Written by: Jen Toops
Photos: Ryan O’dell
The NUE Iron Mountain 100k mountain bike race took place June 24th in Damascus, VA. Part of the National Ultra Endurance series, this was a new venue added on the 2018 race schedule. Located within the Mount Rogers National Recreational area, Damascus is know as trail town. The Virginia Creeper trail, the Appalachian trail, the Transcontinental Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, and the Daniel Boone Trail all intersect in the historic downtown of Damascus.
Put on by Shenandoah Mountain Touring, the race had a mix of singletrack, doubletrack, and fire roads. The course had over 8k feet of steep and rocky singletrack climbs with some long gravel accents mixed in. The descents were fast and technical with lots of chunky rocks, slick roots, and off camber thrown in. Rain in the days prior created tougher conditions come race morning which made it fun and challenging for racers.
Nielson comes from behind to WIN the women’s open
Coming from behind and taking the lead on the last downhill, Jen Nielson (Southpaw Cycles/I9), wins the women’s open in a time of 5:59:38.
Just a little over a minute back was, Bryna Blanchard (BMB Racing), coming in at 6:01:13.“The NUE Iron Mountain race was a great way to cap off a week of riding mountain bikes in the giant hills of VA. Long climbs make me happy and the Iron Mountain course was a good mix of climbing rooty trails, smooth single track and dirt roads. As this was my first time racing Iron Mountain I did pre-ride the first climb. I absolutely should have pre-rode the last descent to the finish line as it turned out. The first rooty washed out climb bottle necked as I predicted it would, but I stayed calm and realized I was feeling good and riding clean, passing folks who were off the bike walking. As the race went on I continued to feel strong, pushing the pace on the climbs in order to compensate for my lack of aggressive descending. The rocks in VA seem to move around like giant marbles, kind of disconcerting to me on the unfamiliar trails. After a few hours I reached aid station 3 and was told I was leading the race. I thought Jen was ahead of me the whole time and the news gave me extra motivation to push the climbs. Then came the most fun section of single track on the course, a rocky yet flowy ridge trail with gentle ups and downs. The rain and slippery conditions added to the fun, requiring extra focus and finesse. Every mountain biker knows the feeling of being in the moment, one with your bike and floating on trails. During this awesome section I felt the flow as I passed at least 3 racers fixing flats on the side of the trail. Luckily the air stayed in my tires but the rest of me was starting to deflate. According to my gps I still had 10 miles to go, which later proved to be incorrect, and I was beginning to pay for my previous efforts on the climbs. My brain was getting foggy and I knew my pace was dropping as the guys who had flatted caught and passed me. Then the ultimate mistake, I was loosing focus, riding extra slow on an especially long chunky downhill. I thought I saw a trail branching off to the left, I stopped to look around for course marking and that is the moment Jen flew passed me looking confident and strong. She quickly asked if I was ok, I said “yes”, realizing I was confused and feeling out of my body with fatigue. Within a very short time I crossed the finish line in 2nd place on the day. Lessons learned, it can be extremely important to pre-ride the end, know the finish and don’t trust the gps. Great day overall, in a super stacked women’s field I am happy with my result. Even after all these years of racing I’m still learning and using my mistakes to improve for the next time, I love this sport. Thanks to the promoters, volunteers, NUE, and as always Barker Mountain Bikes for all the support.”
Laura Hamm (Moonstompers), hung on for third place with a time of 6:10:46.
Bishop gets the top step
Taking the win in the men’s open class was Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon Topeak Factory Racing), with a time of 4:24:01.
“Keck found out his step Dad was killed in a auto accident at 5:30 that morning. It was a challenging morning then Keck and I hit a deer on the way to the race in the van.
Sometime you win by finishing, sometimes adversity finds a way of distilling how lucky it is that we can do such things for the few moments we have on earth.
Gun went off and I was not ready..
Dillion Johnson kept me honest today attacking the first climb, he kept coming back after I countered his early push! And caught me on the first nasty wet raining descent thru a jungle. I had to find my groove but I needed to nail this one.
I attacked several times on the long grind up to Iron mountain until I was clear.
Some of the best trails I didn’t know where out there!
I won. But more importantly I proved I could turn the day around and stay focused when things get sideways.
Id like to thank Canyon, Topeak, Fox, Shimano, Beet Extreme, and Maxxis for the goods!”
Challenging Bishop all day was, Dylan Johnson (Leska MTB), coming in about nine minutes back at 4:33:07.
Keck Baker (Blue Ridge Cyclery), took the third spot with a time of 4:56:30.
“Went into first climb of the day in terrible position. About 11 riders back. By the time I made my way up towards the leaders Jeremiah had attacked Dylan after Dylan had set a blistering pace up the first half of the climb. I caught Dylan and pushed the pace a little and was able to open a gap. The attack was short lived and Dylan and I worked together on the road sections. The next downhill was very technical and slick, as it was now raining. I could not keep up with Dylan on the downhill. He opened up a huge gap on me and caught Jeremiah. I almost rode the rest of the race solo until I was told I was going the wrong way (which I wasn’t) so when I did a 180 I met up with 4th place finisher who turned me back around. I had a blast trying to hold his pace on the descents. I was able to shake him on the last climb and come in for third. The race course was awesome and the town was great. I was battling with the loss of my stepfather whom I found had past that morning from hitting a cow and that morning Jeremiah and I hit a deer. The mountain bike community is fantastic and being in the wilderness around all that beauty was very cathartic.
Sponsors: Blue Ridge Cyclery.”
Toops gets his first NUE win!
Taking the win in the singlespeed division and getting his first NUE win, was Anthony Toops (Paradise Garage Racing), with a time of 5:29.
“The race started pretty casual with everyone rolling out to the Creeper Trail. I tried to position myself as near the front as I could while keeping the other one gear guys in sight. It was Josh Kunz hitting the single track first followed by Eli Orth and then myself. I knew this first climb was going to be a hike from my pre-ride so I didn’t try to push too hard but keep the competition close. I managed to pass Eli on that climb and Josh and I rode together until aid station 1. I grabbed my two bottles and wasted no time getting back on the road but I think Josh dropped a bottle so he had to make a slightly longer stop. I’m usually the one dropping bottles… There was a slight gap with Josh slowly catching me as we hit a steep section that I was able to ride but I think we was geared harder so had to hike. From this point on I just put my head down and tried to keep the gap which was 1min or so into aid three and growing towards the finish. Seeing the finish banner at the bottom of the final downhill was a welcome sight; I wasn’t sure how much longer my grip would hold out on the chunky fast single track! Another great day of SS racing!
Second place went to Josh Kunz (Knobby Side Down), coming in at 5:36:10. Eli Orth (Team Hungry) came in third, just a couple minutes back on Josh, with a times of 5:38:59.
“Iron Mountain 100k lived up to the hype that I had heard and read about.I noticed immediately Sunday morning that there was yet another great single speed turnout with strong riders for this NUE race like there was for Big Frog and Mohican, where I took 4th at each.
Clayton WINS his third NUE for 2018
Jeff Clayton (Georgia Neurosurgical Institute) get his third NUE Marathon win this season winning Iron Mountain with a time of 5:32:35.
About six mintues back Darren Cox grabbed second place with a time of 5:38:51. David Jolin (Rescue Racing) rounds out the top three spots taking 3rd with a time of 5:51:19.
What’s next? 2018 NUE Tatanka Epic and NUE Tatanka Marathon mountain bike race in Sturgis, SD.