Race Report: Bontrager Border Battle

Wisconsin beats out Minnesota by a single point in the third consecutive Bontrager Border Battle.

by Claire Cannon (See the Border Battle race coverage on cyclingnews.com here.)

Both heat and humidity peaked above ninety in River Falls, WI on Sunday, August 8 during the third showdown between the mountain bike racers of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“It was the hottest day I have ever run a race, no doubt,” said local race organizer Adam Schmidt, from Muddy Paws Racing. “We resupplied with water and watermelons twice during the day.”

The annual meeting of the Wisconsin Off Road Series and the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series, the Bontrager Border Battle drew 679 racers. During the Citizen and Sport races, Minnesota surged to an early 10-point lead, but WORS Bontrager Comp and Belgioioso Elite Series racers brought home the victory for Wisconsin. Both Elite races were won by Wisconsin residents. Tristan Schouten (Mafia Racing) won the five-lap men’s race in 1:48:23 while WORS undefeated defending champion Abigail Strigel (Trek Stores of Madison) led the four-lap women’s contest in 1:43:06.

“It was extremely hot,” said Schouten. “It was my first time here. I didn’t pre-ride, so when we got to the top and it was peanut-butter, chunky mud - that was a little ‘woah’. But it was good.”

WORS - Border Battle 2010 - cropped for media

Caption: BelGioioso Elite men's winner Tristan Schouten rails the wood berm. Photo by Jared Brodjeski.

A thundershower dropped an inch and a half of rain on the trails between midnight and 2 AM Saturday, and left the first section of singletrack slippery for racers, especially the early-morning waves of Citizen and Sport riders. By 1:30 PM, when the Elites took to the course, the track was drying under intense heat.

Though only 28, Schouten is an experienced racer who beat the heat and the competition on Sunday for another tough win. At the age of 19, Schouten was the youngest racer ever to win the WORS Elite Overall, taking the crown in 2001, and again in 2002. He now looks poised to take the Overall again in 2010, which would bring him level with Brian Matter (Gear Grinder / Trek), currently the only man with three Overall WORS Series titles to his credit.

Though he’s out-kicked the competition in nearly every contest this year, Schouten has worked hard to hold off fellow WORS racers Nathan Guerra (Mr. Tree Racing / Powerbar), and Darrin Braun (Adventure 212). At the Border Battle, Schouten also had to contend with Minnesota teammates Brendan Moore and Jack Hinkins (Trek Co-op). Nineteen-year old Hinkens, who finished fourth at the Border Battle, was just named to the US U23 Team for the Mountain Bike World Cup. Though the Minnesota racers pushed hard, Brendan Moore’s third place finish is the best Border Battle showing yet for an Elite Minnesota male racer. As the first Minnesota finisher, Moore finished in fourth place in 2009, and Minnesotan Sam Oftedahl took fifth place in 2008.

WORS Border Battle Photo Contest Finalist - cropped for media

Caption: Minnesota’s Sara Kylander Johnson (left, Trek Co-op) and Wisconsin’s Abigail Strigel (right, Trek Stores of Madison) led the BelGioioso Elite Women up the lead-out climb. Photo by Niki Frazier.

In contrast to the men’s contest, 2010 marks the first time a Wisconsin racer has won the women’s contest. Jenna Rinehart of Mankato, MN took the victory in both 2008 and 2009. At the top of this year’s women’s race, both Abby Strigel and Sara Kylander-Johnson (Trek Co-op) can boast three WORS Overall Series titles to their racing resume.

“This course was really, really fun, so I think that saved me a little bit,” said ladies winner Abby Strigel. “There were a lot of jumps and features, so it was a great time. I loved it. I love mud, and slippery roots and rocks and all that stuff, so I actually enjoyed the fact that it was a little bit wet. But, I don’t like the heat.”

Strigel overcame both the heat and an early crash to finish over a minute ahead of second-place Rebecca Sauber (LCR / Ergon), who had also crashed.

“I crashed right in front of Diana [McFadden] and Lisa [Krayer], and it took me almost a lap to catch back up to them because they were moving pretty fast,” said Strigel. “Once I passed them, I just tried to take it easy and flow through the singletrack and get a little gap, because it was pretty hot.”

By the second lap Strigel was in the lead. Minnesota racer Sara Kylander-Johnson (Trek Co-op) caught and passed Strigel to pull ahead by around 10-seconds in the third lap, then flatted. She ultimately finished in 13th place.

“The heat was definitely on today,” said Minnesota racer Rebecca Sauber. “I went down in the first lap and the entire field, except perhaps for one other woman, went by me. After that, I was just working my way back up. It was very muddy and the bridges and rocks were very slippery, so you just had to look straight ahead and go for it. I really loved the passing lanes where you could put it in the big ring and pick people off.”

“My car read 99 degrees and it’s humid as heck out here today,” said Minnesota racer Brendan Moore (Trek Co-op), who finished in third place. “I could see Tristan and Nathan [Guerra] ahead of me I just couldn’t close that gap. There was a little more surging than I was used to. Anytime we hit the open sections, Tristan and Nathan just attacked. I mean, constant go-go-go on the open stuff. Eventually, it wore me down. I think our [MMBS] courses are a little more technical.”

Nathan Guerra (Mr Tree Racing / Powerbar) won his first WORS Belgioioso Elite race a year ago, and has been riding stronger than ever at WORS in 2010. His second-place finish behind Tristan Schouten, and ahead of Minnesota’s Brendan Moore, helped WORS to the victory over Minnesota. Guerra has contended with Schouten throughout the season, finishing second in several contests, and at Border Battle he attacked hard to lead the Elite men up the first long, steep climb.

“I kinda got the holeshot right off the bat,” explained Guerra. “The first climb is pretty hard. It’s kind of straight up. I don’t know what the percentage is... it’s ‘ridiculous’ percentage. It ended up being me, T.J. [Travis Woodruff], Tristan [Schouten] and Brendan Moore. I started to cramp, and I dropped a bottle. When Tristan put in a steady attack on the hill in the last lap, I just couldn’t match it. Brendan’s steady-eddy, though. He put the pressure on Tristan and I the whole time.”

WORS Border Battle Photo Contest Finalist

Caption: Wisconsin’s Nathan Guerra (#5, Mr. Tree Racing / Powerbar) led the Belgioioso Elite men up the lead-out climb, and would finish second on the day. Minnesota’s Brendan Moore (#251, Trek Co-op) finished third, while Tristan Schouten (#6, Mafia Racing) took the win for Wisconsin. Photo by Niki Frazier.

While the Border Battle brings together WORS and MMBS, the actual contest is not between the two series. Every year, a few racers from Wisconsin travel to participate in MMBS races, which have a reputation as technical, challenging courses. Meanwhile, WORS draws a significant number of series racers from neighboring states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. A few individuals race in both series, and WORS and MMBS have traditionally been careful to schedule events on alternate weekends to avoid competition. For scoring of the Border Battle contest, only residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota were included in the state vs. state comparison. That system may leave Wisconsin at a slight disadvantage because, despite the larger size of the WORS Series, the location of the event in River Falls, WI is less than an hour from the Twin Cities, but more than 4 hours from Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s other population centers, and 5 hours from Chicago.

“With 679 racers at Border Battle, the turnout was actually a bit less than at many of our other [WORS] events,” said WORS Series director Don Edberg. “Our Elite and COMP racers really saved the day!”

This year, Minnesota came closer than ever before to bringing the trophy westward across the Mississippi. Whatever the temperature, the contest in 2011 is sure to be a hot one.

WORS - Border Battle 2010

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