Fool’s Gold 60 – NUE Marathon Finale

KENDA NUE Series #10

Fool’s Gold 60

Dahlonega, Georgia

Ryan O’Dell

For the first time this year, Fools Gold offered a 60 Mile option. This was another challenge for the Marathon Racers, providing a final opportunity to improve their national ranking. Besides being the final race, Fool’s Gold also served as the NUE Series tie breaker. This year’s Fool’s Gold moved to a beautiful new location at Anderson Creek Retreat near Elijay, GA, that included camping. Racers and spectators were treated to amazing views, including Springer Mountain, the southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail.

In addition to race day awards, the top five NUE Division winners will receive a share of the $6,000 cash purse. Each of the four division winners will also be rewarded with complimentary entry into All NUE races in 2017, a custom made NUE Champions Jersey by Voler.

Women’s Open

Nielson Takes the Win!

Jen Nielson, South Paw Cycles/Liv, won the race with a time of 5:11:15. “Fool’s Gold 60! 60 miles of pavement pounding, gravel grinding, flowing single track fun! No issues with illegal day-of registration this time around. I was prepared(ish). From the detailed website, to the email updates, to the extensive race guide, this event was clearly going to be well managed down to the finest of details.

The extreme organization stressed my somewhat naturally chaotic and unorganized self…just a bit. Packet pick up no later than 06:20? Race starts at 07:45? Deadlines. So early! I hustled to get out of work on time Friday, so as to finish the race day packing. Erik busily wrapped up shop duties, ultimately making for yet another late travel night. No sooner than our heads hit the pillows, it was time to be up and moving. Packed up, bikes loaded, bodies fueled, race packets secured, port-a-potty trip in the dark…check! Back in the comfort of the Element, I was quick to announce pre-race nap time and get multiple alarms set. Good luck 90 mile racers, we Nielsons need our beauty rest! Thirty minutes of glorious sleep, plus hitting snooze x1, and it was show time. I won’t lie, this was my first time enforcing pre-race nap time and I wasn’t sure whether or not the effects would end up being most regrettable.

The mass start was indeed massive as everyone jockeyed for positions in front of the timing mat. I was among the many racers fanned out on the outskirts of the gravel road and into the grass, well outside of timing mat territory. As I tried to inch closer and closer to the gravel road, not wanting to risk any sort of timing penalties, a lady on a BMC calmly reassured me that we would all eventually make it across the mat. Unfortunately, that did little to reduce my anxiety or desire for a good start. A car horn announced the start of the race and I squeezed in with the rest of the racers, making it over the mat with a foot to spare. Whew! Go time for real now!

The Lust was locked out and ready to go, so we jumped to the outside of the pack and made quick work of getting up to the front before tucking back in for some drafting. Big sigh of relief. It was sketchy going, surrounded by the sounds of brakes squealing and tires rubbing other people’s tires. I was just hoping that the results of those sounds would not include me being on the ground. I found myself mostly spending time with a couple of riders behind Erik, who was a couple of riders behind Thomas Turner. Wise? I’m not sure, but I wasn’t about to give up what I had. Neutral start completed, the pack was getting friskier, with random attacks off the front. As things ramped up, my thoughts simplified, focused on things that I had survived and had prepared me for this…TNR @ Pendleton, TNR, TNR, TNR, Tabata, Tabata, Tabata (thanks Brian Sheedy)! Well, I don’t know if those things really made a difference, but they were pretty much all I could think about.

The first climb was long and chunky. The rhythm I had hoped to carry was quickly lost. At times, it felt like everyone was passing me and there wasn’t a wheel I could manage to hop on. After the climb, was a long, fun descent. I was totally awake and ready for it. I was ready to chase some of those carrots that had passed me on the up. The Lady Lust and I made amends after Black Bear Rampage, getting in some quality bonding time over the last week, and were finally finding our groove. It was exciting!

