The Wrong Gear #4 – Fat Bike Worlds and More

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

This weekend I finished my first race of 2019. The Fatbike World Championship in Crested Butte, CO has been on our radar ever since we first bought our fat bikes at the end of 2016, and now that we made a point to go, it certainly delivered. Here is my race report:

It has already been a tough week. I was tired from training and tired from working extra days to make up for the time off I was taking for this race. We drove up in snowy, icy, death-trap conditions, so my anxiety was already on overload. As we made our way up-valley from Gunnison to Crested Butte, the sun finally came out, the roads were in good shape, and I was starting to feel better. We found our hotel, and after sifting through some conflicting information, we found the race venue – a ritzy nordic center and golf course clubhouse. I just think all clubhouses are ritzy. While the course was not yet marked, we ran into several people, including the race director, who pointed us the right direction. I kept my effort as light as possible to stay fresh for the following day. After the ride, we showed up at the Demo and vendor showcase at North Village right as they were wrapping up for the day since we had no idea where that was and how to get there. We picked up our race numbers and were super impressed with the level of swag included in our entry. They still had free beer to give away, so we sat around the fire and chatted with some folks, excited for the next day’s event.

I will write several race reports as part of my progress towards Leadville, so I would like to rate my performance regarding aspects of the race which I can control. I will rate my arbitrarily made up criteria on an A through F system based on my subjective experience, yet I will try to be objective as possible.

Overall Objective: To complete the full distance, 30 miles. This was a training race with no goal towards a specific result, however my job was to ride hard. I will give myself an A on this one. I came to the finish line feeling like I left it all out there.

Training: I give this one a B, but that was intentional. I’ve been training for a longer-term goal, and did not train for this race specifically, but the workload I have put in thus far would carry me over the finish line no problem. We have been focusing on base endurance and strength rather than speed, so a full race effort felt a little foreign to me, and Coach did not expect me to feel super strong for this.

Pre- Travel Preparation: This was an A. We were as diligent with our research as possible. With this event, we found the course information to be a little bit scattered, in part due to a change in venue, and because the course was conditions-dependent. YouTube videos showed a pretty wide, fast course, and an email from the race director said as much. We registered and booked a hotel well in advance, and researched the distance between both locations. We loaded the truck with everything we needed, including tools and parts for emergency repairs. The bikes themselves have been recently ridden, tuned, and clean enough.

Preparation, Arrival to Race Start: Definitely an A. We pre-rode the course, noted where our relative strengths and weaknesses were, felt out potentially faster lines, and on which stretches we could eat and drink. We got our race numbers on Friday so we wouldn’t have to do it the morning of the race. We had plans for both riding and driving to the venue so we could decide in the morning how to get there (parking was very limited). We repeatedly checked the weather to have a better guess at how to dress, and I bought disposable foot warmers in case I needed them. My layering turned out to be spot on.

Nutrition, Pre- Race: Fail. I have been eating a bit better the last couple of weeks, however, I treated this trip as much as a vacation as a race. We went to dinner with friends Friday night after skipping lunch that day, so ended up eating greasy pizza, and way too much of it. I drank just enough beer to add insult to injury. Breakfast the morning of the race was no better, as I went for all the rich, greasy options. No self control there.

Nutrition, During the Race: Also an F. I had packed some pocket food, but the course conditions changed, and I no longer had places on the course where I could just cruise and take on fuel. I was working hard the whole time: bucking the wind, climbing, trying to keep my bike under me in the descents and soft spots, or trying to make up time when I had a tail wind. I refused to stop. During 3.5 hours of hard racing, I only managed to take in part of a gel and half a bottle of water. And I felt it.

Execution of Strategy: I get a B. On one hand, the strategy itself was pretty loose. I just had to push for 30 miles, have fun, and finish. I did. However, I was hoping to start slow and finish strong, draft whenever possible, and eat a little every lap to maintain my energy. Instead, I started hard to stay with a group, but as a cautious descender, they left me on the first real downhill and I wasn’t able to catch them again. I hit the dreaded wall after my second lap, and was able to grab a wheel for the first windy section on the third lap. This gave me enough energy to complete the lap at a steady endurance pace. By fourth lap, I ran out of fuel for real, and a rider who had been chasing me all race finally caught me, and even though I got close a few times, I couldn’t catch her back. My lungs were starting to get tight, so I backed off to ensure a finish.

Attitude: Mindset has been, and will continue to be my biggest challenge as I continue to ride and race. For this one, I stayed relatively relaxed before the start. I prepared myself mentally for a hard, fast effort, and did not expect a hard, slow effort with conditions worsening by the lap. I reminded myself that the conditions got harder for everyone, and embraced the newly challenging course. I was working hard and running on fumes, but was okay with it. I stayed forgiving of myself in spite of my mistakes, and was proud of my finish. A rare for attitude.

Overall, the race was just fun. We met awesome people, hung out with familiar faces and enjoyed the sense of community among other cyclists. The longer I ride bikes and live in the mountains, the higher the level of badassery I encounter, and the better I aspire to be. The event was well -organized, even though we had a hard time finding all the information we needed as quickly as we would have liked. Our hotel was comfortable and awesome, and it was nice to leave the truck parked for about 36 hours since we could walk and ride everywhere. We now want to come back in the summer and partake in all the legendary singletrack that Crested Butte has to offer.

As a bonus, we skied Cranor Hill the following day. One of the hotel staff told us about it, and we could not resist. We used to be as passionate about skiing as we are now about biking. But as Summit County has gotten more crowded, we have gotten more jaded. The mega-resorts have drawn hordes of people that have jammed up the roads and cheapened the skiing experience. While there are still good days, and quieter spots if you hike far enough, the incessant signage and fencing, and masses of people bombing down the hill elbow-to-elbow with each other, has turned the resorts into a circus. It feels like skiing has lost its soul.

Cranor Hill, just a few minutes outside of Gunnison, still has a piece of that soul. Cranor is currently owned by the City of Gunnison and is only open on the weekends. It started out as a private ski hill, and although it eventually opened to the pubic, surprisingly, a single Poma platter lift and 300 or so feet of vertical drop wasn’t enough to keep the area financially viable. The Cranor family sold the Hill to the City under the provision that it remains a ski area, where at $17 for a daily lift ticket, it still operates at a loss. Complete with the original 1960s chalet, sprawling at 600 square feet, a staff of six people per day, and some old-timers who are happy to tell you all you want to know about the area, what Cranor lacks in skiable acres it makes up for in history and pride. With three different unload points as you get towed up the hill, your options are to ski the left side of the Poma, or the right side. Grooming is done by a snowcat from the Civil War era, dragging a beat up culvert just as old.

We took a few runs and enjoyed soft conditions and natural snow. We sat on the deck and watched parents teach their kids, and kids teach each other. Everyone had space to make their way down at their own speed, no one was in a hurry to get back to the lift. We loved every minute of it. Ski areas like this are endangered, as the big resorts offer bigger, better, newer, and more. We’re hoping to visit as many of them in Colorado as possible before their lifts stop turning forever.

Published by Veronika Hewitt

Writer. Cyclist. Cat Lady.

One thought on “The Wrong Gear #4 – Fat Bike Worlds and More

  1. Nice report. I was particularly interested in the Cranor hill info. I have spent 10 days in Gunnison each of the last 3 summers preparing for the Leadville 100. Last year they didn’t receive much snow and Cranor never did open so I am happy that the area has received snow, they sure will be grateful. The road past Cranor is a great road to ride in the summer as very little traffic and enough of a elevation change to do some hill repeats as I try to acclimate to altitude.


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