Midwest MTB Racing Recapby Jay Richards
September 18, 2012
Another great Chequemegon in the books. The first Chequemegon I did was in 1990 and I haven't missed many since. Not being in the piney woods of Wisconsin this year with the big mountain bike family was missed but heard only good things coming from the trail on the social networks. This weeks recap includes special reports from 40 winner Jenna Rinehart and top 20 finisher in the 40, Tyler Gauthier. Also the usual look ahead with latest information from the Jail trail and an event the end of this month to put on the radar.
Dry and fast conditions made for record times in the Chequemegon as many riders posted their best time ever. As expected, the pace was supercharged with top road pros and the best of the Midwest slicing and dicing on the hilly trails through the towering forests. Too be honest with you, I was a bit surprised Matt Busche pulled it off but obviously he did his homework and always impressed when a newbie sticks it the first time "giving it". There was no doubt on his fitness. Another impressive performance that stuck out was that by Cory Stelljes who moved up 9 spots to take 5th. After last weeks report, I got word from Ben Welnak who runs Mountain Bike radio and he called it nicely saying Corey "had a strong case to make the top five". Stelljes, a former serious runner, got into mountain bike racing after competing in the Olympic trials for the marathon running event a few years ago. Welnak did an interview pre-race that is worth checking out.
On to the recaps....
Jenna Rinehart made it four with a victory this year and provides a humble report:
Coming into the race I knew I wasn't the strongest rider on the list of riders to watch. But having raced Chequamegon before I knew that the strongest rider does not always win. You need to have a strong ride but also a lot of luck on your side to get to the finish line first. Especially for the women as we are mixed in with the men and it becomes a game of trying to hide from the others and jump on a group of fast guys.
I had been feeling a little weak on the bike leading up to the race and was just hoping for the best with a goal of making the podium. This years start was the warmest conditions I can remember and looked like it was going to be a perfect day for racing. Just before the gun went off I made sure to scope out where the other women were lined up so I could try to keep them in sight when we hit Rosies field. There were 3 other women out there that I was most worried about- Lea, Chloe, and Sara. The pace on the paved road seemed a little easier this year. We had a headwind which seemed to slow the pace down a bit and provide more of a draft.
Coming into Rosies field I was back a little further then I would have liked. They changed the route through the field which threw me off a bit. I could see Lea's jersey just in front of me but had no idea where Chloe or Sara were. Groups started to form when we hit the Birkie trail and I found myself just off of Lea's group. A little later I found out Chloe was also in that group. I was told I was in third place and was finding myself a little disappointed that I didn't make their group. I just didn't quite have the snap in my legs to stay with them on all of the climbs. At this point I wasn't sure where Sara was but was hoping I could hang on to 3rd. A little later on the Birkie trail I see Lea pulled over fixing a flat. I knew once she fixed it she would be chasing us down and I was just hoping I would have enough in me to hold her off.
Coming into 00 I found myself in a good group with Paul Hanson and Doug Swanson. But after 00 these two went to the front and blew the group apart. Unfortunately I didn't quite have it and found myself just off of this group. I got a few time splits that Chloe was less than 30 seconds up on me so I just kept plugging away. About half way up Fire Tower I saw Chloe pulled over and all of a sudden I found myself riding in 1st. Hollywood was at the top with ice cold coke and then it was on to the last 10 miles of the race. My legs were starting to feel it and were on the verge of cramping on the relentless hills of the Birkie trail.
For the rest of the race I was mostly by myself and had no good groups to work with. I knew I was loosing a lot of time and had a feeling Lea was close. I made it to the finish line exhausted and moments later I heard Lea's name announced. I just made it with 16 seconds to spare! This years race was a perfect example of never giving up. With a mass start of over 1800 people and 40 miles you never know what can happen. I'm so happy to be the first women to win 4 times and to share the podium with an Olympian and one of the fastest women in the world is awesome!
Tyler Gauthier was a rider I had listed in a rider to watch that I expected to place in the top 20 and he did that by placing 15th. An impressive result if you ask me but Tyler was hoping for more but content with the result and ready to improve in the coming years. Like I said, he will be a rider to watch in the future.
I love amusement parks. Better yet, I love amusement parks with fast roller coasters that have big climbs and huge drops. The ones that give you a permanent smile as you fly up, down and around. It sounds like I’m talking about Great American but this past weekend it was the Cheq 40.
My first attempt at the coveted Cheq 40 was this past weekend. I have heard about the event for years. How could you not? It is a staple in the Midwest cycling scene and part of the Midwest Triple Crown. I’ve tried in the past to get an entry into the race but I have gotten drawn. This year I earned an entry from the director himself, Gary Crandall, after winning the Cable Classic earlier in the year. I was happy to get the win in the Cable Classic but the personal invite from Mr. Crandall was a highlight of that weekend. It was an invite into the largest mass start race with the strongest riders from the country. I’m in!
