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Saturday, July 26, 2003 -- State College, PA
Wilderness 101 Backcountry MTB Race (iPO Event Id#: 5715) Story by Chris Scott with photos by Dana Harshberger

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8]
Also see the press release from Trek on Chris Eatough's win

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And the Wilderness 101 returns
This year's Wilderness 101 - July 26th, 2003 - played out like a grand European classic, hosting a packed field of stars looking for the top 10. It played itself out just as dramatically as one could hope - some goals shattered and some dreams realized. Not necessarily apart from this exciting racing was the crew that was riding for the finish - a fine day in the mountains on the bike in the fully supported touring fashion provided by Shenandoah Mountain Touring. And yes, while laid back and relaxed, everyone had something to prove to themselves. Be it beating that time they had been thinking about all winter while on the indoor trainer or riding out in the freezing cold. Or besting their local riding partners, taking home the torch for another year.

State College local's Ryan Leech (2nd), Chip Kogelmann (6th) and Nick Pedatella (11th - 1st Junior) had fairytale rides to the top of their expectations. While regular top finisher's Peter Kostes, Benjie Klimas, Harlan Price and locals Eric Roman, Rich Straub, Bill Alcorn, and Mike Biegalski struggled in the heat that reached the mid 80's. The day was extra long for Wilderness 101 stars Tiffany Mann and Skip Brown. Mann was unable to find her victory legs, while her sweetheart Skip failed to pick up a directional marker even though his legs were motoring him at warp speed to a top 3 finish.

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The pack heads for the singletrack
The women's race went like hell from the get-go when Danielle Musto attacked over the crest of the 1st climb passing Gina Guerrera and Diana Panchyk. Danielle was so focused on her output that she missed the right turn arrows and started to descend on the wrong gravel road. Gina and Diana produced an acceleration that matched Danielle and followed her off course. The ensuing descent proved catastrophic for Danielle as she noticed there were no more markers and she hit her brakes dumping it at high speed onto her knees and gashing them both deep. Gina and Diana assisted her in arranging transport to medical facilities and proceeded to get back on course eventually finishing with brilliant rides.

This left the doors open for a showdown between East Coast endurance legend Tiffany Mann, collegiate all star athlete Lindsey Keller and regular top 3 finisher Lee Schwarz. Lee was able to stay focused for every mile on the 101 mile course and bested a struggling Mann to gain her 1st victory in the 101/100 mile genre. Lindsey Keller put some fear into Mann when they shared time at an aid station but Mann was able to regroup and push it to the finish holding onto her 2nd position with Keller in 3rd.

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Fun in the sun
That is not where the battling stopped for the saucy ladies. The sub 11th hour slot produced some hot competition between Patty Buerkle 10:02:37, Kristen Dieffenbach 10:09:34, and Sue George 10:30:02, with Meredith Erlewine just missing the mark at 11:00:19. Gina and Diana recovered to take 8th and 13th with adjusted times, while Nicole Sheets disappeared off the course and dropped out of contention for a top finish.

The group of racers that provides inspiration to us all is the over 50 posse. And inspire us they did with John Majors laying down a superbly insane time of 9:38:17. This made Marshall Hammond's winning time in 2002 of 11:27 look geriatric. Marshall was in the same game as John this year with a huge improvement off his last year's time dropping 1.5 hours to finish in 10:06:17.

Jim Claudias put down the hammer for 3rd well under the 11-hour mark at 10:49:11. Rick Heck the youngster of the group locked down 4th in a time of 11:33:48 and Dennis Robertson slid in for 5th in 12:43:25. Debi Sheets confirmed Marshall's example that you do get better with age as the 52 year old temptress dropped half an hour off her last years time to finish in 12:23:57 while putting some of the fellows to shame.

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A sweet singletrack bridge
Singlespeeders, generally known for their determination and these days Tattoo's battled like we expected. Danny Brennan the ink free rider was looking for another mind-blowing time until his pedal exploded. This left the door open for a battle between the colorful riders Eric Roman on his pink 29er Independent Fabrication and Mark Elsasser, both sporting an abundant amount of body graffiti/art?

