The Fat Tire's competition spectrum is as varied as you could imagine. From pro tour level riders like Christian Van De Velde, Mathew Busche,and Jason Mcartney, to Tandem riders, weekend warriors, people riding to lose weight, and spry old age-defying 70+ age class racers. For some of the 2800 people who participate, its a training race. For others its the biggest race of the year and for still others its the only race of the year.
If you're under the age of eighteen however, you have to do the Short & Fat. This sixteen mile race is aptly named, out of the 950 some people who participate, several hundred are of the ages 12-17 and the rest are either new to the sport or just in it for the beer. Anyone can race this but the juniors typically sweep the top ten as any adults good enough to be competitive race the 40.
Race time! It's been a drag recovering from my broken wrist, but after building my fitness up with some long rides and a few practice Tuesday night races I finally was ready to start a new season. Last year at the Chegaumenon Short & Fat I had a break-through race. I went from barely cracking the top hundred the year before to sticking with the front group for the first few miles of the race and finishing 17th. Lining up for the Short & Fat this year, I felt confident in being competitive. I'd been pulling some good results in the little practice races and feeling strong in my training. I knew I wasn't going to beat Jordan Cullen (who time trialed away from the start to a record time last year) but I was shooting for a top five.
Thanks to Jim Cullen for the awesome photo.
After the first few hills, Jordan was out of sight and the front group was established. It consisted of Ian Haupt, Brett Poulten, Myles Beach, Reece Olson, and myself. Ian set a decent pace at the front, but besides a few accelerations on the hills I wasn't in much difficulty. The Birkie section was what I had been most unsure about. Steep, grassy hills with a few yards at the top before a bumpy decent into the next hill. Last year Ian rode away from the front group to get second place here and I guessed he would be trying that again. The steep power climbs with the speed sucking grass were hard and Ian was definitely drilling it, but I stayed in the group fine. Once we got over the incredibly steep hill dubbed "Big Bertha" the terrain started to point more generally downward instead of up and our speed increased. Out of the entire race, this is probably were I had the most fun. It was like some sort of high speed carnival ride cross between a roller coaster and bumper cars, we were constantly bumping and rubbing as we fought for a wheel or smooth line up or down the hills. Once or twice we crested a hill going so fast I barely stayed in contact with the ground.
The pace stayed high for a while, but going through a narrow, slow and technical slight uphill section the pace took a dip. I felt strong and it was sketchy being on some one's wheel through such narrow and bumpy trail so I went to the front and set a high pace. As we neared the finish line I looked back and no one was dropped so I backed off. I wanted to be fresh for the final hill and if I came into it gassed from a hard effort I had no chance at placing well.
We turned a corner onto the final gravel section just as Andrew Senderhauf and a adult caught on to our group. No one took up the pace making aggressively after me so it gave them the chance to close the gap. There was no rest for the weary however, a few seconds later Brett attacked. I had been watching him and wanted to be on his wheel, but at that moment I was on the opposite side of the group. Everything exploded as racers scrambled from one wheel to the other. We turned a corner and hit the final hill. I felt good, but still didn't have the high end fitness to match Brett, Ian and Myles's sprint up the hill and over the top. I was passed by Reece and Andrew as well and finished 7th place. Jordan won the race three and a half minutes ahead of me, with Brett placing second 17 seconds ahead and Ian right behind him for third.
From left to right, Jordan (1st) Brett (2nd) Myles (4th) Reece (5th) Andrew (6th) and myself. Ian didn't show up. Notice that I'm the only one under six feet?
If I could change one thing about how I raced it would have been staying on the front when I was putting in my effort. Keeping the pace high would have prevented the others from being completely fresh coming into the sprint and Andrew catching back onto the group. A few of them had been in difficulty so I might have even dropped some and gotten a top 5 finish. However, Hindsight is always 20/20 and I was happy with my result, I still had fun and learned a lot about what I can do and tactical racing.