I kicked off my 2015 NUE racing season with the Cohutta 100. Forecast one week out: high of 72, sunny skies; forecast 5 days out: 80% rain & thunder, 3 days out: 100%, day of: we awoke to the steady drip of rain onto the motel’s sign attached to the railing just outside our room. I had met up with team-mate and long-time riding buddy Jeff O’Hara in Ashville, before completing the last three hours of my 12 hour odyssey together.

We lined up for a mass start of 200+ like-minded crazies, I managed to snag a spot in the second row and off we went at a quite blistering pace up a 2+ mile road climb leading to the hole-shot into the first stretch of 20 miles of single track.

I was in the lead group, and just as a faster group started pulling away and I was debating whether to join, I look up at the guy riding in front of me, and on his camelbak I see written in Sharpie: Masse. Roger Masse, who won the Masters’ division in 2014, was definitely the man to beat, so I quickly came to my senses and stayed on his wheel.

The single track was a sloppy mess, but was very flowy and fun to ride. I stayed on Roger’s wheel for the first 10 miles of single track, until I picked a better line through a rooty section and passed him. I settled in and rode at my happy pace, passed some peeps, was passed by others. Despite battling a chest-cold all week leading up to the race, my legs were in a happy place.

Towards the end of the single-track, the rain started easing, and stopped completely a little before we started the 70 miles of fire road. Ryan had warned me about the n-e-v-e-r-e-n-d-i-n-g up and down fireroad, but I still was blown away by what awaited me. Of the 70 miles, maybe 2 or 3 miles were flattish, at all other times you were either climbing or descending on fire-roads with lots of 120-180 degree turns.

Five miles into the fire-roads Roger caught up with me and we rode together for the next ten; we chatted for a bit, and I let on that I was racing Master’s as well (figured it was only fair, since our number plates were completely covered in mud). We figured that we were in the lead, but there was no way to know for sure. Roger made his move when an Open class rider caught and passed us on an uphill climb, and he jumped on the guy’s wheel. While I could have probably matched the pace for a couple of hills, with the constant ups and downs, I figured drafting wasn’t going to be a huge advantage and decided to continue riding at my own pace, rather than risk blowing myself up by riding at someone else’s. Unfortunately that was the last I saw of Roger until the finish.

The remaining fire-road miles boiled down to pure survival, I rode mostly by myself, got passed by a few guys, and passed a few guys. There was this back loop from mile 45 to 77, with the same aid station at the beginning and end of the loop, and that was the toughest portion of the race - it contained the longest climbs, and I underestimated how long it would take me to complete the section and embarked on it with only 1.5 water bottles. By this time the sun had come out and things were starting to warm up into the low 70’s, so 1.5 bottles for 2.5+ hours was far from ideal. But I managed OK, passing four guys on that back loop, and was only passed by one rider (these stats really start playing on your mind this far into a race, and were a strong motivator).

After fueling up and chugging a bottle of water at mile 77, I knew the end was in sight, my legs were feeling as good as could be expected after a long day in the saddle, and my back had settled in nicely after acting up between miles 18 and 30 earlier in the day. There was one more crazy steep, long and unexpected climb shortly after mile 77, then more fire-road up and down until mile 90, and nine more miles of single-track to the finish. These last nine miles of single-track were net downhill, but contained plenty of uphill sections which really hurt; still, the single-track was really darn sweet, just a little tough to enjoy when every fiber of your being was wishing for you to be done already. I caught up with an Open rider in the single-track, and seeing me in his rearview mirror made him a little deeper as I chased him into the valley - good fun for sure! Once in the valley, we rode along a highway for a mile or two, but I wasn’t able to catch up with the guy I chased in the single-track, despite my best MTB aero tuck TT effort (it didn’t help that my legs were so fried at this point, that I wasn’t able to pedal continuously, and had to take a few second breezer after every minute of pushing hard).

I crossed the line at 8:32, 5 minutes behind Roger Masse, which felt awesome. At first we thought we were 1st and 2nd, but then found out about another Masters rider, Jeff Clayton, who came in a few minutes ahead of Roger, so I ended up taking third place. All in all a great day on the bike, and one that left me cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the 2015 NUE season. Next up is Mohican, the only NUE race I have raced previously - bring it on!