Expectations that the final day of competition in the week-long 2012 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic presented by Dirt Rag would be uneventful proved to be fanciful dreams of those at the top of the leader boards. The Men’s Open category saw aggressive racing from the gun while several in the Women’s field saw opportunities to attack the pace eased between the two front runners.

Promoter Mike Kuhn offered, “This is the sort of racing everyone loves. Unpredictable. Exciting. Fast. We’ve purposefully created a week of seven different looking and riding stages. Of course the racers always dictate the outcome, but the mix allows different racers to shine on different days. Throw in the undulating terrain and technical nature of Pennsylvania’s singletrack with its challenging rocks, roots and logs and the outcome of a stage is never predictable. That was certainly the case today.”

As if shot from the barrel of a Pennsylvania Long Rifle, Matthys Buekes (unattached) exploded off the front of the field on the very first minor ascent of the day. Buekes spent the week crushing world class racers every time the grade ticked skyward and knew that a win on the final stage depended on opening a gap before technical PA singletrack allowed his adversaries to push their advantage on terrain unfamiliar to this South African.

Cannondale’s Jeremiah Bishop was no less motivated for a win after watching team mate and Trans-Sylvania Epic Team competitor Tim Johnson (Volkswagen/People for Bikes/Cannondale/NoTubes) scoop up two straight overall stage wins in the previous days. Bishop, one of North America’s best and an Olympic hopeful, watched for a response from the field before jumping to cover the South African’s move.

As the race penetrated the dark Pennyslvania forest the first singletrack, a bermed section carved into the earth, placed Bishop in his element and he quickly overtook Buekes while behind Johnson was the first of several key competitors to flat. Barry Wicks (Kona Bikes) was also in the hunt for the stage win after a mano-a-mano battle with Bishop’s over the early TSEpic stages. However, Wicks again found the PA singletrack his biggest nemesis as the first dirt road intersection saw him off the bike with inflator in hand. Wicks’ team mate Cory Wallace came upon the scene and quickly offered his wheel in an effort to put Wicks back into contention for the stage.

Several miles of ridge top singletrack that repeatedly dove into deep laurel thickets bursting in spring blossom gave Bishop who later said, “Today was the strongest I’ve felt all week.” the perfect playground to showcase his skill set. Within those few miles he pushed to a one minute and fifteen second advantage over Justin Lindine (Redline) who was just ahead of top ten GC racers Aaron Snyder (SCOTT), Chris Michaels (Felt), Drew Edsall (Kenda/Felt) and Cary Smith (Team CF) with Buekes reappearing at the tail end of this group.

As Bishop engaged his World Cup warp drive and drove a larger and large wedge between himself and the rest the stage looked to be a battle for second. A battle for second on the podium began to enter the picture as Buekes steadily chewed into the gap Wicks held at the beginning of the day in the overall rankings.

As the field descended Panther Road and Little Poe “Roads” – some of Pennsylvania DCNRs thousands of miles of drivable trail across the state – disaster struck. On the high speed descent of Little Poe, a minefield of embedded rock that offered launching pads for huge air, Bishop flatted and the class of the field soon overtook the stationary Cannondale racer. Johnson, coming back from his own flat, did what he could to help his team mate while Lindine took over the lead on the road.

Like the Africanized Bee, deadly when provoked and quick to attack, Buekes, appropriately attired all week in black and yellow, went for the kill. The South African raced by Snyder then Michaels and Smith and finally even Lindine in the two mile long ascent to the day’s only checkpoint on Pine Swamp Rd.

As the race climbed skyward across Tower Trail Beukes increased his lead and entered the final technical section of the day on Old Burn Tr a full 1:45 in front of Lindine and more than 3:30 ahead of Bishop, with Snyder and Smith still in the mix and making a bid for the day’s podium.

Buekes who won the stage with Lindine almost 2:30 behind while Bishop demonstrated why he is the GC leader and now three time champion of the Trans-Sylvania Epic racing into third place on the stage and cementing his overall victory. Snyder came across fourth and with stage winner Buekes began ticking off the minutes watching for Wicks to cross the line. After a brutal, mechanical filled day, Wicks came across the line in 2:03:57, almost 16 minutes behind Beukes, allowing the “Killer Bee” to step up to second overall for the week. Wicks just held on to the final podium position finishing two minutes ahead of State College’s Snyder after 7 days and over 225 miles of incredible Pennsylvania dirt and rocks.

The women’s GC leader and second overall intended to ease back on hostilities today though 2nd overall Sue Haywood (NoTubes) had spent the previous 24 hours keeping leader Cheryl Sornson guessing as to her true intentions. Jenny Smith (NoTubes) was in agreement as the GC was well entrenched.

