Jeremiah Bishop (Mona Vie/Cannondale) and Rebecca Rusch (Specialized/Red Bull) claimed victory at this year's edition of Dirt, Sweat, and Gears in Fayetteville, Tennessee May 9, 2009.
Bishop described conditions at the event, which had a high rate of attrition, as "the worst conditions I have ever raced in".
The Fayetteville area received seven inches of rain in the week prior to the race and downpours began right at the starting gun. The resulting mud made riding nearly impossible. Harlan Price (Independent Fabrications), in a negotiated truce with Bishop, finished second while Andy Applegate was third.
"No strategy could prepare a man for what we underwent today," said Bishop. "It was hard to ride, even downhill. It was a test of survival, like an adventure race. I went out pretty quick early and paced with the duo teams, and that strategy worked out. I've done some really wicked 24-hour races, but this is really beyond explanation."
In the women's race Pua Sawicki led by a large margin for a couple laps, but dropped out due the muddy conditions and a crash. This opened the door for Rusch to take the win, followed by Rebecca Tomaszewki in second place.
"It's just not fun any more and not worth the torture, even on the equipment," said Sawicki. "This lap was 100 percent push and every two seconds you're trying to clean your bike. It's not about who can ride any more."
Rusch had been given some pre-race instructions by her coach. "Not to tank myself, keeping in mind that this is training for World's and not my peak race," she recalled. "Staying safe is a major priority."
"This is one of my favorite places to ride but right now it's really a little dangerous," she added. "Lots of exposed sideways roots and lots of places you can mess up."
The initial heavy rain thinned out the mud on the course, making the first lap times under one hour. But as the rains subsided, the mud thickened dramatically, and lap times increased to over two and a half hours, even for Bishop.
By the end of the day, most racers had dropped out of the race. Only about 20 percent of the 10-mile course was actually rideable. The thick mud collected on the bikes, increasing their weight to over 50 pounds, making it impossible for the wheels to turn. Racers had no choice but to carry their heavy bikes for miles at a time.
Despite the on and off rain, the race kept its good vibe with live music, multiple barbeque venders, freely flowing beer on tap, and lots of partying in the large tent city.
For a complete report with results with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.