Les Leach played his part and exploded off the front of the race setting a bold pace until trouble with course markers and then the ensuing lack of energy after retracing his ground derailed his chances and shot him out of the top 5. Elsasser did prove to be victorious with Brennan close behind in 2nd after swapping a pedal with aid station support. Brennan's training partner and good friend Travis Turner took the final spot on the podium.

Mike Moraties donned his singlespeed for the 1st time in a race of this length and was able to keep it together for 4th place ahead of a suffering Eric Roman. Roman pushed it to the wall the entire race. But that wasn't the same wall he is used to seeing this spring as he made lap records in endurance events up and down the east coast. When asked about his race, Roman said "I was able to crush Lloyd and thus my existence remains fulfilling." Lloyd Graves the magician behind the paint and overall company image of Independent Fabrications was a bit dejected at the finish stating, "Roman the chump pulled some shady moves out there, I guess I won't take his bike back this time, but he will pay the price!"

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Toping yet another mountain
The Mens's race was a barnburner. A group of 30 plus separated themselves on the 1st climb. Notably not in the front group was Bill Alcorn, unable to make the move that would hurt him all day. Alcorn was able to scrape it together and have a good finish joining with Steve Thorn. Another State College local Fred Handle blew his shot at the top 10 when his bike faltered late in the race.

Coming into the mid point of the race, the front group, the strongest in race history had separated itself into an elite squad. Three time 24 hour Solo World Champion Chris Eatough was leading the charge slightly slipping away from Skip Brown on the descents. Brown was bridging/holding his own on the climbs, but a combination of Croyle Run and Telephone trail made Skip have to put his head down and really hammer hoping to catch a glimpse of Eatough again. This yo-yo effect would prove the downfall for Skip as he hammered head down past a set of arrows and shot off the course. Brown got back in contention before repeating his mistake later in the race but miraculisouly was able to scrape together a top 10 finish riding into 9th place.

With Brown out of contention Eatough blazed his customized Trek Fuel to a new course record and got in a great weekend of training in preparation for his attempt for a 4th World Title in the 24 hour Solo distance. Ryan Leech improved his placing from 3rd in 2002 to 2nd this year. He attributed his increase in fitness to his European tour - the Milk Rack in the UK.

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There is light at the end of the tunnel
Close behind Leech was last year's winner Mike Keefer. Keefer lost his chances for 2nd position when he couldn't find his way on the course for 10 minutes or so in the dark singletrack. 22-year-old phenomena Adam Childers from Virginia rode his jalopy to 4th place overcoming all sorts of issues with his worn out steed. Mark Hendershot bounced all over the top 10 and the course, coming out of 8th into 3rd on his way to station #4 and sliding back to 5th position by the finish.

The unexpected motor of the day goes to local Chip Kogelmann for tearing the legs off the top riders on the road sections. Chip was losing time in the woods but was able to step on the gas in the open and TT his way up the ranks to an impressive 6th place just ahead of thoroughbred's Jens Nielsen and Garth Prosser. Rich Straub was able hold it together and round out the top 10 even though he felt like he was flushed off the back.

The juniors of the day were separated into 2 worlds by the end of the day. Nick Pedatella who rode like a top senior to take 11th place in his 2nd running of the event. Nick destroyed some of his fellow State College riding partner's egos on this fine day. Mark Schow had a solid ride for 2nd coming in 36th overall in his 1st attempt in the 101.

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It's 101 of fun for Maurice and the Dirt Rag crew
The Battle between "house" squads proved to be equally thrilling. The Mt. Nittany Wheelworks shop torch was passed to Harry Sherrill, as he scorched a 9:21. The Dirt Rag office fielded a determined bunch of 5, all of which made the 101-mile distance - more than we can say for the Mt. Nittany guys. The Rag crew was led by Editor Michael Browne and Karl Rosengarth the IMBA State Rep for Western PA. Head Dirt Rag honcho Maurice got the ultra monkey off his back when he reached the finish line before dark very satisfied with his long day in the saddle.

The riding continued until way past dark when Greg Kauffman strolled in as the last finisher. Greg almost missed out on State College's finest beer from Otto's Pub & Brewery. But the 3rd keg was still flowing and the feast was still prepared as it was for every finisher of the 2003 Wilderness 101.