2010 WORS BelGioioso Elite Series Overall Winners

Strigel and Schouten win 2010 Wisconsin Off Road Series BelGioioso Elite Overalls by Claire Cannon This article is also available at cyclingnews.com

Winners in the 2010 Subaru-sponsored WORS Series, now in it's 20th season, were honored on October 30 at the annual WORS Awards Banquet in Stevens Point, WI. BelGioioso Elite Series overall winner Abby Strigel (Trek Stores of Madison) is now the first person to ever win the WORS BelGioioso Elite Overall four times. In the men’s series, Tristan Schouten (Mafia / Felt) was crowned 2010 WORS Elite Series overall winner.

For Schouten, 2010 was his third overall win of the WORS Series, bringing him equal with defending champ Brain Matter (Gear Grinder / Trek) at three Series titles apiece. The two racers both call Sheboygan home and, earlier in the season, Schouten had joked with Matter that, not only did he want the “1” number plate, he wanted the particular “1” number plate that Matter had been racing all season.

“We might have to have a little ceremony to transfer the plate,” said Matter before the final WORS race of the season. “It may involve a Packers game.”

Schouten first won the WORS BelGioioso Elite overall in 2001 when he was only 19, making him the youngest overall winner in WORS history. He won again in 2002, and then shifted his focus for several year to national races. This season, Schouten has raced with success in the WORS Pro / Cat 1 Elite field, on the road, and in cyclocross.

In June, at the Subaru Cup Pro XCT, Schouten started at the very back of the men’s Pro race and worked his way through a 60+ man field to finish in 11th place. The following day at the Short Track, he was narrowly edged from the podium by Todd Wells, and took 6th ahead of racers like Carl Decker, Ryan Trebon and Sid Taberlay. After winning the WORS Series this fall, Schouten has turned his attention to cyclocross. With repeated top-5 finishes in the Pro field, he has continued to do himself and Wisconsin proud through a very long season.

“I’ve been measuring time in seconds lately,” wrote Schouten, who recently started a new job. “In the last month, I would kill for 10 minutes to sit on the couch.”

Schouten credits his wife, Jamie, for her incredible support throughout his racing season and singled out his sponsors, including Mafia Racing and Felt Bicycles, for helping him make a successful bid at the WORS Overall title.

“I haven’t had a mechanical all year, and with the schedule we set, I could not have afforded to miss a single WORS race because of bike trouble,” he observed. “It’s not easy to find a great sponsor to support you in a time like this, when the economy is not so strong, and I’m grateful to Mafia and Felt. I also want to thank my coach, Gordon Paulson, for helping me to train well in only 9-12 hours a week, so that I can still work and have a family.”

When asked about his Series win, Schouten laughed modestly: “I’m pretty happy with my finish in the WORS Overall. This has probably been one of my best seasons ever. I raced WORS this season for the competition. Our local racing series is one of the best series in the country, and I’m able to come out every other week and be challenged and race against so many fast guys.”

I asked Schouten why this season has been especially good for him.

“Every year, I race,” said Schouten. “It’s who I’ve become, and being competitive is part of that. I think this year I’ve reached a greater level of maturity in my fitness and racing experience. I’ve gain a lot of experience from racing so often for years. Also, racing both at WORS and on the road this season helped me to build my fitness on the weekends. With the high level of competition at WORS, it’s never easy to win. And now, a one-hour cyclocross race sometimes doesn’t seem so bad.”

Defending WORS Champ Brian Matter, too, is having an outstanding cyclocross season in 2010, and credited some of his race-readiness this fall to the challenge of Midwest mountain bike competition and frequent WORS races.

“You can’t just train,” said Matter. “If you just train for 9 months and then want to go fast, it won’t happen. This year, it was hard to start my season later than ever and train though so many WORS races. It was hard physically and especially mentally, because even though my big goal right now is in December, whenever it’s time to race, I want to win. When it’s time for Chequamegon, it’s hard to keep December in mind, because I guess I just have that habit of wanting to defend my title.”

