While many of the cross country mountain bike series are in full swing across the country, the National Ultra Endurace (NUE) Race series has waited until the last weekend in April to begin with the Cohutta 100 in Tennesee on April 28. The series, consisting of 12 different 100-mile races in 12 states, highlights some of the best ultra endurance races in the country.
With a constantly shifting schedule, this year includes races that have been part of the series for years, such as the Cohutta 100 and the Breckenridge 100 and has added new races including Pierre’s Hole 100 in Wyoming. Many of these races, such as the Park City Point to Point sell out in a matter of minutes, showing the increased popularity of ultra endurance mountain bike racing.
By creating a national series, the NUE provides an opportunity for the top endurance racers across the country to pit themselves against each other on a wide variety of courses throughout the summer.
Two time series winner, and two time Cohutta 100 winner, Amanda Carey (Kenda – Felt) comes back to the series largely because of the camaraderie and the opportunity to race against the same group of top athletes several times throughout the summer. She has eight of the NUE races on her schedule this summer, putting her in the hunt for a third series title.
With the Cohutta 100 the first race on the series calendar, Carey says the race is always unique because racers enter the event with untested fitness after a winter of training and a spring of training races.
The Cohutta 100 course is known as one of the easier courses on the NUE series, if there is such a thing as an easy 100 mile mountain bike course, especially in April. Consisting of approximately 35% singletrack and 65% fire road, there is nothing excessively technical on the course, making it ideal for someone’s first 100-mile race. Still, there is plenty of climbing — 14,000 feet worth — both on fire roads and on singletrack, making the course plenty challenging for beginners and veterans alike.
In 2012, race organizers have changed up parts of the course by adding more singletrack. According to 2009 race winner Carey Lowery, one of the race deciding climbs will be up Potato Patch. With the changes in the course this year, racers will have the opportunity to see this nine-mile climb from both directions and Lowery believes that this section of the course will be a major influence on the outcome of the race.
The Cohutta course also funnels into singletrack relatively early making a fast start essential for anyone not wanting to get caught up in traffic. The two-mile paved climb serves to separate the field to a degree but traffic on the course is still a concern once the field hits the trail.
Lowery also points to the last piece of singletrack off of Thunder Mountain as a place to watch. While only a mile and a half long, the descent is “rocky and challenging” and a small mistake could land a rider and their bike 30 feet off the side of the trail.
Both Lowery and Carey recommend a hardtail 29er for racing the Cohutta 100. Because the technical nature of the course is low, the weight and efficiency of the hardtail outweigh the benefits of a dual suspension and because of the large number of miles spent on fire roads, the large wheels have the advantage of rolling faster over the smooth terrain.
Like any course, tire choice is condition dependent. Carey points out that when choosing a race rig for a 100-mile race, it’s best to choose the setup that would be ideal for riding five hours into the race, not necessarily during the first one. While an ultra light rig might be ideal for the first two hours, comfort over seven or more hours outweighs the benefits of shaving a little bit of weight.
For tires, both riders recommend a fast rolling tread, as long as conditions are dry. Carey points to the Kenda Kosmik Lite II for an ideal tire if the rain holds off. If conditions are wet, she plans on switching to the 1.9 Kenda Karma which has an ideal combination of low rolling resistance while being able to shed mud if trail conditions deteriorate.
As a Tennesee local, Lowery speaks highly of the area trails, especially those accessed from Mulberry Gap. Located 12 miles from Ellijay, GA. near the Chattahoochee National Forest, Mulberry Gap is a mountain bike destination resort featuring cabins, camping, and everything a mountain biker needs to survive, including a bike wash, a bike stand, tools, and a hot tub.
The restaurant at the resort is also ready to cater to a mountain biker’s needs with delicious food. The resort provides access to over 80 miles of Ride In – Ride Out trails with access to the Georgia Pinhoti trail system. Lowery lists Pinhoti #1 (P1), Pinhoti #3 (P3), and Bear Creek as some of the best riding in the area.
Another riding area is at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, which hosts the start of the Cohutta. The trail system includes approximately 35 miles of singletrack, 25 of which is included in the Cohutta.
Even with year round temperate weather and many miles of trails, the region is seldom acknowledged by mountain bikers outside of the area. As more riders are drawn to events like the Cohutta 100 and word of the area spreads, this is very likely to change.
Be sure to check back before each of the NUE Series races for tips on equipment and the scoop on the course.
Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO. She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past. She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. All articles by Eszter.