Okay, I know I shouldn't play favorites, but if I had my druthers there is one person I would pick to win this thing...
(okay, who didn't see that coming?)
But since I don't see myself riding this thing this weekend I'm gonna go with Ray Adams. Ray and I have been running a team together for about six years - first VisitPA.com and more recently PAValleys.com - and last year we officially launched the Trans-Sylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race. He's a biz partner and good friend. It is nice when you give props to someone like that. It is also nice that Ray can back it up to keep me from looking like a fool and will certainly be in the mix for the win this weekend.
Like Mr. Cupcake Keefer, Ray has a ton of experience in this race with several top 10 finishes over the year including standing on one of the podium steps a few years back. Ray knows how the race is likely to unfold and can put both some his light build to good use on the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain and his mtb skillz to work on that wicked fun singletrack made all the more wicked on skinny tires. With climbing as one of his fortes Ray also has the advantage of perhaps not needing to go as deep into the red on the numerous big climbs that dot IC as some of the bigger guys will. Or maybe Ray's thinking of giving it just enough stick to make those big boys suffer that little bit extra that puts some doubts in their minds and takes some zip out of their legs for later in the race. Ray also spent the summer hitting the Michaux endurance series events and finished second overall just behind Keefer showing some form into September. We'll be looking to see how that form has played out this weekend.
Ray definitely has the experience and fitness to be at the head of this race for a long time. This guy sees Ray's strengths really paying off from CP#3 and the ensuing Hogshead climb through to the end of the race. If Ray's been able to keep it close and save some energy into CP#3 I would be looking for a move soon after the road hits the first steep pitches of Hogshead. And if that first attack doesn't work I'm pretty sure Ray will go again as Hogshead (and that nasty irritating bit of Woodrow we add on for spite) offers plenty of opportunities to break some legs. In that sort of situation Ray is going to be pretty hard to match with one of the best power to weight ratios in the mid-Atlantic MTB scene. When the road goes up Ray is perhaps at his very best.
Ray can ride singletrack too and once over Hogs/Woodrow there is a good bit of the tight and twisty stuff to help Ray maintain or even extend a lead over less technically capable riders. If Ray's well clear at the top of the last run up he's going to be hard to catch though those last few miles do edge the power:weight advantage toward slightly bigger guys who can throw down the big numbers on the paved descent and fast rollers of 233 back to camp T.
Luckily for Ray I'm in the lead vehicle and I watch a lot of bike racing on TV so I know all about those Turbo Bottles.
So, my personal favorite of the favorites for IC VIII is my bud Ray, but he's got his work cut out for him. Here's some extra motivation though - if he doesn't win we'll probably have to kick him off the team (reminder, he runs it...that would be hard to do...sorry I need to spell this out if you get it already but after the whole mountain bikers wanting to kick my ass bit I'm playing it safe.)
There are a couple more guys in this thing and few ladies making the trip that I'd like to mention, but with IC Day so close...well don't hold your breath. Plus, a few I'm looking for haven't signed on officially yet so who knows if they'll really show! Two that definitely deserve mention are Cameron Cogburn and Adam Farabaugh so I'll try to get to those guys tomorrow.