I pre-rode the last 13 miles of the course on Friday with the eventual 2nd place finisher Mike Anderson and 4th place finisher Mike Phillips to get familiar with the infamous Fire tire climb and the Birkie rollers. They were not so scary in the warm-up but I could tell they would both bust your legs and pound your heart after 30 miles of racing. My next recon session was the morning of the race as I rode across Rosie’s field and over the first couple of climbs. All of the advice led to the conclusion that you needed to be in the right spot here or you won’t be in the right spot later.
The rollout was good for me. I started 1st row and stayed in the front for the first left and right hand turn. Rolling onto Highway 77 I got shuffled around a bit but for the most part was always in the top 20. Rolling into Rosie’s field I got sucked down in the spongy grass which moved me back just a bit. Not too panicked as I was still on the defending champion’s wheel. Entering the climbs I was amazed at the amount of riders fighting for the front group. There had to be 30 or more fighting for wheels. Just as the course turns downwards I was slightly disconnected and this is where my first tactical error and lack of course knowledge hurt me. I figured the downhill would bring be back to them but the hard tempo by two world class road riders kept me off the back. Rather than risking a redline effort and a possible blowout later in the race I decided to establish with the 2nd group on the trail.
The 2nd group was about 10-12 riders including the strong Eppen tandem. Funny thing, I ate dinner with them the night before and joked how I didn’t like to ride their wheel because of the power they put into the bike and here I was 4 miles into the race sitting on their wheel. The lead group was only about 20 seconds up and the Eppen's and I wanted to dig to catch. We put in our efforts but the others in the group either didn’t have it or did want it because a real effort was never combined to catch back. The Eppen’s and I continued to pull and push the pace for most of the 1st half. Eventually the strong climbing and the Eppen’s extreme fast descending broke the group down little by little and every so often we would catch a rider or two that was disconnected from the blistering pace of the lead group. The significant catch for me was when we caught Isaac Neff and Matias Perret. A move was attempted with Isaac to split the group right before Fire tower but was unsuccessful but it showed me that Isaac wanted nothing to do with the large group as I was also starting to get uncomfortable in it.
We started fire tower and Isaac and Gregg Brandt pulled away. The horror stories of the Birkie rollers to come kept my pace below what I was capable of, tactical error #2. Reaching the top I realized I should have went with those two and pushed hard over the top. I dropped the group in my effort but was not connected to the 2 wheels I wanted and was now sitting in no man’s land. I put in a huge effort to catch them but never did catch back on. In my effort I realized I was keeping a good gap to the chasing group. Whether they would catch me or not, I was not going to make it easy because I didn’t want to pull around a group anymore. I attacked by myself just as the Birkie rollers began. Eventually during the relentless climbing I was joined by Pat Lemieux. This is also where my permanent grin was developed. Even during a time when each hill was tearing my legs apart I found time to smile as the each up and down felt like an amusement ride. Approaching the last 3 miles I put my head down and kept forward knowing that the Eppen train could possibly roll towards us. At 2 to go they did. I caught the wheel and figured I would get them on the few hills that remained but both the Eppen’s and Lemieux rode away as the Birkie rollers and the tempo that followed proved to do me in. I took the time to enjoy my entry into the spectacle that the Cheq 40 has created. I was riding in 15th place and gave one last dig to delight the massive crowds that you only see at a few races around the country.
I had goals for a bit better result but for my first attempt I am very pleased. The course, the race, and the hype all stood up to what I had been told. I enjoyed every moment of my Chequamegon experience. The changing colors during the ride west, the pre-ride hand waves to familiar faces, the early morning rise to race prep, the rollout, the race, the hills, and the finish. It all made up one of the greatest race experiences of my career. Gary Crandall has truly started and continued an event that is made for everyone. For us professionals all way down to the mom’s and dad’s introducing their child to their first race. A must attend. Is it September 2013 yet?
Coverage on Skinnyski.com
Kris Anderson sent a note regarding the latest information for the second to last race in the MNMBS, the Singletrack Escape: "The Revolution Cycle and Ski Single Track Escape trail is in perfect shape and riding really fast. The lines are buffed out and everything is trimmed back for racing. We are pleased to announce that at this years fundraiser raffle you can win a Salsa Spearfish frame. In addition as per usual we are making sure the single speed event goes off and the race board has just informed me that we are running the 'Intra-Galactic Single Speed Championships' and will give out $150 to the first man and woman in the event! We look forward to welcoming all the racers and families to our annual fundraiser event."
Also to note is a race the last week in September, The Deer Fly Chase. The chase comes in as its second year which will be held at Hickory Ridge Trails, and starts at 10am on Saturday September 29th. It features a great mix of gravel roads, ski trails and singletrack. The race will have two race options, 26 miles and 16 miles, plus a tour. Registration is open now and all proceeds will go towards maintaining the mountain bike and ski trails.
Keep the wheels moving!
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About the author...
Jay Richards maintains a very active lifestyle. He somehow finds time between managing a full-time resort (Maplelag) and bringing up a family of four boys with his wife Jonell, to compete in both mountain bike and a few cross-country ski races. Jay rides for Maplelag Resort, manages the Maplelag/Paramount mountain bike team and enters his 22nd year of racing and promoting mountain bike races.