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Rider Interview: NUE strongman Mike Simonson

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |June 18, 2011 11:10 PM

They call him the Si-Monster, and for good reason. As one of the top riders on the National Ultra-Endurance (NUE) series Michael Simonson rages through the peloton, like Godzilla in Tokyo, devouring hundreds of the nation's top riders every weekend.

During the week heís a mild-mannered engineer for the Department of Defense but on the weekend the Si-Monster comes out leaving a trail of smoldering legs and bike parts behind him.

Mike took a minute to talk with us about how a former marching band member from Clarkston, Michigan, becomes one of the top mountain bike racers in the country and what makes the National Ultra Endurance series so exciting. Read his full interview below.

MTB Race News -What is your background, did you grow up mountain bike racing? Were you involved in other sports in high school?

Mike Simonson -Back in the day, I got started racing BMX at Waterford Hills Michigan BMX track. I was only 12 or 13 years old. My home boys and I built this crazy BMX dirt jump track across the street from my house. Every year weíd add more and more trails, and people would come from farther and farther places to ride them and weíd have these big dirt jams. It was a blast. I still canít believe whoever owned that property never kicked us out of there. I bought my first MTB from a guy named Robert Linden at Kinetic Systems Bicycles. He used to take me out to Pontiac Lake XC trails in the winter time to ride. I used to school him on all the downhills but heíd catch me on the climbs. Robert started Tailwind, a MTB race promotion business, and I got into MTB racing doing his Michigan series. 

MTB Race News -Youíre a big dude, much bigger than the average mountain bike racer. Exactly how tall are you and how much do you weigh? What advantages/disadvantages have you encountered because of your size?...

Mike Simonson -Iím officially 6í-2Ē and my weight can go anywhere between 170 to 200 lbs depending on the time of yr. I have huge weight fluctuations. Iím like the Kirstie Alley of MTB racing. However, I have a big aerobic engine and strong legs which I rely on too much sometimes. Some of the weight is upper body which helps on the longer downhills. The NUE courses are pretty heavy on the climbing, so to be lighter and more efficient can go a long way when you multiply it over 7-8 hrs worth of hills. The first few hills go OK, but theyíll wear a big guy down eventually if you keep having to tap into an anaerobic effort to keep up. I have podiumíd at an NUE weighing 200 lbs, I carried a little more muscle...and fat, but I can definitely tell a difference when Iím lighter. I worked really hard on dropping weight this year, hopefully it helps.  

MTB Race News -Why focus on the NUE series and not something else like the Pro XCT?

Mike Simonson -Most of the Pro XCT races are a little out of driving range for me. Besides, if Iím going to drop the coin on flying, I want to go to an event where I can really take advantage of the area/terrain, and ride to my hearts content. An NUE gives you an all day experience of miles and miles of trail the area has to offer. The NUE seems like they got it together too. The series is defined, simple, and straight forward. Iím not even sure what the Pro XCT series is anymore in the US. Itís too confusing. I really hope the NUE series keeps growing. Iíd love to see more of the top XC guys try it out. Last year we saw JHK and Todd Wells giving Leadville a go and we saw Thomas Turner and few other XC guys from the South giving Cohutta a try. Maybe weíll see a few more try it this year. Iíd love to see even more coverage of the series. Maybe even a live update roll like they do with the major road races.

MTB Race News -Which NUE race is your favorite?

Mike Simonson -It used to be Shenandoah, but Iím starting to lean towards Wilderness now. I have a serious axe to grind with that race. That course eats my bicycle every year. This is the year I make it through without a mechanical damnit! Chris Scottís events feel just like the way mountain biking should be, no more, no less.

MTB Race News -Before this season Jeff Schalk has been nearly untouchable, but now he is getting challenged from riders like you and Christian Tanguy, what is different this season?

Mike Simonson - I think Schalk has made everyone up their game. Iím doing stuff in my training that I wouldnít have dreamed of 5 yrs ago. Iím exhausted just sitting here thinking about it. I wouldnít say Iím super physically gifted, but as they say in poker, Iím good enough to sit at the table and take a pot every so often. I have to work at it really hard though and itís taken a few years to hone the 100 miler in. Iím sure the others are more focused than ever as well. The courses are incredibly hard. I give props to anyone who finishes. To go under 7hrs is like doing three XC races in a row.

MTB Race News -You have had some great races this year only to be undone by mechanicals. How do you stay positive after such bad luck and do you think you'll break through with a NUE win this year?

