I think many of us have our favorites when it comes racing… PreFat MTB race held in Seeley is probably mine.
Seems like more than a full week just about flies by before getting around to writing about it.
So how did the day go from the viewpoint I saw? Well for once I was way early for a race—I know most of you can now fall down & drop dead upon hearing that, the Apocalypse must be upon us. I know, I know.
Got to catch up with Dennis Liphart at registration, great guy our area who’s a huge supporter & encouraging of all things biking. Any community would benefit from his enthusiasm. He was looking to tackle the Pre-Fat Expert race – but not on his new geared bike, a mishap of sorts had him on his Single speed wondering if he brought the right knife to the gun fight.
Later, caught up with & did my pre-ride warm up with the notorious & well liked former Pro road racer, Garret Peltonen. Growing a beard & going to school these days in the medical field. It was really great to catch up with him.
The 10:30 start time was actually 10:45, so the 40minute warmup was probably more pre-race riding than I’ve done in all my races in the last 3 yrs… combined. The ride fortunately calmed down the nerves I normally don’t have at any race. Been struggling with some low level health issues in August that have been alittle bit of an Achilles heel in racing & training but was hopefully they’d be passing through by now & I could get back to racing as capable as I am at it.
The line up at the start, had a good share of familiar faces one expects to see, some from the Twin Cities, others from Seeley/Haward, & Duluth. But also from the Eau Claire central WI area had some good representation with Nate Lillie, Matt O’Meara, Aaron Sturgis, to name a few. Noteably missing two regulars & favorites, in Scottie Kylander Johnson (opting out this year) & 2nd place finisher last year Todd McFadden (out with torn ligament/tendon in his thumb from a crash in last weeks Duluth DirtSpanker).
So with Hollywood Henderson & Tim Swift leading the charge at the front with the sound of the horn the race began. It’s a pavement rollout with one sharp corner, but seems to go smoothly each year, as people settle in & start a moderate climb up old OO. It’s a great way to start a race… in fact if I had my wish, every MTB race should start with a hill (& every road race should end with on – give me an “Amen” if that’s true?)
Stuck in the middle of the pack swallowed up by riders moving up on the sides, I finally back out to the left side due to some kindness & generosity of two other riders. It was just in time as we neared the last section of pavement that included the final incline. It’s then I followed up (I think) Lonnie Sauber before passing him & leading things to the top & onto the gravel. I looked back expecting TJ Woodruff, Chad Sova or Pat Lemiux to come around & start pushing but everyone seemed content with the pace & following me the next few hundred yards to the super fun, crazy fast downhill ski trail sections! Seriously, there’s no other race I’ve been in that has stuff like this, it’s sorta double track wide but ridiculously fast if you drill the pace. The past two years I’ve taken the opportunity to get to the front just to lead it through that section. I know the hills & corners well & feel safest doing it that way. And on a full suspension 29er you can point the machine & just drill it. Each time it’s rewarded me with a 20-40 yard gap & gotten me there safely.
Once the crazy fast downhills are out of the way, I’m hoping someone else come around to help out. TJ Woodruff eventually showed up with Pat Lemiux glue to his wheel & lead a good a majority of the next section of the race. I suppose depending on where a person was in the race the pace was right on.. or right on the hurt-o-meter. I was even with a few hard digs really comfortable. To the point I had to keep holding back from going around Pat & TJ to get to the front. It was a long race still & though I wanted to up the speed at the beginning. The other front guys appeared content keeping the pace modest & let the future single track sections determine when the real racing starts.
I looked over my shoulder only once or or twice after we crossed Old OO & took on the long winding steep climb at this point to guess at maybe there being 8-10 in the front group. I never road any further back than 4th & trading time at the front with TJ on & off. Pat sat in patiently which I respect for the smart riding he was doing, I presume that’s what it was, because I couldn’t believe it was taxing him too much. I was only alittle bummed at this point as I felt if everyone in the lead group pitched in, provided they could. We’d of shed everyone else & had a very comfortable gap the rest of the race. As it stood though, outside of a few digs by TJ, my wish wasn’t being granted at a consistent speed I would have liked. A couple digs followed by easing up. So it was out to Thannum Fire lane road with a dirty half dozen racers. Myself, TJ, Chad, Pat, followed by Dan “I almost got in a fight with Todd McFadden last year at the Pre-fat” Schuetz, & to be expected Garret Peltonen.
I took my case to TJ riding next to him on Thannum & asked him for a favor to pick up the pace, as I would very much enjoy a bigger gap at the beginning of the race -- but he just seemed to contently smiled back at me, confident in his race that things would be settled out in the single track to come.
Through Thannum we road & a quick peek back had no one in sight behind us, Kate would later tell me the first lap we had 20-30seconds on the next group. We would cross back into ski trails & water handoffs before finally getting to the single track.
It was here I heard voices in my head echoing what every racer should do before an important race… if you’re bike is “starting” to have problems a few days before the race – they’re not going to go away during the race. Even if it’s a little thing, don’t try to work around it & milk those parts for alittle more wear. Fix it. My chain & rear derailleur had been shifting hard in the previous pre-rides of the course. Not dropping but not sounding right. XTR cables & less than 6 weeks of riding on a brand new bike in mostly good weather… how the hell could the cable need replacing? Sometimes…. they just do.
