What a great event held each year. It’s sponsored by the Seeley Lions Club. Traditionally three weeks before the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, it very well may be one of the most diverse and challenging MTB courses you may find in the midwest.
It’s a combination of cross country ski trails and some great tight technical old school single track. Approximately 3000 feet of total climbing the 25mile race.
The week leading up to the race I’d just been coming back to riding after taking the previous week/weekend off due to unusual fatigue after Ore to Shore and later fighting allergies that sometimes strike me in mid to late August. The time off seemed to do me well and I was feeling pretty fresh. Thursday leading into the race I’d pre-road the course at a fast clip and it was easy so I was pretty excited at my prospects in the race if I felt even remotely the same way on Saturday.
As good fortune would have it, woke up Saturday feeling great. The weather could not have been better. It was one of those days you think no matter what happens it’s still going to be a great day.
Got to Seeley, early by my standards, about 90minutes prior to the race start… sorry to disappoint those of you who take wagers like Vegas bookies on how close to the start I’ll come screaming in…. though you’re right -- I deserve it most time though.
Brought the bike I’d been training on lately and had such good fortune on at last years race. It’s technically Kate’s Gary Fisher SuperFly 100… I just borrow it… sometimes. Hey, don’t give me grief, bikes are made to ride not collect dust. Truthfully though, it’s a great bike for this particular course, the full suspension, 29in wheels and cornering ability really comes in handy on the downhills without giving up much maneuvering and handling in the tight single track sections.
After plenty of warmup riding, chatting with others & finding out who was there. I was settling in and ready to go. However… the rear tire was feeling abit more squishy than I though it should. I squeezed it and sure enough it was a little low. Odd, but not completely unusual, I quick connected with the speedy Nathan Lillie to borrow his pump and bring it back up to the 23-24lbs of pressure I’d decide to ride that day. It was cutting it close to the start, but I still got to the line and sat in behind Todd McFadden & Chad Sova & next to Ron Raymond.
Soon enough we were off, all I needed to do was stay near enough to the front so when it finally went off road I’d be in the group I wanted to be. Scottie Kylander Johnson, given his recent injuries wisely speed things up round the first corner to stay out of trouble. It triggered abit of reaction from the sounds behind me but no grinding metal or screeching brakes so it was all good. From there it was the steady climb out & up to where the race finally gets off road & onto some cx ski trails with hairy crazy descents – they are soooo fun!
The race would bring in the most interesting dynamics of any race I’ve done. A couple guys with strong road racing backgrounds Adam Bergman & Pat Lemieux came to play, along with a pretty good young talent in Jordan Cullen. MTB & road racing just ain’t the same thing & in this particular course each style would have it’s advantages & disadvantages.
As long as the course was open it was clear Adam & Pat wanted to stay out front. As we crested the first main hill & went to the cx ski hill descents I was riding in 4th or 5th position behind Todd M. Adam, Pat & perhaps Josh Tesch and I wanted to get to the front. Pushing hard on the left side of the trail I made it up to & around Adam just in time for the first descent. Here I railed it & got a decent gap. Not something I wanted to run with for the rest of the race, but to keep the pace up & maybe start splitting things. Plus if I was in front I could stay out of harms way of anyone else not handling the descent & corner well. After another hill section or two Adam & I swap leads until I was sufficiently happy the race was breaking into smaller group. From there I sat in with Todd, with Josh T., Pat & Adam leading out front. For the longest time I was mistaken that Scott Kylander Johnson was with them thinking once this race got in single track, if SKJ was ahead this race would be over. Unfortunately somewhere behind us he’d gotten held up.
I’d love to say the race was super interesting the next 40+ minutes but not exactly. Chad Sova, last year’s Pre-Fat winner finally caught up to myself & Todd on another steep hill climb and the three of us shortly thereafter caught up to Josh who’d dropped off the back of Pat & Adam. Somewhere in the mix was Jordan & this other guy from Denver, but it’s alittle fuzzy in my memory right now. At least four of us road together for quite awhile with Pat & Adam 15-20seconds ahead.
