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Battle royale in the Wisconsin offroad series

The Wisconsin Off Road Series is shaping up to be a three-way battle for the top spot between brothers Jesse and Mark Lalonde and Sheboygan racer Brian Matter. A Triple Crown winner in 2004 and cyclocross world championship team member last winter, Matter (Gear Grinder) powered to the top spot this Sunday at the WORS Big Ring Classic in Wausau, Wisconsin.

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By Claire Cannon

The Wisconsin Off Road Series is shaping up to be a three-way battle for the top spot between brothers Jesse and Mark Lalonde and Sheboygan racer Brian Matter. A Triple Crown winner in 2004 and cyclocross world championship team member last winter, Matter (Gear Grinder) powered to the top spot this Sunday at the WORS Big Ring Classic in Wausau, Wisconsin.

The Big Ring Classic was the third race in the 2009 WORS series. Heavy rains the night before left the rocky, root-strewn course slick and technical. The three leaders rode together for two laps before Jesse Lalonde (Gary Fisher 29er/T6/BKB) suffered a flat that would never fully seal and Matter attacked off the front. Matter gradually gapped Mark Lalonde (Planet Bike/GT/T6) to finish nearly 50 seconds ahead at 2:14:40.

“It was another battle royal out there with the Lalonde brothers. The technical sections were slippery, but the throttle was wide open the entire race,” said Matter.

The first sounds of his flat and the “sight of Stan’s showering the underside of my down tube was an anticlimactic end to a boiling battle,” said Jesse Lalonde. Despite repeated stops to attempt repair and add air to the rupturing tire, the elder Lalonde held off the competition on a course where “every bump reopened the wound.” He managed to chase back to a third place finish despite the strong performance of Brian Eppen of Iowa City, Iowa (Mercy Specialized), who finished fourth.

Technical singletrack and sprint finishes

The flat at the Big Ring Classic was a frustrating moment for 2008 WORS Overall Series leader Jesse Lalonde.

“The perma peev was setting in before I crossed the line but quickly reversed when I saw the smiles of (my family),” said Lalonde. Undefeated in 2008, Lalonde was narrowly bested at the line in the 2009 WORS opener , the Iola Bump & Jump on May 17, by his younger brother Mark.

Then, in the second race of the 2009 series, the Crystal Lake Classic on May 31, the elder Lalonde again sprinted to the finish line, this time with Brian Matter. After a grueling 33-mile race, the two finished nearly 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the field.

Lalonde, who rides a rigid singlespeed, set the pace for much of the race, but after a sprint of almost a mile from the last section of singletrack, Matter was first to cross the line.

“Crystal Lake has some of the best technical mountain biking in the Midwest”, said Matter. “It was great to do battle with Jesse right to the finish line.”

“I agree fully that the season is shaping up to be a battle”, said Jesse Lalonde after the WORS Crystal Lake Classic. “Personally I started a bit later this year in hopes of holding my fitness longer or for the point-to-point triple crown events. If I’m going to get beat it might as well be by either one of those guys. They are great competitors and great friends. Honestly, I see Marko pulling out some huge results this year. It’s going to be up to Brian and I to fend him off.”

Mark Lalonde rode with the two leaders through most of the race at Crystal Lake, and came back from a flat late in the race to secure fifth place.

“I hung on to Jesse and Brian but never really had the snap I was looking for”, said the younger Lalonde. “I was still waiting for an open section late in the last lap to try out the legs. That ended quickly a quarter of the way through the last lap as I slit my front tire. Sealant wouldn’t do the trick so I fumbled through a tube change, falling back to about 12th. I got it going as best I could and managed to pick off a few riders to roll in fifth.”

The technical singletrack of the expert course at Crystal Lake was a challenge to the entire field. “I think it’s a great venue if not the best in the series due to the criminal routing of the single track,” said Jesse Lalonde after the race.

The lap at WORS Iola Bump & Jump, by contrast, is best known for fast, flowing sand and a opening heavy on climbs. The final section of sandy, pine singletrack ended mere feet from the finish line as the two Lalonde brothers chased to the line. “With the flowing singletrack and short open sections the course offered, it was beneficial to stay out front,” said Mark Lalonde. “I felt good enough to tow the lead for the last lap or two. It’s the least I could do as Jesse led me out nearly every race last year. I made the most of the front position, surging on the open sections. The short finishing stretch played to my advantage as I managed to hold Jesse off at the line.”

WORS has continued to attract a competitive crowd of regional and national racers, and at the Iola Bump & Jump Travis Woodruff of Tucson, AZ (Adventure 212/ Specialized) crossed the line just 49 seconds behind the Lalonde brothers, holding off Brian Eppen by a single second to take third place.

Early women’s series races dominated by Kim Eppen

Kim Eppen of Iowa City (Mercy Specialized) dominated the women’s field at the Big Ring Classic, crossing the line over 9 minutes ahead of the second place woman, teammate Robin Williams. The women’s field also attracted a strong showing from Minnesota’s Cat 1 ranks, with Kyia Anderson of Saint Cloud (Hidden Bay Sports) crossing the line in third place just seconds behind Williams. WORS 2008 Overall Series Leader, Abigail Strigel (Mafia Racing/Pabst/Felt), finished fourth.

Eppen also won at the season opener in Iola, crossing the line almost 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the field (1:29:38). “The Iola and Wausau [Big Ring Classic] courses are two of my favorite race courses in the WORS series due to the diversity of terrain and awesome single track riding” said Eppen. “The WORS crew does such a great job at setting up the courses and running the events, which is the reason why Brian (my husband) and I travel so far to go to them.” Second place at Iola went to Abigail Strigel of Madison, WI (1:34:22), followed by Rebecca Cleveland of Green Bay (Bike Hub; 1:35:15).

Strigel came back at the Crystal Lake Classic to put the hurt on the women’s field, smoothly powering to a 5-minute gap on the rest of the field (1:45:48). Second and third place went to Holly Liske of Madison (Hayes Disc Brakes; 1:50:38) and Andrea Matter of Sheboygan (Gear Grinder; 1:54:08).

For complete results, see http://wors.org.