Post race interviews with BelGioioso Elite podium finishers after the action-packed thrid race of the season, the Big Ring Classic outside Wausau, WI.Blogs:
WORS Media roundup for the Big Ring Classic:Big guns come out at WORS #3
Defending Champion Tristan Schouten returns to go one-two with Brian Matter
by Claire Cannon
Defending Overall Champion Tristan Schouten (Rolf Prima / Giant), current Series leader Brian Matter (Gear Grinder / Trek), and two Lalonde brothers (Lalonde Bros-T6), including past WORS Champion Jesse Lalonde, toed the line with a deep field on Sunday for the heavy-hitting third race of the 2012 Subaru-sponsored Wisconsin Off Road Series. The course broke a long lead out into a series of tight chicanes and short singletrack sprints before climbing into technical rocky singletrack, and had the field racing hard from “Go!”
“I thought today was a really hard race,” commented Brian Matter. “It was the first race of the 2012 Series where all the big hitters were here. And with the different start, right from the gun everybody was pretty aggressive. It wasn’t like [WORS #2] Rhinelander where we started down the dirt road holding hands. It was pretty much racing the entire time.”
Each lap was a mixture of wide-open, blazing-fast doubletrack and tight, rocky-strewn singletrack, with several significant climbs to keep things honest.
All-American Flyer – Stelljes off the front
Heading out onto their second lap, a large lead group of 10 riders remained together, including Schouten, Matter, brothers Mark and Jesse Lalonde, Nathan Guerra (Wheel & Sprocket / Vision), Kevin McConnell (Mercy-Specialized), Mike Phillips (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and relative newcomers Corey Stelljes (The Bike Hub / Specialized), Isaac Neff (Williamson Bicycle Works), Justin Piontek (The Bike Hub / Specialized), and Joe Maloney (Team Wisconsin / KS Energy). As they moved onto the first of two significant climbs leading into rocky singletrack, neo-pro and former All-American runner Corey Stelljes went to the front and “threw in this crazy move,” relayed Mark Lalonde.
“We hit the long grade and I went to the front,” said Stelljes. “I like races to be hard the whole time and put it out there. I took a flyer off the group and made it through the next rocky, downhill singletrack. Those guys brought me back, but it whittled the group down to about five.”
Once the group made contact with Stelljes again, fellow neo-pro Issac Neff helped drive the pace up a brutally steep climb. As the pitch continued to climb leading into the rockiest singletrack, the remaining chase group shattered behind the leaders.
The Lalonde brothers, racing singlespeed, dismounted and ran up the hill, keeping pace with the field. By the middle of that lap, Schouten had counterattacked and was being chased by Brian Matter, Nathan Guerra, Mark Lalonde and Joe Maloney. Issac Neff, Corey Stelljes, Tyler Gauthier, Justin Piontek and Jesse Lalonde were all less than 30 seconds behind the lead.
Defending Champion Schouten attributed his ability to make his breakaway stick to being able to power through the technical, rocky singletrack sections on his new, full-suspension Giant Anthem.
“Last year I was able to get off the front a few times but I was riding a hard tail and every time we got to a rocky section they would bring me back,” recalled Schouten. “This year, I was climbing with my lightweight Rolf Prima wheels and I could pedal the bumpy stuff. That pretty much separated the group. I think Brian and Nathan came up to me and then it was just the three of us.”
In the final lap, Matter was setting the pace when a sudden flat ended Guerra’s race and, as discovered later, left tread marks on Schouten’s calf as the Wheel & Sprocket rider literally fell into him. In the chase group, Corey Stelljes and Mark Lalonde dueled in the singletrack while just behind them Tyler Gauthier and Joe Maloney fought for the final podium spot. Maloney, who nearly had his foot on a podium step for the second race in a row, ended his race early when he took a hard fall in the technical, rocky singletrack and fractured a collarbone.
The finish came down to a sprint
If Midwest mountain bike racing fans could field “fantasy” MTB Teams, longtime rivals, training partners and Sheboygan locals Tristan Schouten and Brian Matter would be top picks on any roster. Spectators came running to watch the showdown as the two emerged from the final section of singletrack and set up their finish. Schouten and Matter have sprinted to the finish at Wausau before and, in 2011, Matter came out on top.
“Battling Tristan, it was good to have him back on the WORS scene,” said Matter after the fact. “Before the last turn, I had a quick word with Tristan. I said ‘How about I lead it out this year and we’ll see what happens.’ He says ‘OK.’ And I guess the Golden Rule at this venue is don’t lead out the sprint, because you can’t win if you lead it out. Three years in a row now it comes down to a sprint, and each time the guy who leads it out loses.”
“We were both sit-down sprinting because we were both cramping,” explained Schouten. “It was pretty much whoever had it.”
At 1:55:55.6 Schouten had it, stamping his return to WORS with a strong defense of his 2011 title and a commanding presence at arguably the hardest race of the Series thus far. Matter finished in second place at 1:55:56.2, while Mark Lalonde made the singletrack make the difference over Corey Stelljes to take third at 1:56:19. Stelljes stepped onto the Overall Podium for the first time in 4th at 1:56:51, and Tyler Gauthier won a brutal race of attrition to claim 5th in 1:57:51.
As the Wisconsin Series moves into the heat of summer, the competition in the men’s BelGioioso Elite field is guaranteed to yield fast, hard racing. With strong neo-pro riders battling to make moves in the lead group, perennial podium finishers Nathan Guerra and Mike Phillips looking to move up, past and defending Series Champions controlling the pace, and both Lalonde brothers in the mix aboard formidable singlespeed gearing, the outcome is anyone’s guess. Throw in local wild cards like Matt Shriver and Brian Eppen, and men’s BelGioioso Elite racing will be turning up the heat this season.
Strigel unbeaten in Women’s Series
In the women’s race Abby Strigel and Robin Williams broke away early from a combined women’s Elite and Open field of over 20 women. Once in the singletrack, Strigel took the lead and did not look back, staying out of sight to win in 1:40:29. Williams (Mercy-Specialized), has been a significant threat at this venue before, alongside teammate Kim Eppen, and was not far behind, finishing in 1:42:53. Although within sight through three laps, Lisa Krayer (1:43:46; Adventure 212 / Specialized), Lori Sable (1:43:46) and Sarah Agena-Wright (1:45:56; Adventure 212 / Specialized) held their places throughout the race to round out the women’s BelGioioso Elite podium.
WORS Rolls on to Cam Rock
The Year of the Junior continues at WORS with 157 racers ages 18 and under competing at the Trek Big Ring Classic at ability levels from Cat 3 Citizen to Cat 1. The next race of the 2012 Subaru-sponsored Wisconsin Off Road Series will be held just outside the state Capitol of Madison, WI at the Battle of Cam Rock on June 17.