“Lights, camera, action” – Its GO time for mtb racing in 2021.
The Trans-Sylvania Epic is a classic US stage race that has featured some of the finest East Coast trails for more than a decade. But the trails themselves weren’t the only rocky element of the 5 day event. After several years of successful growth and running the Epic became quietly for sale as the original promoters attention shifted towards youth cycling and development of a state wide youth program.
Thus the Epic encountered a couple years of rocks and bumps. Enter promoter Ryan Fulton; a native of PA who’s chosen second career after the US Marines is delivering good times in race promotion. Fulton purchased the event and experienced first hand the nitty gritty challenges of presenting the Epic in 2019. With a renewed focus and a covid-induced planning year he set to delivering on the potential and in 2020 showed 250 riders what’s so special about Central Pennsylvania and those #PARocks.
One of the special elements of the Epic is that pros and average riders alike all convene at the Seven Mountains Scout camp and most reside on campus in cabins, RV’s or tented up in various pockets of the property. With one exception each stage starts and finishes from within camp, giving riders ample time to mingle. After a year away from the competitive scene and camaraderie therein the need for social closeness was felt. Even with that need the TSE promotion team did a tremendous job of creating physical distance, masked starts, and minimal gatherings. The “summer camp” vibe is felt in a big way, with “bike games” hosted on day 3 of TSE.
Each stage features a classic mix of loamy Central Pennsylvania old growth forests and ridgetop granite slabs. Riders foray into the bald eagle and Rothrock state forests as well as R.B. Winter park on stage 3 for a change of scenery and a little more “flow.” The weekly metrics of 150 miles, 15,000 feet of climbing dont do the technicality of the terrain justice. Stages 1-5 read fairly short, and without major sustained climbing efforts. The legs of riders however tell a different story.
The granite slabs and gardens of Central Pennsylvania showcase old mountains eroded by time and during TSE maybe the clumsy hiking of carbon soled cycling shoes. The angular exposure of rocky ridges coupled with fast rolling gravel roads makes for an incredible 5 days of racing varied and always challenging terrain. For the 2021 event the courses have been updated and by racer’s estimations totally dialed in for fast stages with enough chunky terrain to favor athletes who can hold things together over challenging terrain.
2021 saw a limited field as only US athletes were presently permitted into the country for the event. With the limit of 250 riders in attendance the “summer camp” feel was undeniable and warm. Returning champions Kerry Werner (Kona Factory) and Britt Mason (Joe’s Bike Shop Racing) both stepped into the field and all eyes were on them. New enough courses presented openings in both races. Flow Formulas MTB has emerged as something of a force in East Coast racing and with Will Loevner and Logan Kasper both in attendance Werner had his hands full. Cannondale’s Ryan Johnson brought PA roots and lots of riding experience to the game as well as seemed a sure shot for the Under 23 jersey. Nick Lando (Elite Endurance) and Cody Philips rounded out a field of complete athletes who wouldnt let Werner get away with much.
The men’s race was characterized by mechanicals, heat induced physiological challenges on the early second day’s Queen Stage, and endless punctured tires. Werner’s gap grew each day he held air in his tires. With the exception of a brief pinch near the end of the first stage Werner’s choice to bring burly Maxxis rubber, ample NoTubes sealant, and interestingly Cushcore’s XC liners would perhaps be the most clutch move of the week. A handful of racers across podiums opted for tire liners or a single liner to help keep things composed. Werner’s choice was crucial as each day his gap grew notably with attacks neutralized by the Pennsylvania terrain itself; consistency becoming key through the week. Dry fast terrain aided Werner’s efforts to put time into the competition as he swept the daily podiums for all but the 3rd day. Stage 3 is seen as the “flow stage” of TSE. No particularly challenging terrain or feature gives one rider an advantage over another. Werner ceded a few moments to a charging Logan Kasper.
The women’s field’s returning champion would have much the same challenge. A familiar opponent; albeit friend, in experienced competitor Libby Sheldon (CXHairs) brought a dialed approach that be able to take advantage of any slip by Mason. A newcomer to TSE but a fixture of US Cycling Taylor Kuyk-White (Philly Bike Expo) registered to bring a little spice to a well known recipe. The trio would be the focus of the women’s race as each day the Cutaway Cycling golden fleece would change hands or be barely retained by Mason after stage 1.
Even into the final day the trio of Mason, Sheldon, and Kuyk-White were as relentless in their racing as they seemed to be in their support of each other’s victories. The trio battled daily and then each day pensively waited near the finish to see how their competition fared; sensitive to more than just time gaps but the experiences of each other.
Brit Mason would eventually in the final day cinch her lead; by less than a minute, and this illustration of shared experience is part of what makes #SingletrackSummerCamp. Its a common theme in stage races that the elation of completion and shared experience build fast friends. This is never more true than at Trans-Sylvania Epic.
The Trans-Sylvania Epic experience for 2021 was a perfect week of bike racing and sharing. The updated routes; while on the shorter side for most stage races, brought challenges and showcased one of the best riding regions in the Eastern US. Technical trail often acts as a crux at TSE while ample mixed surface allows racers to flex their muscle and open their throttles in tactical racing.
Coupling incredible terrain and racing backdrop at Seven Mountains Scout Camp is hospitality, healthy well prepared food, and an organization that seemed unchallenged by any issues. In the opinion of this rider the Trans-Sylvania Epic has reemerged as a pillar of US stage racing and an event no racer should miss.
Looking towards the future and showcasing the natural resources of the region promoter Ryan Fulton is adding a fall gravel stage race to the mix for the future. The pair of epic will be known as Trans-Sylvania Epic Races and will be alternating spring and fall experiences in the PA wilds.