Shenandoah

The Shenandoah Mountain 100, the final stop in the NUE series is the most important race of the season. Not only is it the last race in this 100-mile MTB race series, but it is also where series ties are broken. You are guaranteed to win the NUE series if you have four wins at the end of the year, one of which is Shenandoah.

Shortly after the Wilderness 101, Doug the Hulk Andrews, one of my NUE Masters rivals, already had 4 wins.  I was mathematically eliminated from a possible series win. It was looking like Doug would not even have to make the trip to the final race, baring one possible scenario…  With a win at the Fools Gold, the 2010 NUE Masters champion and my 29er Crew teammate Robert Herriman still threatened. If Robert won there, he would have 3 wins. Those combined with a tie breaking win at Shenandoah would make him the series winner again. I wanted the strongest riders in attendance at the final race so that I could punctuate a less-than-perfect season with a win. And if I couldn’t do that, maybe I could somehow help my teammate win the series.

It turns out Robert did win the Fools Gold Masters race and this did force Doug to travel 3000 miles to defend his series lead. Mission accomplished.

Bang! We roll out of the Stokeville Campground over the Iron Bridge and down the pavement on Rt 730 I see both Robert and then Doug near me. We’re near the front of the field that forms a huge peloton rolling at a surprisingly comfortable pace. Left on SR764 then left on Narrow Back a rolling gravel road that climbs up over our first climb towards Tillman and Aid Station 1. As we near the top, Doug is leading followed by Robert and I. Doug and Robert are both strong climbers. I’m reminded that there’s a reason why I’m sitting in 3rd place in the series. We’re all pretty close but I’m having to put out some effort to stay in contact.

2010 NUE Masters winner Robert Herriman at the rollout

Right at the top Doug has to get off to adjust his front derailleur. I would learn later that he couldn’t get his chain into the big ring. Robert and I go by and are soon into single track. As Robert struggles a bit riding on the first of my precious home-turf rocks, I realize the technical parts of this race are where I might have a slight advantage. I ride by and hit it hard to try and get a gap.  By the bottom of the tricky descent at Tillman road, they are both gone. So far, so good.

Past Aid station 1, I drop a bottle and grab a bottle. With the one in my pocket plus two full ones in my cages, I think I’ve got enough fluids to make it to Aid 3 at mile 45. I find myself in a group of other riders and we’re making good headway on the gravel of Tillman road. At the bottom, we go left onto the paved SR924. We’re in a paceline and as I’m taking my turn at the front, I hear Robert right behind me say You don’t need to pull so long. He was right behind me and he was right. Even though I wasn’t really drilling it, I should be conserving more. As we rode the last bit of pavement before the left onto Lynn trail. Doug and a couple of other fast guys catch our group. We’re all together again.

I take the lead at the base of Lynn knowing it’s a technical steep climb and there’s likely going to be some dabbing by the others. I think I can clean it, so I take my shot. Doug rides around me after a minute or two. He’s hitting it hard now. I stay right on his wheel for awhile but decide to ride my own pace once I’m in the red zone. I’m pretty cross-eyed by the top but only 30 feet or so behind Doug. Robert is back, how far I’m not sure.

At the top of Lynn, we go left on Wolf Ridge trail one of the best single track sections of the race. It’s rocky, slightly downhill and has decent flow. Within a minute or two, I’m back on Doug’s wheel. We’re 25 miles in and I’m riding with the leader so for the moment I’m content to stay there. Excellent! My luck, however,  was about to change.

Clunk. Was that my rear rim contacting rock? Clunk. Yes, crap… flat, rear tire. I immediately commit to a change rather than spending time with an analysis. Four, maybe five minutes goes by and probably 10-12 riders as well… including my friend and Bike Doctor rider Jed Prentice who must of had a bad start. Robert goes by as well.

When I finally get down to Tillman Rd I’m alone. I had only one tube when I flatted, relying on taking tubes I’d left in my drop bags at Aid 3 and Aid 5. I’m not even to mile 30 yet. Aid 3 isn’t until mile 45 and I’m not feeling that lucky. When I pass by Aid 1 on the way back, I stop and ask for a tube. A confused volunteer wanted my bad tube in exchange. As I try to explain that there is no tube to exchange, someone else who was volunteering ran to his bag and got me one from his personal stash. Thank you who ever you are. It turns out you would save my race. I owe you a tube.

I ride alone to Aid 2 and blow through the new horse-shoe alignment without stopping. Just before Hankey Mountain climb #1, Team CF rider and my frequent travel companion Churtle catches me. She’s the woman’s leader and working pretty hard. I bridge up to a strong rider and Cheryl stays with the larger group.  I ride strong up Hankey in pursuit of my tall teammate. On the rollers towards Dowell’s, I finally catch Robert in a rocky section. Always the gentlemen, he lets me by.

Churtle riding strong

I hit the Dowell’s descent pretty aggressively. I’m pretty familiar with this trail having ridden it in the spring on the SDS weekend. The descent down Dowell’s Draft is a relatively smooth flowey, high-speed roller-coaster ride punctuated with the occasional rock garden. It was in one of these rock gardens that I hear the dreaded psssst, pssst, pssst of a Stan’s spray emitting from a turning wheel. I had just gotten my wheel off when Robert comes by. Here we go again I say as he passes.

Using my gift tube from the unknown Aid 1 good samaritan and the rest of my Big Air to fill it, I manage to repair my second flat and finish out the rest of the Dowell’s descent without incident. The good news is I now have a bad tube that I might be able to use as currency in any future negotiations for a good one! The bad news is I’m very much in third place.

