Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NUE #1, the Cohutta 100

The 2012 NUE Series began this past week with the Cohutta 100 Race in Ducktown, TN. This race would be my 42nd NUE race since 2007, so I wasn’t real nervous about the start, but I was interested to know how my body would feel. I asked myself if I was ready to race hard for 100 miles. I thought I was ready, but knew the only way to answer this question was to take the tough test of doing the race.

This attempt at the Cohutta would be my sixth consecutive time doing the race. Little has change with the event over the past five years, other than it alternating between being a wet and dry race each year. This year, however, brought a few interesting changes to the course. The most important change was directing the route to be an out and back course with a lollipop head of single track at the far end instead of it being one big loop like previous years. Additionally, the beginning and ending single track was changed around some, too. These changes added an additional 2000 feet of climbing to the course for a total of 14000 feet of elevation gain.

The start of the craziness!
Initially, I thought the course changes would be a good thing for me because I do like to climb and because of the elimination of a long flat section on the old course that was very monotonous for single speeders. But, after doing the race, I don’t think the changes made that big of a difference because there was still a fair amount of fast flat stuff to drive me a little crazy. I will say that the additional 2000’ feet of climbing did make the course a lot slower and harder, especially for those of us using only one gear. My finishing time at Cohutta is usually around 7:15 or so. This year it was just over 8 hours.

So, anyway, I lined-up in the large group of riders at the starting line anxious about getting my test started. When the gun went off the pack raced up the couple miles of pavement leading to the beginning of the single track. It would be nice if the pavement continued climbing all the way to the trails, but the road levels off and actually becomes a pretty fast downhill before taking a hard right into the trails. As a single speed rider, it is impossible to get a good position going into the woods with the final section of road being so fast. Somehow, though, I managed to make it into the woods in the top 30 or so riders.
Sporting a #229 on my Salsa Selma Ti 29er.
The initial single track at Cohutta is pretty fast and fun. There is basically a paceline of racers riding single file through the trees, making attempts at passing a difficult task unless someone is willing to give up the trail. At this point, I was pretty sure Matt Ferrari was the only single speed racer ahead of me and he was only a couple of riders up. I remained patient as I picked my way through the pack because I knew it was a long race and I didn’t want to be too forceful about moving forward.

Eventually, the trail opened up to gravel roads and I was able to start riding more aggressively. Matt hung on to my pace very well during this time and we were lucky enough to be riding with a fast group of geared riders to help us out. As our group of riders came into checkpoint two, only Matt and one other rider stopped. My supplies were at checkpoint 3, so I continued riding with the fast group until it gradually fell apart because of all the climbing.

By about the halfway point, I would ride with a rider here and there, but spent a majority of the time alone. I was climbing well and had moved into 7-8th place overall before the course started flattening out and becoming too fast for my gear ratio. I enjoy “racing” against the geared racers when I have the single speed lead. It gives me motivation to keep pushing hard. But, unfortunately, when the course gets to be too fast, I come to the hard realization that there is no big chainring on my bike and I can’t compete with the speed of the geared racers. This does play with my mind a little bit until I can convince myself that I only need to be concerned with the other riders using just one gear.

The only good thing about being caught during a long race by a geared rider is the gathering of tactical intelligence. I like to ask the geared guys that catch me if they have seen any other single speeders and if so, how far back they are. I learned at about mile 70 that no other single speeders were close to me. This information helped me relax a little bit and brought my focus back to the single speed race. I decided at this point to ride a little more conservatively on the descents and to just go hard on the climbs. This strategy seems to work well for me and keeps me from taking any unnecessary risks.

By the end, I was happy to pass my first test of the NUE Series by taking the victory. It felt good to win another NUE race and to know my fitness was where I wanted it to be. And, with an awesome skateboard as the winning trophy, the fun of the day will be remembered for many years.

Happy Trails… Gerry


  1. For a few moments I was taken back to Shen last year with you me and Matt riding together. But alas, I brought the wrong bike. Oh well. You're a monster!!!!

  2. Thanks, Finn and Mike. It would be great to see you on a SS again, Mike. It's always fun racing against you.