The battle for the top spot in the Wisconsin Off Road Series is still undecided after Sunday’s Alterra Coffee Bean Classic, seventh race in the twelve race series. In striking contrast to the 2008 season, when Jesse Lalonde (Gary Fisher 29 / T6 / BKB) dominated the WORS men’s Elite field with an undefeated record, racing in the 2009 series heated up early with strong finishes by younger brother Mark Lalonde (Planet Bike / GT / T6) and Sheboygan racer Brian Matter (Gear Grinder).

After race seven, Matter looks like he has the legs to win the overall, with four wins to his credit out of six races entered. Matter also took home the overall prize at the Subaru Cup stage race in June, winning both the Outback Super D and the Impreza Short Track events. Meanwhile, the top spot in the overall standings belongs to Nathan Guerra (Mr. Tree Racing), who rode to 1st place ahead of Matter at Alterra this weekend. Add in recent upgrade Darrin Braun (Adventure 212 / Specialized), whose new team bike must still be on its way, and who is riding to a strong first season as a Cat 1 from the saddle of what race announcer Don Edberg has jokingly referred to as “the boat anchor”, and Ted “Holeshot” Haines (Fond Du Lac Cyclery), and you have more than a few contenders for the win in every men’s field.

In the women’s series, the overall title is being defended by 2008 Overall Winner Abigail Strigel (Mafia Racing / Pabst / Felt). Strigel won handily at Alterra, though she has been challenged throughout the season by strong regional and international talent including Kim Eppen of Iowas City IA (Mercy Specialized), Holly Liske of Madison, WI (Hayes Disc Brakes), Susan Stephens of Ontario, Canada (The Bicycle Shop), and Jenna Reinhart of Rochester MN (Specialized).

Rinehart and Matter Defend Titles at Subaru Cup

A shakeup of the early season “Battle Royale” between the Lalonde brothers and Brian Matter arrived with the Subaru Cup, fourth race in the WORS Series, on June 20th and 21st. The Stage Race, which is listed on the American Mountain Bike Challenge calendar, included the Legacy Cross Country race, and served as a qualifier for the USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships. The challenging terrain and technical singletrack at Mt. Morris once again attracted Pro and Cat 1 racers from throughout the Upper Midwest, as well as from far away Oregon, Arizona and Colorado. However, local talent was dominant at the Stage Race. Sheboygan’s Brian Matter (Gear Grinder) led the Pro / Cat 1 men in points at the end of the two-day event, despite finishing fourth in the XC race, while Jenna Rinehart (formerly Jenna Zander), of Mankato MN (Specialized) defended her overall title from 2008, winning each of her races.

Rinehart’s performance on Saturday afternoon was the most riveting of the day as she dominated the women’s Pro / Cat 1 field in the Legacy Cross-Country. The race began just as Wisconsin’s unseasonably cool early summer weather was ushered offstage by the arrival of clear, sunny skies and sweltering humidity. The heat did not seem to take a toll on Rinehart, who rode four laps of the technical, hilly course. Despite starting a minute behind the Pro / Cat 1 men, she passed the majority of the men’s field and was riding around 13th wheel overall at the time she finished her race.

“I had an awesome time this weekend,” said Rinehart, after her race. “I felt great and didn't seem to be bothered by the heat.” Erin Disterheft of Galesburg, MI (Team Billy’s) took second, followed by Abby Strigel. Sue Juedes of Madison, WI (Bike Hub) and Robin Williams of Iowa City, IA (Mercy-Specialized) completed the top five women.

The men’s Legacy Cross Country race was contested throughout. A group of five riders broke away during the first lap, and were reduced to four by the midway point. WORS 2008 Series leader Jesse Lalonde, T J Woodruff of Tucson, Arizona (Adventure 212 / Specialized), Tristan Schouten (Planet Bike / GT) and Brian Matter rode together until near the end of the sweltering contest, when Schouten attacked. With steep switchback climbs and singletrack just before the end of the lap, Schouten, of Sheboygan, managed to hold off the riders behind him to win after five laps.

“The course was challenging, lots of Midwest style climbing - steep and short - but just the way I like it,” said Schouten after his race.