However, racing is not dictated by the GC leaders and Alice Pennington (Kona) was after a stage win. Sarah Kaufman (NoTubes) reacted to the move and it eventually drew out Smith who had realized that allowing Pennington too much leash could prove a mistake should the Kona rider overtake the NoTubes racer in the GC battle. Smith defended her third place GC position by finishing third on the stage while Pennington scooped up her first win of the week and Kaufmann took her first podium step of the Trans-Sylvania Epic. Both the day and week finished with podiums resplendent in the pink, white and black of the NoTubes Elite Women’s Team as Haywood finished second overall and Smith in third on GC to go along with Kaufmann’s second and Smith’s third on the stage. Only the blue plaid of Team CF on the top of the GC podium in the form of an ecstatic Cheryl Sornson and Kona’s orange and blue attired Pennington atop the stage podium broke the pattern.
With most of the rest of the categories content to savor the majestic views from climbs of the undulating ridges and valleys of central PA, pose for pictures with festively attired volunteers including Dracula himself, and eke as much fun as possible out of the final stage many racers took to the course with the only goal being to keep the fun factor pegged. Competitors over the first six days, they became comrades on the final course and solidified new friendships during the ride.

Singlespeeders finished tied for first and shared the final stage podium while Niner Ergon’s Dejay Birtch won the week with Rich Dillen (Team Dicky) in second and Clay Chiles (Faster Mustache) third overall. The Men’s Duo team of Coloradans Jake Wells and Dax Masey from Breck Epic/NoTubes claimed victory on the stage and overall with Tim and Troy Zimmerman (First Place Racing) from Florida in second and Philly Ciclismo’s Mike Festa and Craig Lebair taking thrid on GC. Juan Garcia and Trish Grajczyk (JCTracing/Deadgoat) won Coed Overall and Stage honors. David Cook and Cissy Fowler of Pisgah Area Cycling were second on the stages with Java Blend Racing’s Kaarin Tae and Lawrence Plug third. The Kaarin/Lawrence team took second on GC while New Mexico’s own first family of endurance mountain biking Karen and Alan Rishel (NoTubes) finished third overall. In Masters 50+ State College’s Jim Matthews (MBR/The Bike Shop) finished first with Scott Thompon of Ontario in second and Team CF’s director Jim Wilson in third. These three riders finished in the same order in the overall competition.

The Men’s 40+ was an exciting race to watch all week as the lead changed hands from ITT stage winner NoTubes Kenny Wehn to Honey Stinger/Bontrager/Breck Epic’s Zeke Hersh and finally to Jon Davis (Trek Bike Store Boulder Racing) on stage five at RB Winter. Davis finished the week strongly and took a hard fought overall victory, “We were hitting each other every day. One of us would attack, then the other, then other. This was real good racing!” Davis won the final stage with Wehn second on the day and Hersh third. Wehn and Hersh swapped positions on the GC podium.

In an Epic Team category dominated since Tim Johnson’s arrival on Tuesday directly from the Killington Stage Race by the Cannondale athlete, Chip Meeks of Team CF took the stage as Johnson rode in support of the efforts of Team CF and their mission of “Cycling to Find a Cure.” Throughout the week Team CF Epic Team racer Kaitlynn Broadhurst was followed by a documentary film team as she shows the world how an athlete with CF can complete and compete in an event as challenging as the Trans-Sylvania Epic. Her story was an inspiration to all and Johnson rode as an honorary team member on the final stage. Johnson himself was followed by action sports filmmaker Don Hampton as he completed the Killington/Trans-Sylvania Epic double as part of his training for the upcoming Cyclocross World Cup season and next year’s Cylcocross World Championships in Louisville, KY.

Racers continued the festivities throughout the awards ceremony and well into the evening with a celebration worthy of culminating a week of adventure and incredible racing. The highlight of the evening was the 2nd Annual “3 Beer Derby” by CyclingDirt, the unofficial Stage 8 of the Trans-Sylvania Epic, video of which can be found on CyclingDirt.com along with interviews with many of the racers.

Worth noting, another Davis turned in a remarkable performance at the Trans-Sylvania Epic as 12 year old Tanner Davis, son of 40+ GC winner Jonathan, finishing out all 7 stages of the demanding week as part of an Epic Team. Not only did Tanner ride all the stages, but was often heard offering encouragement to riders overtaking him and whom he passed on the trail. More impressively perhaps is that while all the rest of the competitors spent afternoons napping and recovering Tanner found the best relaxation to be running around the scout camp that serves as home base for TSEpic like any 12 year old would, playing with other kids, paddling boats around the lake and splashing for hours in the pool. “[We’re] Super proud of Tanner for setting a goal and accomplishing that goal, but even more proud to hear about his character out on course.” said father Jon, “I only wish I had that sort of energy!”

More information from the 2012 Trans-Sylvania Epic can be found on TSEpic.com or by following along on Facebook where hundreds of pics and updates about the week have been posted over the last seven days. Look for information regarding exciting news about the 2013 event and registration for next year’s event coming soon to the site.