CABLE, Wis. (March 7, 2015) – This year’s finish of the Fat Bike Birkie was nearly a carbon copy of last year’s race, with Jenna Rinehart (Specialized) and Ned Overend (Specialized) repeating as women’s and men’s champions. But that wasn’t to be in the third edition of the event.
Overend crashed with two kilometers to go and lost the wheel of this year’s winner Will Ross (9:Zero:7), who cruised in 20 seconds ahead of Overend for the win. Ross of Anchorage, Alaska, finished the 47-kilometer race in 1:55:30. Brendan Moore was third and Jeff Hall, fourth.
Rinehart won her second Fat Bike Birkie and was in control of the women’s race from start to finish. The Minnesota rider dropped eventual second and third place riders April Morgan (Salsa/45 NRTH) and Amber Stull (9:Zero:7) by the time she had rolled over the Powerline hills four kilometers into the race. Rinehart was never seriously threatened after that and repeated as women’s champ in 2;12:27.
In the men’s race, even without his crash, Overend didn’t think he could have stayed with the stronger Ross in the closing kilometers. “I was fully blown,” said Overend of Durango, Colo. “I was not going to catch him. He was stronger today.”
Ross, who was second to Overend last year, said a group of a dozen or so riders made it together to the halfway turnaround at Highway OO. After the turnaround, the serious attacks started with Ross, Overend and Jeff Hall animating the race. According to Overend, his strategy was to wait until the halfway point and attack as he did last year when he won on a solo break, but this year a persistent headwind on the way back to Telemark made solo attacks more difficult.
Even so, the attacks whittled down the group, and with 10 kilometers to go, the leaders rode onto the churned up section used by the riders in the shorter 20-kilometer race. “The course was great until 10 kilometers to go,” said Ross. “Then it turned to mush, but that’s great because those are my conditions.”
Ross’s technical skill and daring on the descents in the soft conditions of the closing kilometers overcame the ageless experience of the veteran Overend. At 59, Overend says he’s enjoying every minute of his 50s. Overend won the first ever USAC Fat Bike Championships held in Oregon this past January.
Rinehart’s second Fat Bike Birkie title is impressive since this was her first mountain bike race of the year, but she has won multiple Chequamegon Fat Tire 40 titles and knows the hills and terrain around southern Bayfield and northern Sawyer counties. She understands the hills are relentless and uses them effectively to separate herself from the rest of the field.
“I rode most the race by myself, which is a bummer,” said Rinehart. “There was quite a breeze coming back.” Rinehart had a bad spell in the middle of her race, but told herself to be patient and finished the closing kilometers strong.
For the women, the race was for second and third place as Morgan and Stull battled it out. “We traded places,” said Morgan. “I made a hard push with eight miles to go.” Morgan started to pull away from Stull of Anchorage, Alaska, who started 9:Zero:7 with her husband James.
“She’s a really good descender,” said Stull of Morgan. I was catching her on the hills, but she was killing it on the descents.” Morgan put nearly four minutes into Stull to earn runner-up in the women’s race, finishing in 2:17:22.
Local rider Tom Meyer won the 20-kilometer race using his fitness from the cross country ski season to propel him to victory in 55:32. Rebecca Ireland won the women’s short race in 1:00:02.
This year 812 riders registered for event. Last year’s event was capped at 500.
Men’s winner Will Ross used 4.0 tires with eight pounds of pressure in the rear and seven in the front. Ross said he didn’t want to sacrifice rolling resistance by running lower pressure.