Jesse Lalonde, riding his rigid singlespeed, finished second, and was followed by Woodruff. Brian Matter held on to fourth, and Nathan Guerra finished in fifth.

“A win against stiff competition always feels good. Travis, Jesse, and Brian are all national level riders and there are a few other guys staying in the game each week like Nathan Guerra. The talent in Wisconsin is strong and it's fun to race when three or four different guys can win on a day. I'm just glad that for once it was my turn,” said Schouten. “It's been a while since I had a win at such a big event. I think everyone struggled in the heat and many of us were just trying to feel out our body's response. I guess I had the best legs on the last lap.”

Matter came back to attack in the Outback Super D on Sunday morning, winning in after a Le Mans start.

“The racing started on foot this time around. I warned the guys I had trained earlier in the year, but it didn't work as I was third or fourth to the bike,” said Matter. “I took the first corner in third behind TJ [Woodruff] and Tristan [Schouten]. I played the waiting game as Tristan passed TJ on the descent and others behind crashed trying risky passes. Then, I attacked on the first slight climb and took the lead into the final singletrack for the win.”

Schouten and Woodruff followed Matter by less than a second. Nathan Guerra and Maciej Nowak (Team Polska) rounded out the top five.

In the women’s Super D, Rinehart again led the field by a strong margin. Abby Strigel followed in second and Erin Disterheft took third place. Robin Williams and Holly Liske completed the top five women.

The Impreza Short Track, held early Sunday afternoon, kept the heat on to the end as the men settled in for a blazing 23 minutes. The race started with a strong attack by Chris Peariso (Adventure 212 / Specialized), who managed to quickly open a sizeable gap. The chase group of Brian Matter, Tristan Schouten, TJ Woodruff, Darrin Braun and Nathan Guerra was able to reduce the gap to a second or two within the first ten minutes. Soon after, Guerra rubbed wheels with Matter and went down, to lose several crucial seconds. Riding alone, he fought back to take sixth. In the end, it was Matter who came around Peariso for the win.

“The action was tight as there was really only 30 seconds of pedaling per lap.” said Matter. It was hard to get any significant gap. I stayed calm and kept the gaps within reason. With two laps to go I bridged up to Chris [Peariso] and went by him. He jumped onto my wheel, but never had the gas to come around me. I hung on for the second win!” Peariso finished less than a second behind Matter. Schouten, Braun and Woodruff completed the top five.

In the ladies race, Jenna Rinehart set the pace from the start, riding alone throughout to win. Erin Disterheft, of Galesburg, MI followed Rinehart with a solid second. Third place was hotly contested, and ultimately went to Holly Liske, who fought her way up from sixth wheel in the first few laps, to pass both Robin Williams (4th) and Abby Strigel (5th).

At the end of the weekend, Jenna Rinehart and Brian Matter stood on the top spot of their respective podiums for the Stage Race Overall. “I decided to head over to the WORS Cup in hopes of defending my title from last year,” said Rinehart. “I also wanted to use the stage race as training for Nationals. WORS put on such a great event. Also, the equal payout for men and women was nice to see!” Erin Disterheft, Abby Strigel, Robin Williams and Holly Liske took the remaining spots on the women’s Stage Race podium.

After Brian Matter, second place in the men’s Stage Race went to Tristan Schouten. T J Woodruff, Nathan Guerra and Darrin Braun rounded out the top five men.

Another Lalonde Brothers Battle Royale at the Chippewa Valley Firecracker

WORS Series racers celebrated the fourth of July weekend in Eau Claire, WI at the Chippewa Valley Firecracker. With Brain Matter out for Sunday’s race, the Lalonde brothers took an early lead accompanied by Jason Sager of Portland, OR (Team Jamis). The three rode together throughout the race, and Sager pulled away at the very end, to finish less than a second ahead of Mark Lalonde in the sprint. With a sizeable gap behind him, Jesse Lalonde pedaled it in for third on the day. The elder Lalonde was followed by Travis (TJ) Woodruff of Tuscon, AZ and Maciej Nowak.

Abby Strigel led the field throughout the women’s race, holding off Susan Stephens of Ontario, Canada, and Kyia Anderson of St. Cloud, MN (Hidden Bay Sports) for the overall win. Holly Liske and Lori Sable (TwinSix) rounded out the top five women.

