (who had had to chase back after his fall,) Wicks, and 24-year-old hopeful Aaron Snyder (Scott Bicycles) accelerated to a 30 second lead over the evenly spaced Drew Edsall (Kenda/Felt), Matthys Buekes (Cannondale South Africa) and Justin Lindine (Redline).
The top two women in the overall GC, Sue Haywood (NoTubes,) who held a three second lead over Team CF’s Cheryl Sornson, above, both occupied a spot in the top 15 overall as the climb ascended to aid station two.
The men traded punches up the climbs with Buekes showing his climbing ability by catching and then attacking the leading duo when the trail smoothed out. While Wicks and Bishop both trailed going into the next section of rocks they both asserted their rock and roll dominance by quickly passing Buekes and pulling out a 90 second advantage. The two leaders exchanged the top spot throughout the next 20 miles and remained wheel to wheel, nearly scrapping each other’s back tires in a frenzied drag race. After 38 miles of battle the leaders had stretched their lead to 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Behind the leaders, Buekes found the Pennsylvania rocks a different sort of challenge, “I could feel my brain using my energy,” he said. “I’m not used to having to concentrate on riding technical terrain for such long stretches,” mused the South African who is visiting North America to make a run at the upcoming World Cups. A bruised and bloodied Edsall, young gun Snyder and Cary Smith (Team CF) also eventually caught and passed Buekes when it got technical while Lindine, below, suffered double flats and has refocused on chasing stage wins.
With less than one mile left, Wicks attacked Bishop as the riders transitioned from pavement to trail for the final time.
“I didn’t attack until that final point. I accelerated and I knew he couldn’t catch me before the finish.” said Wicks after crossing the line as the victor of stage two. “I felt really good on the trails today and I was able to push the pace after getting a feel for the field.”
Wick’s 14-second advantage at the finish wasn’t enough to dismantle Bishop’s lock on overall GC going into stage three.
“I had a few small issues today, slippery rocks and some bike problems. I knew it was going to be a defensive day and I just can’t ride rocks like Barry can. He’s a legit rider and I’m just glad I got out of today unscathed, said Bishop. “Today was the hardest stage, but this competition is all about consistency and I’ll be ready to come out strong again tomorrow.
“Barry was riding smoother today. I took a neutral support stop to check my derailleur, I was fighting cramps, I just had to hold back and play it safe today.”
Edsall took the third spot after a hard fall while Snyder hung on to fourth.
For the women, at mile 28 Sornson attacked on a fireroad climb and Haywood couldn’t respond, ending up nearly five minutes in arrears by the finish.
“At the aid station I got in ahead of Sue and got out quick,” said Sornson. “Right before in the singletrack I tested her, got a little gap, grabbed my bottles and kept going.”
When Sornson hit the final fire road section she didn’t look back and emerged as the new women’s GC leader by the finish.
“I was tired after yesterday but I felt good today. I’m a little concerned about tomorrow since it’s a lot of rolling terrain and not very technical,” continued Sornson. “I’ll try to hold the NoTubes pace line if it forms.”
In the singlespeed category Dejay Birtch (Niner/Ergon, above) rode to another convincing win to widen his gap further over second place GC rider Rich Dillen (Team Dicky) who claimed, “It’s not exciting, he wins I follow, we’re all just riding around behind him.”
The Breck Epic/NoTubes men’s duo of Jake Wells and Dax Masey took the win today after finishing third on day one to take the leader’s jerseys and the NoTubes co-ed duo of Alan and Karen Rishel also posted a first place finish after placing third on day one to move into second overall behind Juan Garica and Trish Grajczyk of JCTRacing/Deadgoat. Chip Meek carried his Epic Team, Team CF, to a win after finishing second yesterday. Team CF now leads the Epic category after a DNF by Bicycling magazine, which held the overall GC position overnight.
Tuesday’s 47 mile stage 3 at Bald Eagle Coburn with 5,100 feet of climbing is largely considered “the road day” by returning riders due to minimal technical trails and lots of high speed sections. It’s a good day for fast climbers and team work to split the pack. In Bishop’s favor: Cannondale teammate Tim Johnson will be starting as part of a separate Epic Team after finishing the Killington road stage race yesterday.