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Interview: National Ultra Endurance Director Ryan O'Dell

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 27, 2011 3:45 PM
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One of the longest running and most successful national mountain bike race series, the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series is entering it’s 5th season. The NUE series is directed by Ryan O’Dell who also manages the Mohican 100 in Loudonville Ohio.

Ryan took a few moments to talk with us about the success of the series and what makes the NUE such a unique and thriving feature of the American mountain biking landscape. While other national series continue to stagnate the NUE is flourishing, Ryan sheds some light on what keeps the NUE ticking along.

Read Ryan’s full interview below.

MTB Race News -Why did you decide to organize the Kenda NUE series?

Ryan O’Dell - In 2002, when the Mohican 100 began, each of the few 100 miles races were operating independently. As a racer and Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series director, www.ombc.net, I suggested that we tie these races together as a part of a new (hence NUE) national series.

A simple, straightforward plan was discussed with Chris Scott of Shenandoah Mountain Touring of Virginia; Rick Plite, director of the Lumberjack 100 in Michigan; and Cannondale factory racer, Garth Prosser. The result of those discussions became a best of four race series consisting of the most popular and well-managed 100 mile events in the US. 

Several sponsors, early on, recognized the potential of what we were doing and offered to help.

Kenda jumped in with both feet as our title sponsor from the very beginning. Hammer Nutrition offered to become naming sponsor, providing all NUE Series races with their all natural products. Pro Gold offered their endurance quality lube for our aid stations. Endura offered custom jerseys for all NUE Champions and Velocity, Yakima Racks, Ergon and others offered prizes to every racer able to go the distance by completing four races.

In contrast to USA Cycling, we also agreed that NUE Series sanctioning would not require racers to pay license fees. Every racer has equal opportunity to enter and win, professional and amateur alike, without purchasing a license from anyone.

MTB Race News -  This season you added three new races west of the Mississippi. Why the push to include more races out west?

Ryan O’Dell - It is important that western racers have equal opportunity to complete the four race minimum. With most NUE races selling out now, some in just hours or even a few minutes, this has become increasingly important.

The addition of western venues has better balanced the series geographically providing western racers an equal opportunity to compete with less travel costs.  More race dates also means more flexibility for racers with busy schedules to complete the four race minimum.     

MTB Race News -  What about these three races (Syllamo’s Revenge, Pierre’s Hole, and Park City Point 2 Point) made them a good fit for your series?

Ryan O’Dell - Each of these three new venues have great reputations and management, in addition to epic trails in scenically spectacular settings.

Syllamo’s Revenge, led by Race Director, Steve Parker, is a very popular 50 mile race set in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas along a trail designated epic by IMBA. This year, Steve added a 100k distance to allow a limited number of racers the opportunity to compete in the longer, NUE Series, format. The race sold out within minutes, however, for racers who were unable to get in, don’t despair, Syllamo’s Revenge is planning to make arrangements that will allow more racers to enter next season.

The Pierre’s Hole 100 takes place at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, near Driggs, Idaho. It received rave reviews from racers last season, including Kenda NUE Women’s Open Champion, Amanda Carey. The resort management has made a great effort to offer racers not only a great race, but a first rate experience. 

I met with the organizers this past winter and experienced Targhee’s amazing champagne powder snow, measured in feet, rather than inches. Everyone I met at the resort was friendly and helpful. The resort and nearby town of Driggs is made up of locals that have a cool, backcountry vibe that made me wish I never had to leave. Racers are in for a real treat! 

Park City, Utah hosted one of the first NUE Series races, The E100, years ago, not long after hosting the Winter Olympics. One of the most difficult courses in the series, the E100 boasted 18,627 vertical feet of climbing over 100 miles that subsequently took me fourteen hours+ to complete. Only about a third of the field finished the race then.

The organizers of the Park City Point to Point, P2P for short, resurrected the race two years ago, including only the best portions of what was an amazing racecourse, while making it a bit less "over the top” in terms of difficulty. Besides primo singletrack and amazing views of the Wasatch Mountain Range, the community of Park City is well suited to accommodate visitors and even has a local television station that broadcasts local events.      

MTB Race News -  Where would you like to see the NUE series in 5 years?

Ryan O’Dell - NUE Racers can look forward to more amazing venues in a variety of geographic regions, making the NUE Series even more doable for racers.  Series cash awards alone have increased by more than 400% since last year and media coverage continues to improve. Currently, NUE is looking for a media partner that would like to offer comprehensive video coverage of our increasingly popular events.        

MTB Race News -  Can anyone beat Jeff Schalk this year? Who?

Ryan O’Dell - Jeff Schalk, Trek Mountain Co-Op, has been "The Man” for three straight years now and remains the undisputed favorite for the Men’s Open division, winning five of the eight NUE Series races last season.

However, in what is, perhaps, a shadow of things to come this year, Michigan’s Christian Tanguy, Team CF, won the final NUE Championship race at the Shenandoah 100 last year, his first win, proving that he can compete with Schalk, after finishing second to him at the Lumberjack 100, Wilderness 101, and the Fools Gold 100.  At Cohutta this year, it was Tanguy who, once again, took top honors.   

Each NUE racecourse is unique and some of them play to the advantages of local racers, including Josh Tostado, Bach Builders/Santa Cruz, who resides high in the Rocky Mountains and continues to dominate the Breckenridge 100. Tostado has shown improvement each year at other races as well including third at the Mohican 100 in Ohio and the High Cascades 100 in Oregon last year.

Another racer to watch is Michael Simonson of Michigan, Trek 29er Crew/SRAM/Stans No Tubes. Simonson had several top three finishes last year and lead for most of the Cohutta 100 before flatting near the end of the race. He is likely to stay in the hunt at the front of the pack.