When we hit single track, it was fast and flowy. The Lust and I were ready for it. There were certainly some “oh $#*t” moments, coming into corners hot, not realizing the trail was no longer directly in front of me. Guys were caught and others passed me. I tried to grab wheels where I could, hoping to pick up the pace for some sort of meaningful impact on the competition. I guess it wasn’t all fast and flowy. There were some punchy hills in there that made the down to up transition hard on the legs. At one point, I hopped off the bike to hike behind a line of others hiking, and realized I was looking at some long slender legs that couldn’t possibly belong to a guy, right? I checked her out closely. Yup, definitely not a guy. I debated asking the burning question that was on my mind and finally decided to let my mouth win. Much to me relief, she was racing the 90. I passed with some words of encouragement and continued on, wondering who was really behind me in pursuit.

Lesson learned from Black Bear, I was conscious to be eating every time I hit a fire road. Food, food, food was another overriding simplistic thought for this race. Even if I wanted to forget eating, the volunteers at the aid stations were on it, chastising me for not getting nutrition, despite my reassurances that I was eating what I packed. Other thoughts that generally preoccupied me while I was out there were, surely there is a Carey Lowery out there on the prowl….Carey, Carey, Carey….and as I hit the downhills, surely there is a ripper like Kaysee Armstrong behind me…Kaysee, Kaysee, Kaysee! Much to my amusement, I wasn’t the only one thinking Carey.

The final ascent was a long steady fire road climb of about 3.6 miles. This climb I liked! My happy rhythm was ready! While grooving on up the climb I passed a guy I had been going back and forth with and he jumped on my wheel. Not long after spending a little time together, he asked “Are you faster than Carey?” I responded with an, “I don’t think so.” “Are you sure?” is what I got in return. “Well, she beat me last weekend.” was the best I could do for him. “Oh.” It felt like disappointment, which for some reason had me laughing a little. After a little longer, he asked how much further the climb was. I could only answer that I didn’t know for sure, but thought it was seven miles from the top to the finish (thank you Jerry McClung). He debated hanging on my wheel or catching me on the descent. His final words were that if we could rejoin by the end, he would give me a good draft in to the finish. Who could refuse an offer like that? So, I climbed on and he settled into his pace.

When I reached the top of the climb, I was greeted with a sign that indicated eight miles to the finish. Damn you Jerry! An extra mile?! 61 miles! Up until then, my mind had been racing with thoughts of excitement at the awesome descent that would await me. I was ready to rip. Or so I thought. Not long after starting down, my right calf started to cramp up. I never get leg cramps! I sat down on the sections I could, trying to shake things out. This wasn’t happening! After a shorter time than I expected, my friend came tearing by me, yelling that this was my opportunity to jump on his wheel for my lead in. Everything in me snapped to attention. It was go time! Forget your cramping legs, forget your aching hands, forget your throbbing feet, and forget everything else. I worked hard to stay on his wheel, but ultimately lost him. It was ok though, because I was finally on and catching other people.

I hit the final section of pavement, grabbed some nutrition, and set to work. I managed to get into a group of three guys. There were suggestions of working together, there was attacking and definitely not working together, there were words of encouragement that gave me extra boosts I didn’t know I had, and there were look backs to ensure others were dropped (including me). The final drag to the finish was a grass field that felt a lot like trying to ride through thick, deep sand. It felt like going nowhere. It didn’t seem to matter if you were standing up or sitting down. It was all the same slow arduous progress trying to reel in that finish line banner. Boy did it feel good to finally make it! Well, nothing felt good then, but it sure does now. 1st overall/women’s open. Erik Danger Nielson rocked it into 5th overall/men’s open, in a tough field of men.

Lisa Randall and Mountain Goat Adventures put on a great event! One of the best organized, most well marked, and well supported races I have been to. The amenities, post-race food, and awards/payouts were definitely something to brag about. It was a fantastic experience!

A surprise arrived for me on the Thursday before the race, meaning that this was the last race the Lady Lust and I would be doing together. It did have me on the verge of tearing up at one point during the race (endurance races will do that to you). I am glad this is the way we got to finish together!”

Tiffany Ballew, Peachtree Bikes, came in about fifteen minutes behind Nielson, with a time of 5:26:16. Having just finished with a first place win at Rincon, this was her fourth NUE Race of the season and her second place finish also moved her into second place overall in the NUE Series.

