Tussey Mountain Trail. The crown jewel of the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic presented by Dirt Rag. Stage 6 through Rothrock State Forest was intense. Thirty seven miles of beautiful trails surrounded in emerald green hues from the sea of ferns and the brilliant white of blossoming mountain laurel were the playground for the racers left in the TSEpic.

A four mile neutral rollout added mileage to the stage, but warmed up the legs and it was all guns blazing off the start as the final men’s podium is far from decided.

Tim Johnson (Volkswagen/People For Bikes/NoTubes) took off with the top six solo competetors trailing behind him. Johnson is racing in the Epic Team category, so his pace-pounding performance doesn’t have any bearing on the solo men’s award category, however he held nothing back and looks to be well on track in his preparations for the coming World Cup Cyclocross season after outright winning the stage.

Half way into the stage the top 7 were spread across a three minute gap as they left the highly technical John Wert Path. Johnson and Wicks (Kona Bikes) led the pack, followed closely by Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory Racing). Chris Michaels (Felt) on his best ride of the week joined the leaders before the ensuing steep pitch of Treaster Kettle Road. Justin Lindine (Redline) was at 30 seconds while Matthys Beukes (Unnattached) of South Africa and State College’s Aaron Snyder (Scott) emerged from John Wert another minute later. Beukes launched an incredible effort rocketing away from Snyder who remarked in disbelief at the ferocity of the attack, “That guy is a monster.”

Buekes picked up Lindine on his way to the front, and the two caught the lead quartet just over the crest of the climb. The six stuck together though the next section of single track including classic State College trails Longberger and 3 Bridges Trails, with Buekes continuing to apply pressure any time the course rose up. Buekes’ pace peeled Lindine from the group before Tussey ridge but the remaining six entered this crux trail as one. Johnson quickly took the initiative with a surge that saw him quickly pull 20 seconds ahead and he steadily increased his lead to 45s as he left the ridgetop trail. Bishop and Wicks dropped off the ridge-line together with Michaels continuing his tear in fourth. The stage finished with Johnson pulling almost 2 minutes from Bishop who took few risks as he is well in front in GC yet found an additional 1m45s to pad his GC lead over Wicks in the final miles of the stage. Bishop commented, “Today is the best I’ve felt all week. It is great to have a team mate to work with when he’s as strong as Tim.” While Wicks offered, “I’m starting to crack a bit toward the end of the week here, but it is all good.” Wicks, who has the BC Bike Race solo title in his sights continued, “This is perfect prep as a lot of the singletrack here is more challenging than that at BC.” Michaels finished third in open men’s (fourth overall on stage) for his first podium appearance of the week in a sprint finish with Beukes who again closed a significant gap after the descent from Tussey ridge.

The effort from Buekes may have solidified the final podium as he now holds a close to 5 min lead over Snyder in the battle for the final step while Snyder has close to five minute advantage over Drew Edsall (Felt Bicycles).

Cheryl Sornson (Team CF) and Sue Haywood (NoTubes) again showed themselves to be the class of the women’s field and a final sprint saw Sornson take the stage victory by a wheel. Sornson adopted the attitude of another famous cycling champion with a “no gifts” philosophy on the stage. Said Haywood, “We rode more like a duo team than against each other throughout much of the stage.” Sornson chimed in, “I got away yesterday early and that was the race. If I can’t get that gap early I’m not getting away so it didn’t make sense to go until I could get the stage win.” ”We’re not done though” countered Haywood, “We’re not done at all.” Jenny Smith bounced back to the podium after the raw trails of yesterday’s RB Winter stage exposed opportunity for Alice Pennington (Kona Bikes). Pennington continued what appears to be building form as she finished fourth on today’s stage. Sornson now holds a strong lead in the women’s GC battle.

Johnson has taken his Volkswagen/People For Bike/NoTubes Epic Team into the lead, but not without a slight bit of regret as his efforts have displaced Team CF, a team riding with the purpose of bringing awareness and educating people about Cystic Fibrosis and the ability to even do things as strenuous as complete a 7 day long mountain bike adventure. Said Team CF rider, Kaitlyn Broadhurst, who deals with the effects of CF herself, “You either use it or lose it and I’m riding to show that even something like this possible!” Johnson, much like all the rest of the TSEpic participants, has been affected by the message Team CF promotes and the incredible spirit of Kaitlyn and her team. ”This is for Team CF and all the wonderful things they are doing.” said Johnson when asked about his overall win.

Many of the other stage and GC competitions solidified today as Breck Epic/NoTubes’ Duo Jake Wells and Dax Masey took their stage as did Juan Garcia and Trish Grajczyk (JCTracing/Deadgoat) took theirs as well. State College’s Jim Matthews, commented on his nervousness before today’s ride, “I have to go well, all the locals will be out watching!” and he did with a stage win. Finally, Jonathan Davis (Trek Bike Store Boulder Racing) has the 40+ competition well in hand as the ailing Zeke Hersh (Honey Stinger/Bontrager/Breck Epic) rolled in behind Kenny Wehn (NoTubes).

With most races solidly in hand expectations are high that many of the racers will kick back in what has quickly become tradition at the Trans-Sylvania Epic, a “parade” final stage through Bald Eagle. Emulating the style and party atmosphere found in the final stage of three week long international road stage races, tomorrow’s romp through another 22 miles of incredible riding will almost certainly feature group riding, huge smiles and a “rest stop” or five to make sure all are well hydrated. Three time TSEpic participant and Philly Ciclismo Epic Team Racer Dave Pryor commented about tomorrow’s final stage, “We party just as hard as those big time pro roadies, but since we’re mountain bikers it takes a lot less time to get the party started!”

The only remaining question may be who wants the final stage win in the men’s open race the most? The South African? The State College local? The guy who was so close he could taste it? That “cyclocross” racer? One of those who’ve tasted success here before but been blanked in 2012? Or could the race leader himself want the final stage and to stamp his authority on his TSEpic victory? Find out tomorrow by following along on TSEpic.com of find us on Facebook for updates throughout the stage.