Big Lessons and Big Tires
I've heard it said before, "If you're not winning, you're learning." The perpetual optimist in me wants to believe that this is as true a statement as any, and in the case of my most recent races, Fat Bike Worlds, I'd say that it is.
I crossed the finish line last year in a state of complete shock realizing that I was the 2018 Fat Bike World Champion. As the year passed, I resolved to have only one expectation at the 2019 race; to try my best. There are so many components that go into a race, some I have complete control over, others I have little to no control over. Of course, seeing the difference between the two and feeling the difference are different matters entirely.
As the time drew near to defend my title, I grew nervous. People were constantly asking me about the title and the upcoming race to defend it, which only made things more nerve wracking. But, as the final weekend came upon me, I found that I was just excited to work hard.
Before I had any more time to dwell on my nervous tension or excitement, there I stood hearing my name on the loud speaker, calling me up to the front of the start line. The sound of gunfire sent over a hundred fat bikes rolling, and I felt like fifty rolled passed me. Without getting too overwhelmed, I shot around as many fatties as possible placing myself in the middle of the lead pack.
Success in fat biking is often determined on weather and snow conditions. The snow pack for this year's race was almost perfect, but the strong winds and blowing snow created evolving course conditions. Conditions that would turn out to be pivotal.
My major human rival, (the strong west winds were the rival of us all) was Amy Beisel. I am her rival on snow, but when it comes to racing on the dirt, well, let's just say I have a long way to go before I can consider myself her rival. For the first two of the eight mile laps, we swapped the lead position several times. Crossing the finish line each lap, the crowd cheered loudly for us and I came through with a huge smile. I love a race setting that pushes me to fight.
Amy was right on my wheel as we turned into the west wind, starting the third lap. I tried to push the pace to force a showdown. It wasn't until I felt my quads screaming that I realized I was making a mistake. I would never drop her in this wind. I quickly pulled to the side with the hope that she might lead a bit. She did, but she also slowed down. Growing impatient, a rookie mistake I'm sure, I sped around her. Turning out of the wind into the first of the climbs, she quickly jumped back into the lead position, climbing with strength. This is where she dropped me every lap.
We were both at the mercy of the quickly melting snow, resulting in the loss of traction on the hills. Off the bike and running up the steepest sections, my heart felt like it was about to jump up my throat and out my mouth. The corners and descents began to soften up and fat bikers were dropping like flies all around us. I managed to stay upright until a long straight, soft section of the course that, because of those strong west winds, had a fresh blanket of treacherous snow. I saw someone crash ahead of me and before I knew it, I was sliding through the fresh powder. Caught in the moment of surprise, I ran over to my bike as I watched her ride away. The handlebars on my bike were twisted, but thankfully everything else was in working condition. I jumped on, and worked as hard as I could to catch back up.
I caught her just as we crossed the finish line. The crowd was screaming and we were now in the final lap. I was feeling the heat in my legs, as we swapped positions while riding into the wind. She, once again, climbed the first hill with vigor, but I was right on her wheel. As we ran up the steepest sections, we started to pass more riders. At the start of one of the major descents, a guy wrecked right in front of me. I can still see his legs up in the air, bike askew. It took all I had to not ride directly into him, but it still caused me to slide out. Without a second thought, I was back on the bike.
I couldn't see my rival. It was here that I realized I might not take the title this year, but I wanted to finish as close as possible to her. I turned a corner, and there she was. I was thankful for the tailwind as I passed multiple cyclists; their cheers and encouragement gave me strength. I crossed the finish line 29 seconds behind her, and I was proud of my effort.
I am not ashamed or disappointed in the outcome of this race. It was difficult, fun and one that I will always fondly remember. I learned that I need to start considering strategy in my races. I need to know when to be aggressive and when to back off. These skills will continue to evolve with every race I compete in. Who knows, maybe I'll win another big one someday? But if not, you know what they say, "If you're not winning, you're learning."
Special thanks to:
Pearl Izumi for keeping me warm out there in that amazing thermal skin suit! I love your clothes, and am thankful for the continued support.
To my parents, wonderful husband, friends and family who were there cheering me on. It meant the world to me.
To Bradd Huff and Lauren Hall for always giving me much needed advice. Love you guys.
To Doug and Suzanne for letting me stay in their beautiful house.
To the directors and coordinators of this awesome event, you guys know how to put on a fat bike race!