After a successful launch last season, Summit County’s first fat-bike race of the winter is back with a new start line, new course and more singletrack than ever before, as in this year’s course actually touches singletrack. Last year’s event was held on the flat-and-wide cross-country trails at the Gold Run Nordic Center, but this year’s event moves to the heart of downtown Breckenridge for a neutral start on Main Street before taking riders to the French Gulch trail network.
“It’s a cool little course,” said Jeff Westcott, the race director with Maverick Sports. “French Gulch has some singletrack, and last year we were exclusive on the groomed trails. It was fun, but not as technical. I don’t know if this year is tougher — just more interesting.”
Like Mav Sports’ marquee summer event, the Firecracker 50 at the annul Fourth of July parade, the revamped Fat Bike Open begins with a bang as part of Breck’s holiday lighting ceremony. The mass start leaves Main Street at 2:30 p.m. and heads up Adams Avenue to Ridge Street before merging onto Wellington Road. When riders reach the base of Wellington Hill (just past Harris Street) the neutral start ends and timing begins. The course stays relatively flat, with riding on Gold Run Road, French Gulch Road, X10U8, Reiling Dredge Trail, B&B Trail and stables road. Total vertical: about 620 feet for the 6.5-mile course and 800 feet for the 10.5-mile course.
“We wanted to offer something that was quite a bit different than last year,” Westcott said. “We also want to tap into the energy of the Breckenridge celebration.”
As usual with Mav Sports events, the Fat Bike Open is made for anyone and everyone. There are categories for adults and juniors, including men’s and women’s pro-open divisions, and first-place finishers take home $100 apiece, plus prizes for top-three finishers in the age and junior divisions.
And, as usual with Mav Sports events, that means the competition in the upper divisions will be steep. Last year, past Leadville 100 winner Dave Wiens of Durango made an appearance and won, barely edging out Jelly Belly pro and Breck local Taylor Shelden. Shelden is back at the Open this year after taking second overall in the pro division at the 2016 Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte.
“It’s the first race of the season, so I’ll be going hard, obviously, but it’ mostly having fun,” said Shelden, who was riding his road bike on snow-less pavement until about 10 days ago. “Last year I got the fat bike in December, so I only had a month or two to train, but this year I’m feeling more comfortable on the bike. I’ve had a full year, and that’s what the racing came down to last year: Who could stay on their bike the best?”
Like Westcott, Shelden is looking forward to a course with variety. At the Nordic center events, he said the course got destroyed after three or four laps, which made simply pedaling difficult. (Gold Run recently bought a grooming tool made just for fat bikes and will debut a new course for the Ullr Bike event in January.) It taught him to approach fat biking like road biking, with more time in the saddle and less time standing on the pedals.
“You still have to be able to put the power down, but with the way conditions are and the way you’re racing, you’re in the saddle more,” Shelden said. “It’s grinding to make sure you have traction on that back wheel.”
Westcott expects about 50 to 60 people at the race — similar to last year, he said — and still isn’t sure how big fat biking will get in Summit County. It’s more than a trend by now, he said, but that doesn’t mean it will get as big as skiing or snowboarding.
“In Breckenridge, we’re still not sure where fat biking will go,” Westcott said. “We’re still a ski community and we get so much snow, so I really don’t know where it is going to fall. I think people are so jazzed to be sliding on snow right now because it took so long to get going.”