Beata Wronska, City Bikes, finished third with a time of 5:42:50. This was her second year racing at Fool’s Gold. She won first place in 2015. “This was not my first take at the Fool’s Gold since I had an opportunity to race it year ago and was fortunate enough to take the win. I was looking forward to come back on this challenging course and have some fun. Making the drive all the way from South Florida makes for quite a trip, but I and other Floridians find it well worth it.

Just two weeks ago, I raced in Val Di Sole, Italy in the Cross Country Masters World Championship where I can proudly say I podiumed and shared the stage with an Olympic medalist and 3-time World Champion and other top European riders. I felt already accomplished but realized that this endurance event would be a good aid to clear my mind and enjoy the quite different scenery to our local bike scene as well as a good moment to finish my season on a good note.

The truly off-road part of the course was pretty spectacular, especially the flowy single track and super tough and fun Bull Mountain. I had a wonderful time riding those sections and tackling the small creeks, steep uphill’s filled with roots which were so tough that only strong riders could make it all the way up, as well as having a blast on the super-fast and technical downhills. It was all so enjoyable that often I was forgetting that I was actually racing. There were times where I was battling my competition and swapping spots but also times when I felt like I was on my own in the whole forest and could hear only the trickling of water, rustling of leaves and my own breath.

I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt on the final rocky descent coming back to the finish line. The descent was so loose, rocky and bumpy that I experienced at the same time pain and almost complete numbness in my hands and feet. For sure my body was not used to descents like this and it made it more of a challenge for me than anything else. Coasting to the finish line after that was quite elevating and I had a brilliant time going back and forth with a few male riders and giving one rider a sprint finish which made if fun for both of us as well as spectators.

Finishing third and still placing on the podium this year leaves me completely content and satisfied, especially knowing the field was deep and stacked with talented riders. Now I just wish we had more races like this closer to home. I hope one day I will be able to focus solely on endurance racing and hopefully compete for the overall NUE series points.”

Laura Booth, City Bikes, finished in third place with a time of 5:42:50 jumping up to fourth place overall in the NUE Series.

Overall for the NUE Marathon Race Series, Karen Jarchow, Team Toepeak-Ergon, earned her first NUE Marathon Series Championship, sweeping the series with a perfect score of 4, winning ALL of the NUE races that she participated in.

Tiffany Ballew placed second overall and Becky Edmiston, Steamboat Velo, earned a final ranking of third overall in the NUE Series.


Men’s Open

Mendez takes the win in his first NUE Race!

Gabriel Mendez, Team 706P, won the Men’s Open with a time of 4:18:16. “The morning of the Fool’s Gold 60 and 90 mile endurance races, everyone was on their bikes in anticipation for the starts. At 7:15 sharp, we watched the 90 mile racers take off down the gravel road to embark on the grueling task. By 7:30, many of the 60 mile racers were already hanging out in the staging area, making small talk to pass time until the neutral rollout at 7:45. At the whistle, a couple hundred mountain bikers rolled out behind the lead car for the first portion of the race.

The pace remained tame for miles, even onto the first ascent of Nimblewill Gap, where Phil O’Donnell and myself rolled off the front (being roadies who could probably use a cushion on the twisty downhill) and established a small gap on the pack. By the end of the descent of Nimblewill, freshly graded and thus riddled with overturned rocks and potholes, we were joined by three others, Thomas Turner included.

The first upset in the top positions was caused by Erik Nielson and my stop at the 21 mile aid station; my bottle had been bucked out of its cage on the descent. This caused the two of us to have to chase up to O’Donnell and Turner, the race leaders. After some amount of time, I rejoined Phil and we pursued the charging Thomas Turner, who I was told was dropping the hammer at a hopefully unsustainable rate. At the 30 mile checkpoint, we were told that we were about two minutes behind the leader.

It wasn’t until the vicious ascent of Bull Mountain that I regained sight of Thomas. This was undoubtedly the toughest section of the entire race: the combination of mangled roots and gradients consistently in the double digits had me (and I would assume Thomas as well) hugging my granny gear and wrenching my bike simply to stay upright. However, the descent almost compensated in enjoyment for the suffering we endured up the mountain; it took all I had to hang on to Thomas’ wheel as we screeched and skidded down the single track and dirt roads at speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour.

