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La Ruta has wheel-swallowing mud. The Breck Epic has dizzying elevation. The Cape Epic? Miles of hot dusty jeep roads. And the B.C. Bike Race tests riders with slick roots and man-made stunts. Each of the world’s top stage races challenges riders in a unique way. The Transylvania Epic (TSE), which kicks off this Sunday, is no different. For seven days riders will push themselves to the limit on a collection of some of the rockiest singletrack trails in the country.
Held in the steep, verdant mountains of central Pennsylvania, the race has attracted some of North America’s top endurance racers. Last year’s winner Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) leads a men’s field that includes his teammate and 2010 TSE runner up Alex Grant, 2010 B.C. Bike Race winners and Kona teammates Barry Wicks and Chris Sneddon, Ross Schnell (Trek), Mark Weir (WTB/Cannondale) and Jason Sager (Jamis), among others.
Bishop says the race’s technical trails are what drew him back this year. “I cut my teeth racing backcountry trails in PA so for me it’s a home coming of sorts. I love the deep forest, roots, rocks mud and twisty trails,” he said.
The women’s field is equally strong. Selene Yeager (Team CF) has returned to defend her title against Rebecca Rusch (Specialized), Sonya Looney (Ergon) and former World Cup pro Sue Haywood (Shenandoah Bikes/Kenda/Turner).
“There's been a lot of press about the stacked women's field, and it's all true. It's deep and fast and talented,” said Yeager, who expects stronger competition this year. “I feel funny talking about ‘defending’ my title,” she added. “I love to race and ride fast. But I never look at bike racing as a battle or a war or any of that. It's a privilege and a pleasure. So I'll ride hard, try my best, and savor the week as fully as I can.
In all ninety-some racers will take part in this year’s Transylvania Epic, double the number that competed in the inaugural race last year. The seven stages include four days with at least 40 miles. The event also includes a unique Super-D stage that times riders only on marked segments of the course, which should reward riders with strong technical skills. The total course length is about 240 miles.
While the race seems destined to punish riders during the day, it’s a different story at night. During the event, competitors stay at a single campground with cabins, RV parking and tent sites, which creates a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. “I can drive there with my wife and son, rent a camper and stay at the campsite, fish, swim and hang out for a beer with friends,” Bishop said.
Yeager also praised the campsite. “We had such a blast hanging out at camp, enjoying cold beverages and swapping stories. It's everything mountain bike racing—or any kind of racing really—should be.”
But that talk of swimming holes and cold beer doesn’t mean these racers won’t be fighting for the win. “With top talent showing up, it’s sure to get exciting,” Bishop said. “Cannondale Factory team support will be there and I will have Alex Grant as a teammate, so hopefully we can have great week and get on the podium.”