So that leads into what happens next, as we push into the single track with TJ & Chad in the lead, Pat following & me just behind. After a quick dip down, a steep incline ensued & in shifting to easier gears by chain gets lost between gears & I have to stop & run up the hill after letting Dan & Garret by. Funny I could run the twisty hill trail as fast as they could bike through it. So I got back on to them only to have Garrett crash on the two narrow tree section I’d warned him about in the pre-ride… guess he was swearing “Damn Swanson!”
I worked to catch back onto Dan but he got just enough of gap that grew from 7 seconds to 15seconds, to out of sight. But never more than 30 seconds according to Kate.
Whether I had to or not, I decided to put it in conserve mode & ride my own race at the point. Hoping to keep just out of Garrett’s sight & maybe catch back up with Dan. Well….
That went on for like 50+minutes – riding solo in 5th place. Once in a great while I’d hear Garrett’s howling brakes but for the most part I was riding comfortably trying to stay smart & not blow up.
With about 3 or 4 miles to go & entering more single track, I first heard the shifting of gears behind me as Adam Swank in Swankster style was making his crazy hard push for the finish, pulling along Matt O’Meara…. Great, just great!
Riding that long solo you start making plans for the finish you might have. Though it’s undoubtedly a goal of mine to win the Pre-Fat, I’d never seen a 5th place finish before so that in itself was rather alluring given the struggles I’d been feeling in training & my previous races this month.
Eventually Adam catches me & ever so politely asks for the pass which I willingly provide at least he’d give me a wheel to follow as long as I could hold it. Matt would then catch onto the back of me. After a brief bike mishap by Adam that slowed us up, he got back on the turbo boost & was 10 seconds up on us. Matt whether he had the gas in the tank or not to chase Adam stayed glued to my wheel. Matt’s come along way this year (Scottie Kylander Johnson were talking about it later at Rivers) really upping his game & results. I knew with him sitting behind me it could be a tough one to the finish.
So I worked to keep the pace reasonably high & called out spots on the trail to use momentum & for tight corners in case we had the opportunity to catch back up to Adam.
Finally with under a mile to go, Matt graciously asks from behind, “So… any idea of how you want to finish this?” Ah, a voice of reason! We don’t have to keep up this nut kicking contest all the way to the end. Nice.
To which I responded “Well…. a sprint on the long gravel section to the finish?” And there it was agreed. Garrett too far back to catch us we eased up the final hill & coasted down the winding section that lead to the old gravel railroad grade. With me taking the left & Matt taking the right we got everything on the bikes locked out, forks, suspensions, then we talked over a starting point, .... that “women in red” standing on the left side. Get to her, then it’s “go time”.
Ramped up the speed, staying even til we got to here & then we both laid it out there. I initially pulled up about a foot ahead of Matt & was holding it. I was mushing around in the sand more than I would have liked, it was the only point where I got to thinking “Shit, I should have remember what Gaier told me & the pre-rides showed me, stay to the right where the ground was more firm.”
Whether that really mattered or not, I was giving everything I had in the moment when Matt pulled even again & then just started to pull away like he had another gear. Either way at least we were giving the crowd a show. I didn’t feel my power coming back so I eased up & watched Matt finish a very fine race getting 6th on the day & myself 7th, bittersweet considering where I was most of the race, but still a best ever result in the Pre-Fat.
Crossing the line, I was glad to be done & cheered in the other guys as they came rolling in Kevin Roytek, Nik Anikin, Nate Lillie, Tom Gaier, Aaron Sturgis, Tom Meyer & more.
Caught up with the leaders to see how their races finished out, outside of TJ, Chad & the rest of us weren’t really that far apart. Those two have some great single track skills to go along with big engines.
Thanks to the kids for cheering for me & Kate for some well timed water bottle handoffs & counting out the time gaps. Many & much appreciation!
Afterwards it was off to the kids races, & at the same time seeing my friends that did the 15 mile sport race & hearing their stories. Good stuff. With my two oldest competing -- Marshall was in the 8 & under category, he got 1st which was pretty cool, edging out a classmate he knows from school. And Hope in her first real bike race did pretty well herself.
Went to the awards, collected some prize money & a raffle item or two. Which I gotta say they do very well in that department. I don’t think it’s often a person doesn’t come away with something of equal or greater value to what they paid for an entry fee. Plus it’s a charity/fund raising race. How great is that? Win-win for everyone, great sponsor & donors.
So with another Pre-fat in the books, it’s time to consider Copper Harbor for racing over Labor day weekend but that’s sorta up in the air. Otherwise getting a jump start on Cross racing at Lowe’s Creek Sept 8th as a warm up before lining up for another nut busting installment of the Chequamegon 40 Sept 15th.
I’ve got power files to share & yet untold stories of races this year I hope to get around to. Been busy with work, life, kids, not to mention building some addition miles of custom single track here in Ashland. Ever in the area? Get in touch, Come check it out. Might just pleasantly surprise you.