Cash, pain, beer—and a mid-course macchiato
by Than Acuff
While mountain bike racing continues to take on new formats, multiple loops on a ski area or enduro racing, the Fat Tire 40 remains true to what cross-country mountain bike racing once was and still is all about—miles of singletrack, punishing climbs and true backcountry trails.
This Saturday, June 25 marks the eighth annual Fat Tire 40 as part of Crested Butte Bike Week, the longest running mountain bike festival in the world. As of press time more than 80 riders are in, and race director and Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) executive director Dave Ochs is hoping more will trickle in before the registration cut-off at noon on Thursday, June 23.
The Fat Tire 40 is definitely not for the feint of heart. That being said, it is not unattainable for your average mountain biker, it just hurts longer than it does for the elite mountain biker. One thing is for sure: The race provides one incredible loop of almost entirely singletrack.
“It’s pretty much dirt or singletrack the entire time—one small slurry of pavement,” says Ochs.
Racers will roll out from the Chamber of Commerce at 8 a.m. for a parade lap through town, including a coast down Elk Avenue.
“We want the people out with cow bells, coffee, flags—all of that good stuff,” says Ochs.
The riders then head up Gothic Road, still in neutral start mode, until they pass the Washington Gulch Road turn, at which point the police car pulls off and it’s game on.
The course will include the Upper and Upper Upper Loop, Strand, and Deer Creek before coming back from the town of Gothic and turning onto the Evolution Bike Park to ride up Meander, Primer and down the West Side Trail to Happy Hour, back to the Upper Loop and down Tony’s trail into town, finishing back at the Chamber.
Seems simple enough on paper. Granted, it’s taken me the past five years to pre-ride the course but now that there is a coffee cart in Gothic, how hard can it be?
Oh wait… right… We’re talking 40 miles of riding, actually 44 miles, with over 7,500 feet of climbing including “the wall” on Deer Creek, a sh***y, rooty and sometimes bug-biting hike-a-bike section of the course.
But the pay-off, oh the pay-off, makes it all worth it when you bomb down to Gothic (except for that stinger climb in the middle of the downhill) and can get yourself a macchiato so you can regroup for the climb from Gothic, to the climb up Meander (they truly nailed it with that trail name), a trail built through a collaborative effort of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort bike park crew and CBMBA. Meander poses the toughest challenge for everyone, and from the leaders to the back of the pack, all share their disdain for the climb up Meander.
“Meander is the nail in the coffin,” says Ochs.
The course finishes with a 2,000-foot descent from the top of the West Side Trail to town via the Happy Hour Trail, Upper Loop and Tony’s.
“That’s a major downhill,” says Ochs.
There’s money on the line once again this year with the winners taking home $1,000 cash each and the pay-out going five deep on both the men’s and women’s sides.
“There’s going to be some folks duking it out for cash,” says Ochs.
Ochs expects the winners to cross the finish line in around three and a half hours, with the rest of the field cruising through over the next several hours. There will be a cut-off time of 1:30 p.m. in the town of Gothic, so for everyone else, that’s your goal. Make that and you’re in it for the long haul—and the cold one at the finish line will taste that much better.