Matter did defend his title at the Chequamegon 40 this year, finishing seconds ahead of Schouten. He ended the WORS season in fourth overall, behind relative newcomers Darrin Braun (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and Nathan Guerra (Mr. Tree Racing / PowerBar). Braun’s teammate Chris Peariso took the fifth spot on the men’s podium.

In addition to the success of seasoned veterans, the WORS’ 2010 men's BelGioioso Elite Series has been a story of fresh talent pushing the competition. Darrin Braun and Nathan Guerra battled all year for the second step on the men’s podium. Like Schouten and Matter, the two are fierce rivals on the course and friends and occasional training partners between races. Guerra, who has raced in the WORS Elite field since 2005, was among those who initially encouraged Braun to enter WORS competition after riding with him at a local time trial.

“Nate and I, we’ve been riding together pretty much since we met at Crystal Ridge,” explained Braun. “Nate would come out to race, and I knew who he was. I was like: ‘Wow, he’s top five in WORS Elite, that’s totally cool.’ I like riding with Nate, and out there, we encourage each other. Like during our race, I'll be chasing him and I saying to him, ‘Get going! Don’t let me catch you.’ WORS is like that. Anybody who races WORS knows about the camaraderie.”

“I’m happy,” said Braun after the Series finale. “I did want to win the Series. I gave it a good try. Last year, I set my goal as top ten. I crushed that goal. I was a little too conservative, so that’s why I set my goal at first this year. Things did change, with a new job and no structured training since June. But I stuck with it and that’s the thing. I’m still out there pushing hard. And there’s next year.”

“Darrin and I fought it out pretty hard for that second place position,” said third-place finisher Nathan Guerra. “My goal was to finish again in the top five. I’ve been fifth now two years in a row, and this year I finished third. This season, I’ve gained some confidence to ride at the front more and try and win races, not just try and hang on. Now, I’m more likely to think: ‘I’m going to make something happen.’ I’m going out to try and win races. I’ve learned so much about racing this season, and about how much it matters what’s in your head during the race. This season, I’ve been in more situations with really fast competitors, and I’ve learned how to think about those situations and respond to them. In 2011, I plan to do a full WORS Series and, if we can make it work with family and finances, I’ll do the Pro XCT as well.”

Fifth-place finisher Chris Peariso also plans to return to the WORS Series while adding some National races to his event calendar for 2011.

“I had a second at the Cohutta 100 this year,” said Peariso. “I want to see, next year, if that was a fluke or maybe there’s some natural ability there that I haven’t tapped yet. I turn 36 today, and the sprints over and over again at WORS, I don’t know. They say they’re supposed to go away as you get older, but I’m still having fun out here! I’ll try to hit as many WORS races as I possible can, and also try a few in the NUE Series.”

Strigel takes fourth Overall Title in the women’s series

In the women’s Series, Abigail Strigel (Trek Stores of Madison) has been exceptionally modest this season about her dominance of the competition. When a mechanical at the season opener sidelined former Series winner Kim Eppen (Mercy-Specialized), Strigel commented afterwards that: “She would have kicked my butt.” In 2010, Strigel has been challenged by consistent local competition more often than during the previous two years, particularly by second-place finisher Lisa Krayer (Adventure 212 / Specialized), who took third at the Chequamegon 40 this year and pushed Strigel at several WORS races in 2010. Despite her modesty, the Madison racer had another impressive year in 2010 and, at 27, seems poised for many successful seasons to come.

“Can she be beaten?” laughed fourth-place finisher Lori Sable before WORS Season finale at Sheboygan. “We’re all trying, but I just don’t know.”

While Strigel is the woman to beat in Wisconsin, she also had an impressive showing among national competitors. With a back-row start, Strigel finished in 13th place in a very strong Pro Women’s field at the Subaru Cup Pro XCT. This September, Strigel rode to a career-first win at WORS Treadfest over last year’s winner Kim Eppen, and at the season finale in Sheboygan, challenged Sara Kylander-Johnson (Trek CO-OP) for the lead.

“Abigail led the start, and then we sprinted,” recalled Kylander-Johnson of the Sprint Prime to begin WORS’ Sheobygan race. “She’s fast, so I had to work really hard to get ahead of her and that was really good. It’s great to see her going so fast.”

