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.
Race Co-Director Ray Adams making the last minute announcements.
Each day begins with an SI Card check in. Racers use these cards to record their enduro segment times.
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.
Dropper posts came out for the day four enduro stage. Today's stage had five timed segments and five transfer segments.
Knee pads and spandex, a dangerous combination.
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.
The Mens Duo team of Jon Firth and Drew Simson have not given up their leader's jersey from the very start and show no sign of letting go.
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.
Local boy Madison Matthews hammered the pedals into the final rocky section of Wildcat. He was the fastest rider by far of the day.
On the fourth segment, riders descend the famed Wildcat Gap Trail. What was once a “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.Open Men
Madison Matthews (The Bicycle Shop/MBR/Maxxis) dominated the stage with a winning time of 20:11, over twenty seconds faster on the enduro stage than second place finisher Derek Bissett (NoTubes/Trans-Sylvania Epic/BMC). 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.
Open Men's leader Brian Matter brought out his full suspension rig for today's stage. Matter held onto his overall lead going into the fifth stage.
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. Open Women
Sue Haywood (Stan’s NoTubes Elite Women’s Team) 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.
Open Womens leader Amanda Carey continued to ride strong to keep her overall top position.
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.Single Speed
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 path to a happy rider and bike. Freeze Thaw Bike Shop has been on site keeping every racer and their bike happy.
A perfect complement for today's burrito dinner, Sue Haywood's special blend.
Words by Tim Darwick
Photos by Devon Balet
Full results here