Playing in the Mud: Chestnut Ridge Fat Bike Race #2

Starting line for fat bike race

Racers line up for the 2nd fat bike race at Chestnut Ridge Metropark. Race #3 will be on February 11th. You can find details at bikereg.com.

I was convinced that the fat bike race at Chestnut Ridge on January 29th was going to be frozen and fast.  But I was dead wrong.  Despite the fact that it was 28 degrees when I pulled into the parking lot, the ground looked frosty but still had not frozen yet.  We were going to get a little dirty.

Chestnut Ridge fat bike race map

Racers completed 5 laps that were 1.6 miles each. The race was held by Combo on the short track course at Chestnut Ridge. If the ground is frozen, they will add singletrack to the race in the future.

This event is held by Combo, the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization, as a fundraiser for the group.  They are only charging $20 per race or $70 for the series.  I think that’s one of the best deals in mountain bike racing and the proceeds go to a great cause.

James Knott's stats from the Chestnut Ridge mountain bike race

My stats.

37 racers showed up to test themselves on the 1.6 mile course.  15 fat bikers and 22 mountain bikers lined up to do 5 laps for a total of 8 miles.

The series is titled “CR Fatty” and was set up to be a fat bike race.  But, the mountain bikes outnumbered the fat bikes and probably a more apt description of the race should be a short track race.

I viewed this race as a training event, an opportunity to get a high-intensity workout with some friends.  That being said, I was still hoping to do well.  I rested the day before, so that I could eek out a little bit more speed and intensity for the event.

When I looked at the roster, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.  In 2016, there were only 4 racers in the “regular” mountain bike division.  It was amazing to have 18 guys line up to race.  However, there were some pretty fast racers signed up – Jeff Rupnow, Jeff Harper, Mike Whaley, Chris Boyle and Aaron Daniels, to name a few.  This was going to be a fast group and I was going to have to bring my A-game if I wanted to do well.

The track was already worn in from race #1 two weeks prior and the mud was already starting to churn up from the pre-race warm-ups.  This was going to be a muddy course with slick turns.

Fat bike racers at Chestnut Ridge

The fat bikers take off. The race starts with a sprint across a field to the beginning of the short track course. It worked well for spreading out the racers before the course tightens.

The short track course at Chestnut Ridge is a mowed path through the field near the parking lot for the mountain bike trail. On a dry day, the course is not very technical, but once you add mud or snow every turn becomes a technical challenge. It can be hard to keep your bike upright. The thing that I love about it, as opposed to a normal XC race, is that you can see your competition on trail around you. It really makes it feel like a race when you can look over your shoulder and see other racers gaining on you.

The short track course at Chestnut Ridge is a mowed path through the field near the parking lot for the mountain bike trail. On a dry day, the course is not very technical, but once you add mud or snow every turn becomes a technical challenge. It can be hard to keep your bike upright. The thing that I love about it, as opposed to a normal XC race, is that you can see your competition on the trail around you. It really makes it feel like a race when you can look over your shoulder and see other racers gaining on you. Side note: Why not cut the course?  Because those weeds are full of thorns that even keep you honest when you try and cut a turn too close.

Shannon Williams carries his bike over the barriers.

At one point there are 2 CX-style barriers where 95% of the riders choose to carry their bikes over. A handful of talented guys can bunny hop them and make up some time on other racers. Riding around them is cause for disqualification.

When the race started, I would say I had a decent start, but not a great start.  I probably finished the opening sprint in 6th place.  The great thing about this race though is that there is plenty of room to pass, so I tried to stay patient, knowing that I could find my moments.

Although, I know my heart rate was sky high (Avg 159bpm), I felt very much under control.  The turns were so slippery with mud that it was hard to ride too aggressively through them.  Inevitably, you had to slow down to turn without falling or sliding into the weeds, then power out of the corners the best you could.  Racers with the ability to accelerate rapidly had a huge advantage.  This is one area where I felt like I was doing well.  I was slowly moving up the ranks by waiting until I reached a straightaway, then I would amp up my pedaling to a sprint to pass.  Since I was riding a singlespeed, once I reached my top speed, I was pretty much coasting to the next turn.

