Stellar Backdrop, Incredible Race

Scheefer edges out win in Fat Tire 40

The conditions could not have been better for the inaugural Fat Tire 40 race Saturday, June 27 during the 29th Annual Fat Tire Bike Week. Rains leading up to race day threatened to turn the course into 42.6 miles of slime, but the sun broke out Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, tightening up the single track.

Furthermore, the international field of racers, including riders from Japan and New Zealand, was met with near-perfect temperatures and a slight breeze, adding to the overall success of the race.
As a result, wicked fast times were laid down through the first portion of the race. The leaders rode from town up Tony’s and the Upper Upper Loop to Brush Creek Road in 28 minutes with Jeff Irwin out front.
From there they charged through the “Strand Hill corkscrew” (riding both Farris Creek and Strand Hill) and headed up to the top of Deer Creek.
Brian Smith was in front on Deer Creek with Travis Scheefer glued to his rear tire and Brian Riepe 45 seconds behind reaching the top of the climb in an unprecedented time of two hours and 18 minutes.
“It was full-on cross-country race pace,” says Smith.
As for the final “wall” of the Deer Creek climb, I did not witness anyone clean it. Though Scheefer thought about it.
“I was tempted to try and ride it but I knew it would cook my legs,” says Scheefer.
Despite the pain of the Deer Creek Trail climb, especially after riding Farris and Strand Hill, most competitors seemed at peace with the slog.
“Tough climb,” said Japanese rider Kentaro Eshita, who was in sixth place.
“Holy shit,” said visiting Kiwi Andrew Young. Whether it was in response to the push up Deer Creek or the views at the top remains in question.
Nevertheless, the leaders carried their pace through to the end of the Deer Creek Trail, turning up the road headed for the section of the course on Crested Butte Mountain.
It was at the turn when Smith felt the pinch of the pace and witnessed Travis Scheefer take in some serious power fluids.
“He hit a Red Bull in Gothic and I knew he would be gone,” says Smith.
But with Riepe close behind, Smith and Scheefer teamed up to help pull each other up Gothic Road and away from Riepe before the Prospect climb.
Scheefer took over the lead for good at the start of the Prospect climb.
“That’s definitely a grind but when we hit it my legs were feeling pretty good, so I jumped in front,” says Scheefer.
“The Prospect climb was brutal,” adds Smith. “You really had to stand on it to get through the switchbacks.”
With a gap in place, Scheefer bombed down the Columbine trail only to have the world disappear from beneath him.
“I went over the handlebars going pretty fast and hit a tree,” explains Scheefer. “I was in a pile on the trail.”
The crash bent Scheefer’s rear rotor, leaving him to battle a rubbing brake and throngs of tourists on the Upper Loop and Tony’s Trail as Smith was gaining on him.
“By the time we hit the road at the bottom of Tony’s, I knew I had to hammer so he wouldn’t catch me,” says Scheefer.
In the end Scheefer held off Smith, winning the 42.6-mile race by 100 yards in a time of three hours, 46 minutes and two seconds.
Jenny Smith took the women’s title thanks in part to a mishap suffered by second-place finisher Laura Anderson at the very start.
“Laura was taken out at that first cattle guard and that was my buffer,” says Jenny.
“A guy to my right moved over and caught my handlebars and we just flipped,” explains Anderson. “I ended up a half mile behind the pack. It motivated me to just go harder.”
Nevertheless, the race was far from easy for Smith, since she had just returned to the Gunnison Valley after spending six weeks racing in the Xterra circuit at sea level.
“It was really hard for me,” says Jenny. “It was 85 percent mental and 15 percent my body just cooperating.”
Halfway through Deer Creek Trail, the ride turned into a race for Smith as she caught a glimpse of Anderson.
“I looked back and Laura was 40 seconds behind and it was race time,” says Jenny.
“I got a good look at her on that switchback,” says Anderson.
Anderson started feeling even stronger on the Prospect climb but Smith managed to hold on for the win, covering the course in a time of four hours, 42 minutes and seven seconds, with Anderson one minute behind in second place.
“I suffered, really suffered, but it was good for me,” says Jenny.
“I’m still recovering,” adds Anderson. “I left everything out there.”
In the end, only four of the 90 riders who started the race did not finish, an incredibly small rate of attrition.
“I figured 40 people weren’t going to finish,” says race co-organizer Dave Ochs. “Only four people is just awesome.”
Furthermore, Ochs was impressed with the outpouring of support, laying a solid foundation for what could become a Fat Tire Bike Week tradition.
“A lot of it was the volunteers,” says Ochs. “The aid stations were kick-ass. Mad cooperation all around the circle.”

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