Twenty-two riders rolled up to the start of the Pine Grove Furnace Road Race (South Mountain Summer Smackdown Round #2) on a delightful late spring evening. (Who doesn't think that the Michaux State Forest is simply a treasure, any time of year, but I swear it's at its prettiest in May.) Twenty-two riders. That's probably some kind of Summer Smackdown record. Or, if not, it's pretty close.
To the chagrin of many, things heated up quickly and the group began shedding riders right from the leg-burning get-go. The flats after the Ironmasters Mansion offered brief respite, but soon the impatient climbers again began to break legs as the pitch steepened. In fact, an early split in the peloton was cause for some concern, but a quick response by several riders brought things back together prior to the left-hander onto Shippensburg Rd.
Once over Pine Mountain Ridge and onto hilly Wenksville Road, the lead group had thinned to nine riders, Mike Keefer (SMV), Jake Sitler (SU), Jon Marshall (SU), Brian Hopkins (Mtnside), Michael Garrettson (Mtnside), Tom Little (Gettysburg Bicycle), Bob Scheungrab (SMV), Pete LoBianco (SU), and Nathan Goates (SU).
The run-in to the base of Bendersville/Pine Grove Furnace Road saw little more than halfhearted attacks and uncommitted pace-setting, but as the lead nine turned toward the climb the air turned thick with anticipation, a palpable anxiousness.
With the road turned upward, Sitler was the first to go, quickly distancing himself from known strongman Keefer, who led the rest of the strung out group. Sitler's attack probably came as something of a surprise, as the lithe collegiate track/cross-country star was an unknown on the bike. But a confident Keefer rode his own pace behind, never losing sight, and quickly distancing the rest of the merry band on the way up the uneven pavement toward the Pine Mountain Ridge summit. Behind, the slow-starting Goates began his push and quickly moved from the rear to third position, leading a two-man chase, only Marshall managing to stick to his wheel.
By the summit, Keefer had caught Sitler and the two rode over side-by-side. Fifteen seconds back Goates and Marshall rolled over, but were able to close the gap early on the descent, the lightweight leaders little match for the mass-aided descending speed of Goates.
On the run to the finish, Keefer recognized the statistical difficulty of his position, as the Shippensburg University riders attacked in turn, forcing the mountain biker to do the chasing. In the end, a well-timed attack from Goates in the final kilometer put the nail in the coffin for Keefer, as his chase offered the speedy Marshall all the spring he needed to easily distance himself on the uphill sprint for a lead of a dozen bike lengths as he coasted across the finish line.
In the team competition, Shippensburg University (8 points) took a brilliant victory, avenging their last-placed finish in the Round 1 hill climb. South Mountain Velo finished second (21 points) while Gettysburg Bicycle and Mountainside Ski & Sport tied for third (30 points).
In the overall standings, Shippensburg University takes over the Summer Smackdown series lead with 25 points after two rounds. South Mountain Velo is next with 36 points. Gettysburg Bicycle and Mountainside Ski & Sport follow with 43 and 78 points.