Updates to a Winning Format
For nearly a decade the Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Race pitched the United States’ best amateur and professional racers against some of the most challenging terrain in North America. The Epic has taken several forms with a clover-leaf format departing the Seven Mountain Boy Scout camp in central Pennsylvania being the most successful. As the event’s originator transitioned focus to heavily supporting youth mountain bike racing in the US National Inter-scholastic Cycling Association (NICA) the “TSE” gradually received less and less attention before being called off mid-season in 2017.
Enter Ryan Fulton; Pennsylvania native, and rising entrepreneur of cycling events in the US Southeast. Fulton saw the opportunity to reinvigorate the Trans-Sylvania Epic and purchased the rights to promote the event; even changing his production company and brand to align with the event.
For 2019 Trans-Sylvania Productions built an updated version of the TSE with tweaked routes and a face lifted format; 5 stages with a single enduro segment on each stage. On paper the 154 mile combined distance with 16,464ft of ascent course is not overly worrisome. Experienced riders would know however that the rugged landscape of the Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests would put riders battling and clawing for every inch of each stage.
2019 would feature 5 and 3 day versions over Memorial Day weekend. Solo and duo categories raced simultaneously with almost every category full for a podium across Open male and female, 40+, Singlespeed, and Clydesdale divisions.
As 152 riders from several US states, Canada, and Spain gathered to attend over the 3 and 5 day versions of the event the updated race showed tremendous promise. Duo and Solo categories were stacked for the week. Past winners Jeremiah Bishop (Canyon Factory), Kerry Werner (Kona), Emily Shields (Ken’s Bike Shop), and many prior competitors toed the line with new and promising riders following hot on their heels and sharing campsites at the Seven Mountains Camp.
In class fashion Canyon’s Jeremiah Bishop would thunder to a Stage One win along the Poe Valley route (33.6 miles 3,244 feet). A gravel heavy stage Poe Valley saw quick finish times. Ambitious and experienced Cutaway Cycling’s Bryan Lewis quickly made his presence known as he held Bishop to a very slim lead of less than a second on the day. US Cyclocross strong man and all-round agent of epic Kerry Werner would fill out the day’s podium. In the women’s race CarboRocket’s Carla Williams dropped hammers and all of her competition to build nearly 15 minute gap on 2nd place Marlee Dixon (Pearl-Izumi/Pivot Cycles).
Stage Two would be the Queen stage of the week. With a total ascent of 4,843 in a brief 34.8 miles over unrelentingly technical terrain. The stage would favor climbing legs and strong handling upper bodies in equal measure. Bishop would again win the day though this time with a meaningful margin over Lewis who finished a minute and a half in arrears. Werner warmed up practicing third fiddle for the week as he began to focus more heavily on the enduro segments; taking a notable lead in the enduro category which he would ride to a near hat-trick. In a twist of fate Carla Williams crashed on the opening downhill and sustained a deep cut in her thigh and knee, Williams rode through the tremendous pain and delivered a stage win but nearly collapsed at the finish and was taken to the hospital. Despite her damage Williams finished 2nd on the day where Britt Mason (Joe’s Bike Shop) took with win, with Marlee Dixon rounding out the podium.
Stage Three (30.4 miles 2,727 feet) took place from a fresh start line as 3 day racers joined the mix. The somewhat more tame R.B. Winter state park featured a faster faster anticipated route. Lewis; who spent two years in the US domestic pro road peloton, eyed this stage and its smooth surface bias as an opportunity to sneak in a stage win. Lewis attacked repeatedly in an effort to force a separation before ultimately sneaking off the front in a gradual 2 mile climb and garnering 40 seconds on Bishop. With CarboRocket’s Carla Williams out of the running due to her Stage 2 crash the women’s field was electrified with opportunity. Britt Mason capitalized and seized the win with Race Pace Bikes’ Julia Thumel coming in close behind, Marlee Dixon again stepping on the podium in 3rd.
The story of Stage 3 was the disaster of race delay averted by Men’s leader Jeremiah Bishop. En route to the remote start the race caravan found the road blocked by a stalled milk truck blocking the road. Many contestants opted to take the long reroute around the truck while Bishop eagerly offered to assist. Bishop grabbed a long crow bar the driver was using to dislodge the starter and put the watt/kg to work; enabling the truck to start and the road to be unblocked.
Stage 4 promised some of the most technical terrain riders would face for the week. Tussey Mountain Stage – 32.9 miles 3,274 feet of the rocky exposed Tussey Ridge, the granite field known as the Longaberger trail, and the snaking dirt patch of the kettles and 3 bridges trail. After a stage 3 win Cutaway’s Bryan Lewis was on the offensive, knowing that technical trail ninja Jeremiah Bishop might seek to press his advantage on the challenging terrain. And it appeared Bishop might sneak the win until the final road segments where Lewis proved the hardpack was his realm and brought Bishop to account with a win and an additional 15 seconds off Bishop’s lead. Kona’s Kerry Werner continued to attack the enduro segments with a clean run although Cody Phillips (CXHairs/TRp) would pressure him with a win on the day and decreasing gaps.
Lady rippers continued to shuffle in the absence of Carla Williams with Rocky Mountain ripper Marlee Dixon bringing home a win and a substantial time gap of nearly 5 minutes to Britt mason. Julia Thumel (Race Pace) continued to surge late in the race with another 3rd place.
Stage 5 saw riders with their final foray into the forest back in the direction that Stage 1 had sent them. The “New Bald Eagle Stage” was a short 22.5 miles with 2,376 feet of climbing. Despite a rain storm the evening prior Lewis and Bishop were sure to bring dry powder to the fireworks show; less than 11 seconds separated the two on the stage 5 start line. Bishop kept Lewis honest despite attack after attack coming from the Charlottesville VA rider. The two crossed the finish line nearly together with Werner again not far behind and again winning the stages enduro. Final result: Bishop (10:43 total time), Lewis, Werner.
Britt Mason showed her wattage on the day to storm to a commanding lead over Marlee Dixon by close to 5 minutes. Emily Shields brought home a final podium for the week in 3rd on the power heavy stage. The women’s race would finish dramatically with the absence of Carla Williams with Britt Mason (13:37 total time) winning the week followed by Marlee Dixon and Julia Thumel.
Final Results across all categories
So what about #SingletrackSummerCamp?
The Trans-Sylvania Epic has made a name for itself as Singletrack summer camp among US racers. A good time, on great trail, with an encouraging atmosphere lubricated by great beer. The renovated version of the race proved that the updated format for the event more than stood up to previous runnings. New promoter and owner Ryan Fulton showed that the support system for the event was still strong and that the format updates could bring the event back to the forward charge of US stage racing.
For this author the new TSE was a great way to kick off summer. An encouraging and inclusive community built around a summer camp atmosphere shows off the best features of the stage race format. Ill be back next year for #singletracksummercamp!