Eventually the race heads into single track, it’s here the technical riding of the guys I was with really shines vs. that of riders who mostly do road racing. It was but a few minutes into the single track that I was trying to hang on to Todd wheel when we started to slow up? I’m like - WTF? We’d caught up to Pat & Adam. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it. Here’s the MTB racers etiquette as I’ve come to know it….“Yield to the faster racers”. Don’t mean to call anyone out but maybe that’s not how road racers do things as Pat & Adam refused to let anyone pass. I think Chad, Josh, Todd & myself were more bewildered than anything else at first… like come on.. what? you’ve got to be kiddin’? I later could sorta see Adam’s point of view even if I didn’t necessarily agree – he said since he was at the very the front of the race(ie winning) he shouldn’t have to move over. In the meantime, my heartrate is dropping as the effort is slowing and I’m not really complaining. Perfect time to recover some and then attack them in the open sections.
Myself, of the bunch racing at the front, probably sat dead middle in terms of the different abilities. I can single track faster than Adam & Pat, and I’m pretty sure I had the power to ride in the opens & flats on the full suspension that Chad, Todd & Josh may not have been able to with their bike setups. However on the flip side, I’m probably a knotch below all of them at their strong suits. So I’m getting excited thinking for once maybe a race may play out in my favor!? If I don’t loose Chad, Todd & Josh and can come around Pat & Adam for the different sets of single track this race could get very interesting… only that grand illusion…. was soon to be gone.
That low tire I was nursing at the start was a leak in the sidewall of the tire that wasn’t sealing up. After two sections of single track I had no choice but to jump off the bike and try to re-inflate it. Unfortunately the cycling gods wouldn’t have it and despite my best efforts it got low again eventually causing me to stop altogether to try & put in a tube. More mechanical mishaps with that so I was finally left to walk the bike out. Ugh.
After getting to the finish & catching up with others I found out I missed a real interesting remainder of the race – normally MTB racing isn’t too antagonistic, unfortunately the road guys continued the strategy of jumping ahead in single track, holding things up. And there was another incident with Todd & the guy from Denver who thought Todd had somehow wronged him in an earlier part of the race. Not pretty, let’s just leave it at that.
Anyways, Todd’s racing as good as he has in years, was able to break free the final several miles, as Adam had to stop to fill his tire and only Pat hung on with Chad close behind. Pat sat on Todd’s wheel resting up the final miles not taking a turn and outsprinted him at the end. Call that what you want…. Todd had a super race. Chad finished 3rd but if strategy had played out different could have equally had the win. Josh had 4th, Adam 5th, followed by SKJ.
I finally came trotting out of the woods in like 50th. Oh well, it was good while it lasted & that’s bike racing. You don’t know when your luck is going to turn.
Hung out afterwards catching up & visiting with friends along with my girls Hope & Grace – they always are hitting me up for the free donuts holes & Gatorade at the finish line. I think I’m onto them as to why they like coming to Daddy’s bike races….
As soon as the awards wrapped up I headed to Hayward to catch up with a good friend. Won some gift certificates at the raffle after the race – promptly put them to good use as we picked up candy for our kids at Tremblay’s and hung out and had a really good time catching up. Funny story – unless perhaps you’re famous, or in an advertisement, a person never expects to see a picture of themselves in public. So we’re in the County Market grocery store in Hayward walking down the isles and I see this huge photo of the start of the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40 race on the wall past the checkout lines. Half joking, half serious I say “yeah, I’m up there in the that picture” When in fact I have no clue from even what year that picture was taken. I was talking out of my butt. Then we get closer & I glance up again to where I’ve normal placed myself at the start of the race (right hand side). And sure enough 2nd or 3rd row in– there I am!? I don’t know if my friend was impressed or though I was goofball, but I think we both thought it was pretty funny. I should have asked the cashier for a ladder & a sharpie & gone up & signed it… anyways…
It really ended up being a perfect day even for all that stuff that didn’t quite go right. Sometimes in life we’re lucky enough to have those days. It really helps to remember & hold onto them. To keep in mind that life doesn’t always have to go according to plan to still be really good and well worth smiling about.
Up next, getting these ribs healed up and ready for Copper Harbor’s race this Sunday. It’s gonna be a good one!