A dark horse due to his possible bid for the Olympics next year, Jeremiah Bishop, Cannondale, is always a threat and capable of winning big races. If his schedule allows him to throw his hat into the ring this year, expect great things to happen.

MTB Race News -  What makes Jeff so dominant in this racing format?

Ryan O’Dell - In approximately 500 B.C., Chinese General, Sun Tsu, reportedly stated, "If you know yourself and you know the enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”   

In addition to his super human strength and endurance, Jeff prepares himself and his equipment well, understands the nuances of each course, knows his competitors and plans his race well. He is a professional in every way and his experience as three time NUE Champion makes him the odds on favorite again this year.

There are three other NUE Champions deserving of recognition including Kenda’s Amanda Carey, Women’s Open Champion. She is off to another great start this year with her second straight win at the Cohutta 100. However, former NUE Women’s Champion Cheryl Sornsen, Team CF, won’t be cutting her any slack in her effort to win back the NUE title.

At age 43, "The Pfluginator”, Singlespeed Champion Gerald Pflug is a two time NUE Singlespeed Champion, off to another great start by winning NUE #1 at Cohutta.  However, 32 Matt Ferrari of State College, Pa displayed the hard work he put in during the off season with a close second at Cohutta, just ten minutes behind the champ. Ferrari will  likely continue to be a formidable hurdle for Pflug’s attempt at a three-peat.   

At age 51, Masters Champion, Robert Herriman, of Royal Oak Michigan won his division outright last year before the final race at Shenandoah. However, he is facing some tough competition this year from 50 year old newcomers, Doug Andrews, of Mission Viejo, CA, winner at Cohutta and new master racer, Roger Masse of Bethesda, MD.  

Andrews was eager to promote www.projectrwanda.org, an organization committed to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope.  

MTB Race News -  What has made the NUE series successful when so many national race series have failed?

Ryan O’Dell - There is really no mystery. The NUE Series represents what racers like me and many others have wanted for years. A national series along the best and well managed epic length racecourses in the US without unnecessary license requirements or being required to attend every event. Every racer who shows up at the line of an NUE Series race has equal opportunity to win and receive national recognition. All racers who go the distance are ranked and rewarded.

MTB Race News -  Have you ever considered making the NUE events USA Cycling sanctioned? Why or why not?

Ryan O’Dell - NUE Series races are selling out across the country, however, racers and race directors alike are not clamoring for USA Cycling sanctioning which would add unnecessary and additional fee’s and burdens to both? Go figure

NUE has become its own national sanctioning body that is a real benefit to race directors who benefit from national media exposure along with prizes from series sponsors that far outweigh the cost of admission. By the way, 100% of that cost of admission is awarded to NUE series winners.

MTB Race News -  Of the 11 races on the NUE schedule, which one is the most difficult?

Ryan O’Dell - That is often dependent on weather and race conditions.

The Breckenridge 100, held mostly above 9000 feet, is an added difficulty for flat landers like me. Last year, Cohutta, Mohican and the Fool’s Gold 100 were all hammered by unusually heavy rains making the races extremely difficult.

MTB Race News - You organize the Mohican 100. What kind of experience do you want Mohican riders to come away with?

Ryan O’Dell - The Mohican 100 racecourse is a single one hundred mile loop spanning four counties through some of the most remote areas in Ohio. Our stated team goal is to help as many racers as possible to finish.

I hope racers will be awed by the natural beauty, stoked by our world-class singletrack, and quenched by Ohio’s finest brewery, Great Lakes Brewing, who is reportedly bringing a truck of hoppy goodness out to this year’s event.

Last year, our final finisher, Mike Dietlin turned 69 and confided to me that Mohican was on his bucket list. Crossing the finish line, he told us that the race was the most difficult of his life. If our race can live up to the expectations of racers like Mike, then we’ve achieved our goal. Mike Dietlin was the first to register this year.

Racers who plan to enter are urged to register soon at www.mohican.net. Last year, more than 600 racers took the Mohican challenge! This year, there are already more racers registered than last year at this time.  

MTB Race News -  Do you think providing a GPS map of a 100-mile race is important or is good course marking sufficient?

Ryan O’Dell - GPS mapping is available and helpful to racers, especially when signs and trail markings have been known to disappear at times.

MTB Race News - Where did the inspiration for the Mohican 100 come from?

Ryan O’Dell - I was approached ten years ago by racers, including Garth Prosser, who suggested that the OMBC Series should offer a 100 mile race in addition to our 24 Hours of Mohican held in September. At that time, many endurance racers began to prefer the 100 mile format to going around in circles at 24 Hour races.

My first 100 mile race was the Wilderness 101, a rocky roller coaster ride near State College, Pennsylvania directed by Chris Scott. Great course, great brew, great vibe.

Prosser and I designed the Mohican course to incorporate many of our favorite design features from several popular races, including the 101 and La Ruta. One of the highlights is a flowing 24 mile singletrack loop around the gorge in the 5000 acre Mohican State Forest, recently chosen as best in Ohio by Mountain Bike Action magazine. Since then, our local community of Loudonville has been very supportive in much the same way that Leadville, CO supports the Leadville 100.

MTB Race News -  What’s the best thing about being a race director? What’s the worst?

Ryan O’Dell - From my perspective, the most rewarding aspect of being a race director is witnessing hundreds of happy faces from volunteers and racers alike. It’s a party-like atmosphere but, behind the scenes, it takes a team of committed, experienced volunteers paying close attention to detail in order to make it happen.

Conversely, the worst is when racers are unhappy, lost, or worse, injured.  Our goal is for racers to come away with a positive Mohican experience they will never forget.

Click Here to view our coverage of the most NUE race the Cohutta 100

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