At mile 45, I pull into Aid 3 and start emptying my pockets like I’m next up in the airport security line. Three bottles, the now empty Big Air, and the bad tube hit the ground. I remember to retrieve the nozzle off the Big Air. The woman helping me at Aid 3 was awesome: putting bottles in my cages and the spare tube with CO2 cartridge in my back pocket. What was a pretty major pit stop really only took a minute or so to complete thanks to you… Thank you!

I start out alone into a headwind up Rt 250. Uggg. After several miles, I’m caught by a medium sized group that includes my 29er Crew teammate Dan Kotwicki. Dan gives me some encouraging words and proceeds to get on the front and up the pace of the train. Dan lets me by at the turnoff for Ramsey’s Draft and is on my wheel for the technical climb up Bald Ridge. This climb is steep, off-camber and technical, much like the climb up Lynn. I’m feeling pretty good here and get a gap on Dan and eventually catch Robert again who again let’s me by without me even having to ask. I joke that I’ll probably see him again soon. Too bad that will turn out to be true.

I fly down to Aid 4 trying to put as much time into Robert as I can in the single track. I stop at Aid 4 for 20 seconds, just long enough to fill one of my empty bottles. Between Aid 4 and to 5 miles beyond Aid 5 is a 20 mile section of mostly gravel road climbing. Known as the Soul Crusher climb, it’s where many a Shenandoah Mountain 100 can be decided. My heartrate is decidedly low. I’m starting to feel a bit broken.

It takes awhile, but Robert catches me within the first 5 miles with another guy. Happy to be riding with someone, I’m re-energized. Maybe we can work together and catch Doug? It’s a dream that doesn’t last long. After trading pulls a few times. I realize, I’m really falling apart. I don’t have the goods to keep this up. For a long while, I just try to stay on the back. I hang until it starts to get a bit steeper and eventually have to let them both go. I’m in a bad place feeling worthless. I’m no longer racing, trying to survive.

Just before Aid 5, 2009 SM100 single speed winner Mike Montalbano, who was also having a tough day, catches me and we exchange war stories. He’s currently in 2nd or 3rd place. When young phenom Dylan Johnson tries to sneak by, Mike politely excuses himself and gives chase. I’m powerless to respond.

The remaining miles to the top of Little Bald Knob went by agonizingly slowly. Dan finally catches me. He’s super encouraging when he rides by. Thank you my friend.  Sorry I couldn’t hang.

I’m actually woozy by the time the descending starts. It’s technical and I have to tell myself to slow down and be careful… I’m not riding too well. I’m so out-if-it, I don’t even notice that Mike Simonson is off to the side, bloodied following a bad crash, awaiting a helicopter ride off the mountain. Miraculously, everything would be Ok with Mike. There were no flats or mishaps for me to the bottom and Aid Station 6. Almost home.

Half way up the Hankey Mountain climb for the 2nd time, in a moment of de-ja-vous, Cheryl catches and passes me. She’s still the woman’s leader and still working hard. Wow! We exchange words of encouragement and inspired, I manage to dangle 50 feet off of her wheel all the way to the top… but she’s on a mission!

I catch Cheryl on the descent leading up to the campground just a mile or two from the finish. I tell her I didn’t see any woman anywhere near her by the top of Hankey. She finally relaxes, getting comfortable with the fact that she’s about to win the 2011 SM100! Awesome job Mutant Ninja Churtle!

Churtle wins the 2011 SM100!

I cross the line in 8:49, 12 minutes behind Robert and 42 minutes behind Doug. Doug was flying! I would have had to have the race of my life to match that pace. Between changing flats and having a pretty weak soul crusher climb, I feel pretty fortunate to finish in under 9 hours. My dreams of spoiling Doug’s party or even helping Robert gain the win he needed were to remain just that… dreams. Congratulations to both of my rivals on a fine result and a great season. The journey was awesome!

Your's truly crossing the line

Robert, unfortunately missed the awards ceremony, choosing instead to tend to his injured riding partner Mike Simonson who was in the ER.

2011 SM100 Masters Podium - Doug Andrews on the top box

In the open, Team CF rider Christian Tanguy managed to ride the king of the hundreds, Trek rider Jeff Schalk off his wheel on soul crusher padding a nice 16 minute lead by the finish. Crew teammate Sam Koerber finished 3rd. Nice.

2011 Open Men NUE Series Podium

Jeff, who has been a frequent travel companion to both Cheryl and I over the years, announced before the race that the 2011 SM100 will be his last. Jeff has had a stunning career, making a mark for himself as the King of the hundreds by winning the NUE series two years in a row and having 16 NUE wins in throughout his career. Jeff is a great friend and has been a role model for me. While we will miss him at the races, he’s already embarked on the next phase of life with a baby on the way and a reborn structural engineering career in Washington DC. I look forward to the day when he actually slows down enough so that I can actually ride comfortably with him! Hats off to you my friend.

2011 SM100 Single Speed Podium

In the single speed, the Pflug continued his complete domination of the field and was the only single speed rider to finish in under 8 hours. Big time! Young Dylan Johnson going for broke, managed to drop Mike Montalbano, who didn’t want to flat again, on the descent off of Little Bald Knob to take 2nd. Mike finished 3rd after a long day of mishaps. The ever present Matt Ferrari had an off day and limped across the line for 4th.

The celebrations and telling of war stories continued over numerous beers and the cookout dinner that followed. The Shenandoah 100 weekend is where the whole season comes to a climax and you can finally unwind and really enjoy the company of friends and rivals. Chris Scott and the folks at Shenandoah Mountain Touring have this event so dialed in now, I can’t imagine not doing it next year. They work so hard to make every moment of this racing weekend as good as it can be. The course, the food, the aid stations, the volunteers, the new shower truck… all excellent, amazing and appreciated. Thank you!

SM100 is my top pick from must do races. See you here next year!

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