The first lap was a lot of fun.  Since we were in the third starting wave, there were a lot of folks from the first two waves that needed to be passed.  There was a ton of strategic maneuvers to get by the other riders without wasting too much energy.  Even though this was a competition, everyone was really chill about letting people by.  It was a great vibe.  By the end of the first lap I had moved up to fourth in my division.

James Knott chases Chris Boyle in mountain bike race

At the end of lap 1, I was trying to chase down Chris Boyle (blue jacket).

At this point, Chris Boyle was right in front of me and Jeff Harper was a little bit ahead of him.  Jeff Rupnow was in first place with a big smile on his face.  I zoomed past Boyle on with a big acceleration on a straightaway and was getting ready to chase down Harper when I heard Rupnow throwing some encouragement his way.  “Come on. You got this.  Bring it home,” or some encouraging nice thing that you would say to a teammate.  Not going to lie though, it kind of fired up my competitive spirit.  I was determined to catch up to Harper.  I just wasn’t sure how strong he was feeling or how much training he had been doing in the off-season.  Could I do it?

Chris Boyle slips in a muddy turn

Shortly after I passed Chris, he tried to defy the laws of physics. “…oh crap. This is going to hurt.”

Chris Boyle crashes at Chestnut Ridge Race

The aftermath.

A lap later, I had worked my way onto Jeff’s back wheel.  We were going at fairly similar speeds, so it was hard to find a good place to pass.  I was pretty maxed out from just trying to catch him.  But when we reached the short hike-a-bike on the third lap, where you have to carry your bike over a log, I was able to run up the hill faster than him and get by.

Harper was a class act.  He gave me some words of encouragement as I ran past him.  What a nice guy.  I almost felt bad about wanting to get by him so badly.  …almost.

Racers carry their bikes over a log

This log was placed on a short steep climb. I never saw anyone who was able to ride it. Once you got over the log, the hill was so muddy that it was hard to get good footing to push your bike up. Tires would easily spin out in the muck.  It was really challenging. Love it! You can also see how the fat bikes and mountain bikes were intermingling quite a bit. There was a lot of sorting going on in those first two laps.

It was now half way through the race and I was in second place.  Jeff Rupnow was way ahead of me, so I didn’t feel I had a chance to catch him, so I was now in a “don’t do anything stupid” phase of the race.  I kept looking over my shoulder for Harper, but he seemed to be slowly losing ground.  I could see Mike Whaley and Chris Boyle behind him on the switchbacks.  I knew that if I let up, these guys would be right on my tail, or if I fell on one of the slippery turns or downhills that I would probably get passed.  So, I was cautious in the turns and pedaled hard out of them.  Just tried to sustain my position.

Happy racer.

Tess Cunningham is a happy racer.  Several riders were on CX bikes and seemed to do quite well.  Maybe we can get some more CXers to show up to race #3.  We can finally answer the age old question about whether CX or MTB is better.

James Knott's muddy bike

My bike was so muddy. Since I was singlespeed it wasn’t really an issue, but I’m sure it affected the performance of a few derailleurs.  Click here to see reviews and prices for unique-looking Lauf fork that I love.

James Knott races at Chestnut Ridge

Sliding through the swamp.

More cowbell!

More cowbell! Thanks for the encouragement!

Lap 3…  lap 4…  I was still holding a good gap on third place.  Behind me Mike Whaley had caught up to Jeff Harper and the two of them were pushing each other quickly through the  5th and final lap.

Up ahead I could see the lead guys from the fat bike division.  I had made up ground on them.  I pushed harder to see if I could catch them, but ultimately I didn’t have any more fuel left in the tank.

I finished the race in 2nd place.  Mike and Jeff had a sprint finish behind me and Jeff beat him for 3rd – 8 miles in 45 minutes.  It was a tough race, but a ton of fun.  I’m really looking forward to race #3 on February 11th.  You can register for it bikereg.com.  It’s a great way to hang out with your friends and get a good workout in the off-season!

Men's Mountain Bike Division podium

Men’s Mountain Bike Division podium: Jeff Rupnow 1st, James Knott 2nd (absent, had to leave for my son’s wrestling tournament), Jeff Harper 3rd, and Mike Whaley 4th

Thanks to Bryan Pack and Matt Waldron for taking photos at this event.  It’s always fun to relive the day through your lens!

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