Following the descent, there was a stretch of road and a small amount of trail left before the 7 miles going up the backside of Nimblewill. At the base of the climb, I upped the tempo a bit in hopes of opening a small gap by the top of the climb, which lasted nearly 30 minutes but felt like an hour of switchbacks. Upon cresting the mountain, I realized I had to take all the risks on the final descent of Nimblewill to keep Thomas Turner at bay, as I had found he was significantly more competent at descending than I. Unfortunately, these risks earned me a cracked rear rim after the fact, but they also maintained my gap to the bottom of the downhill. From there, I knew it was a matter of elbows-on-the-bars time trialing against the headwind to the final stretch of gravel and grass.

The turn onto Big Bear Lane was a huge relief, although I did not realize we were to be routed down into the valley to be made to climb back out to the finish. As immensely painful as it was at the end of such a long race, hats off to the people who made this decision as anything less would have been unfitting to finish the brutal course (which was nothing short of epic) and it made you give everything you had left in the tank. All in all, I must say this was one of the best organized, most challenging races I’ve ever had the opportunity to compete in, and alongside multiple highly respected figures of the sport nonetheless.”

Just six minutes back, Thomas Turner took second at 4:24:40.

Fifteen seconds later and following two reported flat tires, Andrew Purcell, Wooster Bikewerks/Y-Not Cycling, in his fifth NUE Race of the season, took third with a finish time of 4:24:25.

In the NUE Race series overall for Marathon Men, Alex Pond earned his first NUE Marathon Race Series title. In point battle that was determined at Rincon in Costa Rica, Andrew Purcell placed second overall. David Pike, DNA-Movement p/b Penetron, took third overall in the point series.


Betz comes out strong in second NUE Race, wins first place!

After finishing in fourteenth place at Big Frog earlier in the season, Jason Betz, Raising Cane’s Racing, grabs the win with a time of 4:47:15, just seconds ahead of second place.

Fifteen seconds later, at 4:47:30, Bradly Cobb, Motor Mile Racing, took second in his first NUE Series Race, the closest finish in the Fool’s Gold 60.

Cobb’s teammate, Justin Mace, Motor Mile Racing, took third with a time of 4:52:24 in his second NUE Race of the season. He raced earlier in the year at season opener, True Grit, placing 37th.

Overall, James Litzinger, Napoleon Elite, become the first NUE Marathon Series Champion undefeated with a perfect score of 4. Litzinger’s teammate, Scott Williams, Napolean Elite, finished the season ranked second overall in the NUE Marathon Series.

Ernesto Marenchin, Pivot Cycles/Twin 6/Was Labs, ranked third overall just one point behind Williams earning early season wins at both True Grit Epic and the Bailey Hundito.


Masters 50+

Turner on top!

In his first NUE Marathon race of the season, Greg Turner, Cartecay Bikes, wins Master’s 50+ with a time of 4:51:57.

Nineteen minutes later, last year’s race winner, Jorge Cortez from team JOVACO, finished second with a time of 5:10:41.

One minute later, Matt Hammond, Team Engine, completed the podium, finishing third with a time of 5:11:56. Along with his fellow podium dwellers, this was Hammond’s first NUE race this season.

Overall in the NUE Marathon Standings, 52-year-old Anthony Hergert, Rescue Racing, became the first NUE Marathon Masters Champion. Herget placed fourth at Fool’s Gold 60 this year, nine minutes behind Hammond at 5:20:06.  In route to his first series victory, Hergert,  completed in five of the ten NUE series races this season, including a first place finish at Rincon Challenge in Costa Rica.

NUE Webmaster, 61-year-old Dan Mock, finished 16th on the day at Fool’s Gold, moving into second place overall in the NUE Marathon Master’s division. 51-year-old Jim Thacker, Queen City Wheels ranked third overall in the NUE Standings.


WHATS NEXT: Stay tuned for the 2017 NUE Marathon Race Series schedule to be announced in early November.