Strigel unabashedly credited her new bike, a Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SSL, with helping to make 2010 her fastest year yet.

“I love my bike,” laughed Strigel. “My bike is awesome. Every time I race it, I’m just thinking about how much faster this bike is, and how much faster I am on this bike.” She also credited her teammates and sponsor at the Trek Stores of Madison for moral and mechanical support throughout the season.

While Strigel’s story at WORS has been one of consistency, the breakout story of the 2010 WORS season belongs to the second-place women’s finisher, Lisa Krayer. Krayer has been a strong competitor in the WORS BelGioioso Elite series since 2005. At 35, she’s just raced her best season to date, challenging Strigel for the win in several races and locking in her hold on second relatively early in the season.

Krayer credits her success in 2010 to better training and greater off-bike rest as her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, have become more independent. She also credits the support of her husband Ryan Krayer, who took a career-best 6th in the men’s Overall this year.

“This season was everything I hoped it would be, and more,” said Lisa Krayer. “When you invest so much time, you just never know what is going to happen. And it’s great to feel that it was really worth it. Every year, I feel like I’ve improved. But, I’m not going to be able to race forever and I just thought, if not now, when?”

The Krayers, who are cheered on by their daughters during races, have done an amazing job of balancing family fun and Elite competition at WORS.

“As our girls get older, they’ll have their own interests and of course I want to support that,” said Lisa. “Who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll be setting up my trainer on the side of a soccer field. There are a few things I want to try out and improve on next year. I’m really looking forward to it. Being able to ride with Abby at some of the races this year, it was really an eye-opener for me. And taking third at the Chequamegon 40 will help keep me motivated for next season.”

Third-place finisher Robin Williams, of Iowa City, balanced a demanding work schedule with training and travel to finish the 2010 Series.

“It’s been a goal for a couple of years now,” said Williams, who races for Mercy-Specialized. “I had no expectation for where I would fall out in the overall because there are so many tough women in the Series. Abby and Lisa have ridden so strong this year and they are great competitors. It’s been fun to race with them, Lori, and all the other ladies. It’s just been so much fun to race this year and then actually say: ‘I finished this.’”

Lori Sable, who came on strong in the latter half of the 2010 season captured the fourth spot on the women’s Podium while Claire Cannon (Trek Stores of Madison) claimed fifth. The two were closely matched throughout the season. While Cannon had a lead early, Sable dominated the later races.

“I’m not one of those people who do the ‘training’ thing,” laughed Sable. “So I had some catch-up to do this season, and the riding always helps. I just want to have fun.”

“Darrin [Braun] turned my interview mic around on me after Sheboygan,” admitted 5th place finisher, Cannon. “That’s only fair as he's such a consistent racer that I’ve interviewed him after every race this season. Under questioning, I had to admit that the later part of this WORS season has been less than ideal for me. I had some issues with illness at the worst times and took some beatings on the course. But I also had an absolutely great time out there, maybe even when I was getting beat. It made me realize how much I value being able to ride and compete with the ladies in my field. And it made me want to not get beat! I’m looking forward to 2011.”

The top podium finishers in the BelGioioso Elite Series, including 5 women and 10 men, collected a total of $17,000 in prizes at the WORS Series Awards Banquet. Over 250 racers competed on 23 teams in the WORS Teams Competitions, and 55 Series racers were recognized as “WORS-heads”, having attended all 12 races in the 2010 Series. Series racers of every level took home nearly $12,000 in prizes from WORS Sponsors during the raffle. The 2011 WORS season was also announced, and highlights will include a new venue in the Madison area, and a return of the Pro XCT to the Subaru Cup in June.

“In 2011, WORS will celebrate our 20th year,” said Series Director Don Edberg. “We’re already busy preparing for next year, meeting with sponsors and talking to our local organizers. It’s sometimes hard to take a moment to reflect in the ‘off-season’. But, when I do, I have to say - it’s been amazing. Amazing racers. Amazing volunteers. Amazing race directors, venues and events. Amazing sponsors. It’s still very much fun.”

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