On Saturday, January 30, the small mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado, played host to the first, self-appointed, Fat Bike World Championships.
The non-sanctioned event — no, there was no rainbow jersey awarded — was organized by the mutton-chopped Dave Ochs, director of the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, and was sponsored by Colorado-based Borealis Fat Bikes.
Crested Butte has a long history with mountain biking. During the 1970s, local residents took their “clunkers” an an annual trip over Pearl Pass, into Aspen. The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame was located in Crested Butte from 1988 until 2015, when it moved to Fairfax, California, at the base of Mount Tamalpais.
The World Championship race was the marquee event of a five-day festival that also included a mid-week fun race, a Fat Bike Summit conference, focusing on advocacy and trail access issues, and a final-day “Hair of the Dog” downhill race, complete with chairlift service at the ski resort.
Each venue was marked by vendor expos and flowing kegs of free beer. Other event sponsors included SRAM, Salsa Cycles, 45NRTH, Surly Bikes, Scott, and Clif Bar.
The eight-lap, 21-mile (33.8km) fun race was held under unseasonably warm, sunny skies at the North Village venue.
Two days later, the world championship course was held under gray skies, with a bit of fresh snow on the ground, on a groomed nordic cross-country course that utilized both municipal and private property. The event, sandwiched between the town and Crested Butte Mountain, was granted one-time permission from the Crested Butte Nordic Center.
— Brian Patrick (@BoulderVideo) February 1, 2016
Just over 250 riders showed up to compete in either a five-lap, 27-mile (43.5km) elite race, or a three-lap, 16.2-mile (26km) open event. Categories included elite men/women, open men/women, masters, juniors, and hand cyclists riding fat trikes.
Temperatures were cold. Rules were scarce. Tires were required to be a minimum of 3.5 inches (8.9cm) wide. Helmets were mandatory. Costumes were optional.
Professional roadie Robbie Squire (Holowesko-Citadel) won the elite men’s race, just days after competing with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) at the Tour de San Luis, in Argentina. Squire rode five 5.4 laps in 1 hour, 55 minutes, for an average speed of 13.97mph (22.48 kph).
Taylor Shelden (Tokyo Joe’s-FSA) finished second, almost four minutes down, with former national cross-country champion and 2000 Olympian Travis Brown (Trek) in third.
Australian Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) rode at the front of the race early, but crashed out of the lead group; his finishing time was not registered because he misplaced his official timing chip.
Former Olympic track cyclist Colby Pearce (Pearce Coaching) finished ninth, with U.S. mountain-bike legend Dave Weins (Topeak-Ergon), the six-time Leadville 100 winner, finishing 10th.
CyclingTips columnist Neal Henderson (Apex Coaching) rode five laps in 3:39:25.
In the elite women’s race, Crested Butte local Amy Beisel (Team RideBiker) rode the 27-mile course in a time of 2:30:44, over 11 minutes faster than runner-up Alexis Skarda (Stan’s NoTubes). Judy Freeman (Boulder Bicycle Works) finished third.
Didn't win the rainbow but might be getting a new clavicle #fatbikeworlds
— Megan Hottman (@cyclist_lawyer) January 30, 2016
And while racing on snow might sound like a day at the park, it was anything but. As tires tracked the course, ruts caused havoc with front wheels. Crashes were common, and sometimes, serious. One racer, Megan Hottman (Cyclist-Lawyer.com) ended the day with a broken clavicle.
All registered entrants were given a stainless steel event cup; elite finishers received a commemorative flask. Category winners were presented the opportunity to receive an official Fat Bike Worlds cattle brand, which Andre-Paul Michaud, winner of the men’s open race, accepted. (Squire and Beisel respectfully declined.)
Is fat biking here to stay? Could we see a “true” Fat Bike World Championship some time in the future? Tough to say, but it’s certainly growing. Outside Magazine was on hand to cover the action, as was a Warren Miller film crew.
USA Cycling already has an officially sanctioned Fat Bike National Championship, won in 2015 by mountain-bike legend Ned Overend (Specialized) in Ogden, Utah. This year’s race will be held on February 27, and the event moves to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2017 and 2018.
Ochs said he intends to bring Fat Bike Worlds back to Crested Butte in 2017. Whether or not the UCI ever deems fat biking worthy of official sanctioning, and a rainbow jersey, is another issue. And whether that matters at all is up for debate.