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Local riders throw down in epic Fat Bike race

“I like being out there all night”

by Than Acuff

A small but strong contingent of local ultra endurance riders took over the Bear Fat Bike Race outside of Steamboat Springs Saturday to Sunday, February 3-4. The race had two options in distance, 50 miles and 105 miles, and the Gunnison Valley riders all stepped up to the 105-mile version.

In the end, only four of the total 11 riders who started the 105-mile tour finished, and three of those four riders all hail from the Gunnison Valley, with Neil Beltchenko winning the men’s race, Jefe Branham coming in third and Beth Shaner winning the women’s race.

All three riders are no strangers to the ultra endurance format, with Beltchenko and Branham both racking up several titles on multi-day endurance races and Shaner having competed in fat bike races in Idaho the past two years.

This race is new on the scene though and, more important, a little closer to home.

“I was pretty excited to do an ultra endurance fat bike race here in Colorado,” says Shaner.

The Bear is just that, a bear. The 105-mile long course reaches up to the Continental Divide, has 10,000 feet of climbing and takes riders into the relatively less-traveled Zirkel Mountains.

For Shaner, the decision between the two distances was easy.

“I like the longer races, that’s kind of my thing,” says Shaner. “I like being out there all night.”

As for her expectations, a little experience went a long way for Shaner as she readied for a full day and night on her fat bike, expecting to come in to the finish line somewhere around 24 hours. That is, if the weather and conditions cooperated.

“With these races the number one goal is always to finish but having two under my belt, I felt a little more confident,” says Shaner. “But, I also knew with the warm temperatures, that could make conditions soft and the race much longer.”

As riders prepared for the 7 a.m. start Saturday, the weather forecast was good, not great. Snow was expected, some wind and temperatures mild for the most part.

“I knew when I woke up that morning and saw the weather, there was going to be some hike-a-bike sections in soft snow,” says Shaner.

While the route follows a groomed snowmobile trail, the fresh snow and wind did make for some interesting conditions along the way.

“It wasn’t all groomed, firm and nice, there was some good old hike-a-bike,” says Shaner.

And while the hike-a-bike portions were there, they were mostly where Shaner expected, especially on some of the steeper climbs to the high points along the course. Fortunately, those climbs pushing her bike up did come with some benefits.

“All of the downhills were rideable, super fun descents. That was a nice reward,” says Shaner.

The wind did factor into the race in some spots. While a lot of the course was in the trees, the wind made for some tricky riding out in the open portions of the course, especially at night, leaving riders to go back and forth between looking ahead and looking at their GPS devices to make sure they were still on course.

“The winds were definitely a big factor,” says Shaner. “In some of the open areas the visibility was not great and it was hard to tell where the groomed trail was.”

The upside was that temperatures were relatively mild, taking the potential for frostbite out of the picture.

Shaner managed to make it to the 90-mile mark before she admitted it was time for a break and she took a little catnap to recharge for the final stretch.

“I was just having trouble staying awake on my bike,” says Shaner. “I stopped with 15 miles to go, which doesn’t seem like very far, but on a fat bike it is.”

Refreshed after a quick nap, Shaner hopped back on her bike to ride out the last 15 miles and finish in a time of 24 hours and 45 minutes for the win.

While her fat bike race season this winter was limited to the Bear, she has her sights set on the ultra endurance race circuit this spring as she plans to jump on her mountain bike to take on the Arizona Trail Race in April.

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