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One great thing about America is we have the freedom, thanks to the sacrifices made by so many, to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend however we see fit. Cyclocross stars Justin Lindine and Kerry Werner chose to celebrate their holiday weekend by suffering through the Tran-Sylvania Epic five-day mountain bike stage race in Pennsylvania. Lindine was able to escape major mechanical issues to win the event for the third time, and Werner overcame some unfortunate flats and battled back to finish on the podium. Read on for a quick race recap and some insights from Lindine after five days of racing.

Mountain bike stage races are a far cry from short, intense cyclocross races, but as Justin Lindine (Apex/NBX/Trek) and Kerry Werner (Kona Endurance Team) learned over the Memorial Day weekend, they provide their own special kind of suffering. Lindine has been a mainstay at the NoTubes Tran-Sylvania Epic five-day mountain bike stage race held outside State College, Pennsylvania, and Werner recently began to add the race to his cyclocross offseason plans.

Last year’s battle between the two cyclocross stars did not disappoint, with Werner and Lindine going into the fifth and final stage of the race separated by just over a minute. An unlucky flat tire by Lindine allowed Werner to ride away to take the GC victory at an event the Pennsylvania native had long wanted to race in.

Werner talked about his 2016 Tran-Sylvania victory.

Bike Crossfit at the Tran Sylvania Epic

The Tran-Sylvania Epic was first held in 2011, and Justin Lindine began his residency at the event in 2012. Justin Lindine is no stranger to success at the Tran-Sylvania Epic, having won the event in 2013 and 2015 and amassed years of stories of ripped enduro sections and crushed climbs. The rough, rocky riding in the hills of Pennsylvania is the kind of mountain biking he cut his teeth on back in the day, and each year the trails provide a siren song the Utah resident cannot resist giving into each year:

This kind of riding is what I grew up doing once I started mountain biking. The stuff in Windham [New York], especially when I was first getting going, is a lot like the riding at Tran Sylvania where it’s rugged, a little bit old-school trail. So I feel right at home here. I didn’t do it the first year they had, but I’ve done it the seven years since.

Even after moving to Utah, every year I think ‘Mayyyybe I won’t do it,’ but I can’t stop myself. It’s an awesome week. I like the riding a lot, but I also like the vibe there.

Cyclocross Magazine caught up with Lindine the day after Stage 5, when he was still feeling the effects of five days on the trails. He said the event provides a special kind of full-body workout:

“It’s like a five-day intensive bike-specific crossfit session.”

This video from the folks at dirtwire.tv captures both the insanely technical nature of the trails and some of the fun vibe surrounding the event:

Lindine and Werner Back for Part II in 2017

Lindine has raced against a number of talented riders at the Tran-Sylvania Epic over the years, and in the last two years one of his main rivals has been fellow cyclocross racer Kerry Werner. After winning the TSE during his rookie campaign in 2016, Werner returned to defend his title in 2017.

The mountain bike battle between the two cyclocross stars did not disappoint early on. Lindine held a narrow 26-second advantage over Werner after the Stage 1 cross country leg and the Stage 2 “enduro day,” and another epic battle between the two appeared to be in store.

However, in 2017, the flat tire demon struck Werner and his title defense was marred by the unforgiving rocks of the Tran-Sylvania circuit.

During Saturday’s Stage 3 “Queen stage,” Werner suffered a flat tire and dropped nearly 13 minutes behind Lindine, who opened up a 6 minute lead on his nearest competitor. Given his familiarity with Werner’s prowess on the bike, Lindine left nothing to chance in Stages 4 and 5. The two-time Tran-Sylvania champion won both stages and finished the GC overall nearly 13 minutes ahead of the second-place rider to take his third title at the event.

(The coverage of the Tran Sylvania Epic is incredibly impressive. Check out the Tran-Sylvania Epic website for great race reports and dirtwire.tv for extensive video coverage.)

Lindine shows off one of his battle scars through a rocky, technical section.

Lindine said that the TSE is similar to cyclocross in terms of the role mechanicals can play in the race outcome:

We all kind of want to have a straight fight with each other out there to feel like the win was 100% deserved, but on the other hand, having done this race so many times and having had terrible luck many times, the nature of the riding down there is you have to choose your equipment right and ride smooth all week. If you can keep your bike running with no mechanicals through the week, you will probably have a really good race. It’s at least 50% of the battle. You have to show up fit, but you also need to keep everything working.

He also talked about the importance of riding smoothly, and how even when you are dialed in technically, there is always that one rock or feature that can still ruin your day:

Whether you’re talking ‘cross or mountain bike racing, and road racing to a lesser extent, doing things smoothly is part of the race, right? If you have all the watts in the world or you can’t turn or keep air in your tires, it’s all kind of for naught.

And different races play to different skill sets in that regard. There are courses that are more slanted toward fitness, and there’s courses where you can use being smooth and handling skills a little bit more to your advantage. TSE is an interesting mix of both because we do a lot of climbing and a lot of hard pedaling, so you have to be pretty on point technically.

That being said, Kerry [Werner] is very on point on all of those things. Sometimes you just have bad luck.

Werner Fights Back for a Podium Finish

Werner suffered another flat during Day 4 and sat in 5th place heading into Day 5. With Lindine crushing at the front, the question for Werner was whether he could stay strong and mechanical-free on Day 5 to reach the GC overall podium.

Werner was able to achieve his new mission and claw his way back to the GC overall podium by taking third in Monday’s Stage 5 race.

Women Cyclocrossers Make Their Mark at TSE as Well

Emily Shields, the 2017 Collegiate Club cyclocross national champion and Werner’s girlfriend, also took to the start line at the Tran-Sylvania Epic for the fourth time in her career. She finished the GC pursuit in sixth place overall and won the Women’s U25 title.

Another cyclocross rider who has been a mainstay at the Tran-Sylvania Epic is Vicky Barclay, who won the 2013 SSCXWC in Philadelphia. Barclay finished the 2017 edition in second place behind Kaysee Armstrong.

Bigger and Better in 2018?

Even if he typically isn’t sure he’ll come back again, Justin Lindine has made his mind up to race the event in 2018. He said that he suspects Kerry Werner will be back again as well, “I did not get any intel on whether or not he’s planning on doing it next year. I would imagine, I would bet he will want to come back and set things straight. He’s from PA too, so I think there’s a certain amount of hometown pride.”

U.S. cyclocross national champions are also not immune to the allure of racing the Tran-Sylvania Epic, with both Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson accepting the epic challenge in past years. We asked Lindine if there is room in the GC battle for other national champions, say, Stephen Hyde:

Yeah, I’d like to see [Stephen] Hyde come down and do it. [Jeremy] Powers did it a few years back. Uhhhh, I don’t think he’ll come back. [laughs] He was not enamored.

But Hyde would be an interesting fit. He obviously has more of the fitness to do it than anybody, but he’s also got pretty ridiculous ex-BMX kind of skills, so I am sure he’d feel pretty comfortable at it. That would be an exciting race.