Matter Comes Back to Dominate at the Sunburst Showdown

The course at the Sunburst Showdown, held at the Sunburst Ski area outside Kewaskum, WI, is so fast that despite comparable distances, race times at Sunburst have been among the shortest on the WORS calendar. With this in mind, Brain Matter, a cyclocross world championship team member last winter, arrived with a race and training plan rolled into one.

“Last year, race times were short, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to see how hard I can go for an hour. I went pretty darn hard! After half a lap, I was solo. I kept the gas on and finished the first 3 laps in 56 minutes. It hurt. I cruised the next two laps to get another WORS win.”

Matter finished five laps in just 1:36:02 to win the overall. Mark Lalonde followed in second, with teammate Tristan Schouten less than a second behind. Teammates Mike Phillips (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and Darrin Braun completed the top five.

Abby Strigel again won the four-lap women’s race. Lori Sable followed Strigel in second, with her best finish of the season so far, and Holly Liske took third. Lisa Krayer (Wildside Velo Club) and Andrea Matter (Gear Grinder) took fourth and fifth, respectively.

Nathan Guerra defends his series lead with a win at Alterra

The Alterra Coffee Bean Classic was held Sunday at the Crystal Ridge Ski Area near Milwaukee. The trails host a weekly time trial with a dedicated following, including Alterra winners Nathan Guerra and Abby Strigel. Guerra has been riding the fast, incredibly twisty singletrack at Crystal Ridge for years, and used his home court advantage to hold off Brian Matter and take the win by over a minute. Guerra led throughout the race, also collecting the prime for the first Elite racer to reach the top of the ski hill midway through the first lap.

“I have to be honest,” said Guerra after Sunday’s race, “the home court advantage was huge! I race the Crystal Ridge Time Trial to train, and knowing how the single track flows with such a technical course would give anyone a nice edge on the competition. I knew I could ride the single track as fast as anyone, so I gunned for the holeshot and rode my flow.”

Strong climbing also factored heavily in Guerra’s win at the ski area.

“With the Alterra race coming up, I made climbing a huge focus in my training during the last two weeks. And I was looking for a little redemption after feeling off my game at Sunburst. Having good legs from the last two weeks made it easier to put time into Mike [Phillips] for the first two laps, and then Brian going into the last two. Once I heard that Brian had overtaken Mike, I was a little worried he was getting a late race surge. I know his focus has been on [the upcoming Triple Crown race] Ore to Shore lately, and I was cramping badly the last two laps. The switchback climbs to the top of the ski hill helped me gauge the gap. Once we started the climb on the third lap, I knew if I kept it steady I could hold them off.”

Matter crossed the line in second, followed by another regular at the Crystal Ridge Trails, Mike Phillips of Milwaukee, WI (Adventure 212/Specialized). Darrin Braun, in his best showing of the season so far, finished in fourth place. Dallas Fowler of Madison, WI (Titletown Flyers) crossed the line in fifth.

Like Guerra, ladies leader Abby Strigel went to the front at the start and never looked back, taking home the overall win and the ski hill prime. Holly Liske, Lori Sable, Holly Klug of Chicago, IL (Killjoy), and Lisa Krayer rounded out the top five women. Strigel now has the overall title on virtual lock down, so long as she can continue to fend off Holly Liske and Lori Sable. The men’s series, by contrast, is anyone’s game.

“As far as the overall goes, this win definitely brings new confidence to the table for me”, said Guerra after his win at Alterra. “The usual contenders all look really strong and have had their share of good performances this year. Watching the overall play out is really enjoyable this year with so many guys in the mix to win on any given day. Jesse and Mark Lalonde, Brian Matter, Tristan Schouten, and Travis (TJ) Woodruff, are all showing really good form as usual, and there is some new blood in contention this year with Darrin Braun and myself doing all we can to nip at their heels and make them work for it. Matter has a pretty good lead on wins at the moment, but there are still 5 races to go and with so much talent out there anything could happen. I think we will see a lot of juggling around in the overall series contention right up to Sheboygan.”

For complete results, see The next race of Wisconsin Off Road Series, the Border Battle, will be held August 16 at White Tail Ridge in River Falls.