Mike Simonson - I certainly think itís possible. The positive outlook is something Iíve had to drill into my brain over the years. Itís part of maturing as an athlete. I have to keep telling myself not to cry over spilled milk, because it really doesnít do any good, and it just makes you a buzz kill to be around after the race. The post race vibe is the best part... sitting around chatting and hearing everyoneís war stories, then laughing about it. Iíve been doing the series for a few years now and Iíve made a lot of close friends and I wonít let a flat tire ruin the time I have to enjoy their company after the race. 

MTB Race News -Which of the remaining NUE races represents your best chance at coming home with a win and why?

Mike Simonson - I donít know. I think Mohican and Lumberjack suit me best. The climbs are shorter, but that also means more time going anaerobic over and over, which can be a killer for me. Wilderness might actually be a good one, as long as I can get between aid 2 and 4 without mishap. The climbs are just the right length and pitch. 

MTB Race News -What keeps you motivated to race hard for 7-8 hours?

Mike Simonson -Untreated hypomania... no seriously, I guess Iím a fierce competitor at heart. I love racing at the front with the best, interacting with the other guys, attacking, covering attacks. The element of the race unfolding as we move along keeps me engaged. It uncovers weaknesses and makes me proud to show my strengths. Iím so grateful just to be able to be up there at the front. I realize that Iím not going to be capable of racing like this forever, so I try to give every second of it total focus and respect. You take time off work, drag your ass 10hrs across the country, sacrifice time with your family and train yourself to complete exhaustion... I better be giving it 110% the whole f#@king 7-8 hrs. I owe that to myself, my family/friends, my sponsors, my employer, and the people at work who have to deal with my smelly cycling clothes hanging on the cube walls.

MTB Race News -Why is mountain bike racing so big in Michigan?

Mike Simonson -The roots of "the Michigan sceneĒ are pretty deep. Guys you might not know like Jason Lummis, Jeff Weinert, Scott Quiring, Don Cameron, Robert Linden just to name a few, are mainstays and have been pushing and grinding out the sport of MTB racing in Michigan for decades. I donít think Iíll ever leave Michigan, or ever completely stop racing MTBís, and I hope one day Iím thought of as part of that Michigan root structure.

MTB Race News - What is your favorite race in Michigan, why?

Mike Simonson -Iceman Cometh is a hard one to top. It was the race that made me fall in love with racing. It seems to grow each year with more and more top national talent showing up. Itís the year end blowout. Itís like a holiday for mountain bikers in Michigan. Itís total mayhem and Iím surprised they havenít kicked me out of Traverse City yet. Ore to Shore is another great event. August in Marquette on Lake Superior is something you have to experience. Lumberjack is always on the list too. Rick Plight does a fabulous job with what he has to work with.

MTB Race News - Tell us about your sponsors this year. 

Mike Simonson - Trek 29 is still supporting, but I switched it up to add a few more additional sponsors... Rochester Bike Shop in Rochester MI, and CPA Crossings. Must haves were Notubes wheels, SRAM components, and ERGON grips, so they all jumped on board too. It makes for one really sweet 29er. 

MTB Race News -Favorite mountain bike racer John Tomac or Travis Brown? Why?

Mike Simonson -You gotta respect a dude who just says F it and moves to Montana to live on a farm, plus heís a legend in the sport of MTB. But I think Travis Brown is more the kind of dude you could hang out with at the bar, or be down for some crazy road trip to a mud hole mountain bike race in BFE. Iíd say Travis Brown.  

MTB Race News -What is your favorite race of all time and Why? It doesn't have to be a race you have done.

Mike Simonson -The Race Across America has always intrigued me. Iíve kind of thought it would be cool to try one year. Maybe as the one last big who-rah before I go out. Itís sounds totally crazy and right on the edge of human capabilities. Sign me up! We just have to convince my wife this is a good idea.

MTB Race News -Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people probably don't know. 

Mike Simonson - I didnít play sports in high school, rather I was in the marching band. Thatís actually how my wife and I met. I played the drums and she played the clarinet. I tried out for Drum Corps International one time, but didnít make the snare drum line. My whole familyís musicians, so I donít know where the obsession with bike riding came from. Hmmmm..

I was born and raised in Clarkston Michigan and currently live only about 12 miles from there in Oxford MI with my wife Michelle, our golden retriever Buddy, and Mr. Fatty our cat.

Thanks to the sponsors, thanks to the fans and everyone who has given me support over the years!

 

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