Race Recap Throwback: Fat Bike World Championships
I don't know about anyone else reading this article, but I have 5 inches of snow in my backyard. Which means that it is now Fat Bike season! What better way to kick off the arrival of (my enemy) the snow than with a retelling of my experience at the Fat Bike World Championships.
Like any good race recap, we begin the story the week before. That week my wife had a pretty severe cold. Being the lazy germaphobe/trendsetter I am, I socially distanced like crazy from her (years before social distancing was even a thing).
The other bit of excitement that happened that week was I received my Fat bike. Indeed, I got the bike I was going to compete on the week of the race. This is not a unique pro circumstance where I am getting a custom paint job on a bike I have a bunch of time riding. Nope, a bike I have never ridden before.
It wasn't even a typical fat bike, it is a "race" fat that runs 27.5 wheels and a steeper head tube, so I have ZERO reference to how this thing will ride. Luckily the bike suited my riding preferences, handling more like a mountain bike than a fat bike.
The week of the race ended up being fairly hectic. Between my wife's cold and my shiny new bike, I did not spend much time at home relaxing. Being the bike aficionado I am, I probably swapped out the bike's rear tire 20 times. I was concerned about traction and tried every available tire in both directions. Which did not even make that much sense, considering that I didn't have any snow to ride on. I tested the tires on the Zamboni droppings behind the ice rink.
Now we get to the day before the race. Luckily, the Fat Bike World Championships were in Crested Butte, Colorado that year, which is only about a two and a half-hour drive from my house.
I saw no issues in getting there the day before the race. My wife was feeling much better. That worked out well, being that one of my lovable quirks is I do not enjoy driving. I was able to relax and keep myself hydrated during the drive. We made it to Crested Butte without issue, and my wife checked in while I went and picked up my race packet.
One detail that isn't very important to the story, but I'll explain anyway, is that while the race occurs in Crested Butte, everything else occurs in Mount Crested Butte. Mount Crested Butte is where all the hotels, resorts, and skiing areas are, while Crested Butte is the town. Crested Butte, for the most part, is a flat section on the side of a mountain. Mount Crested Butte sits on the mountain's side, so everything is either up or down a slope.
Picking up the race packet was a bit of a rude awakening. I took my bike to get a little snow riding in, and over the half-mile to registration, I gained around 400 ft of elevation. That much gain is rough enough, but factoring in the 10,000 ft above sea level that Mount Crested Butte sits at made me rethink doing the race. Oh well.
While the organizers are handing me my race goodies, I notice my race number is "1". I have been racing long enough to know that I should not have that number as it's reserved for the previous year's winner or a sign of respect to a highly ranked rider. I tell the organizers that there has been a mistake with the number, but they say since it is not a UCI race and the numbers assigned are the luck of the draw. "Super Duper," I say sarcastically. Knowing that last year's winner, Travis Brown (a MTB Hall of Fame inductee), and several high-level professional road and MTB are registered for the race. They will see a guy who had to go full anaerobic to get to the registration tent from his hotel and riding a bike he got that week, sporting the number "1" placard.
So I rolled back down the hill to the hotel, made it to the room, and drank some water. I made sure I stayed hydrated since I had some cramping issues in recent races. Being at altitude can also cause dehydration. I organized all my things for the next day, as I typically do the day before a race, then my wife and I decided to go explore the hotel and ski area.
Mount Crested Butte is similar to the rest of the ski villages I have visited. There are a bunch of little shops to go through. We did that for an hour or so, then enjoyed some dinner. On the way back to the room, I noticed an open conference room door and looked inside. There was an arm-wrestling competition going on at the hotel. I was immediately intrigued, but I refused to pay an entrance fee to watch arm wrestling.
Once back in the room, I notice that my wrist was a bit sore. I look down at my watch and have a realization. I have not used--or even felt the need to use the restroom all day. At this point, I have taken 4 to 5 L of fluid and not relieved myself in close to 12 hours. My watch looks like a knot on a balloon animal. Turns out a sign of altitude sickness is water retention. Assuming I'll die, but also lazy, I called a doctor friend and am told I need to acclimate.
The night before the race was one of the least peaceful I ever had. Around 11:00pm, I acclimated, and the fluids left my body over the next 4 hours. Not much sleep to be had that night.
Day of the race. I woke up and went through my standard pre-race morning. Because the venue was so close and downhill, I rode to the start. When I arrived, I pre-rode the start and talked with some other racers. Secretly I was thinking how brilliant I was. Most of the other racers have water bottles. It is 4 degrees F out, bottles are going to freeze. I have a hydration bladder under my jacket. My water will stay liquid because I am an endothermic organism (thank you, biology degree). Getting close to the start, I used the restroom and rode up to the line.
The race began. Everything went well for the first half. I stayed right where I wanted in the pack, then hubris caught up with me. While the water in the bladder remained liquid, the mouthpiece that poked out of my jacket froze (guess I should have got a chemistry degree). Now I am out of water and still have a good hour and a half left in the race.
I was not the only racer with this issue. A very welcomed "water" stop popped up later in that race around the halfway point on the lap (It was a lap race. I didn't mention that earlier.). I noticed the "water" stop with 2 laps to go, but did not stop because I did not realize it in time. On the last lap, I reached for a hand up and was surprised by what I heard. Usually, at a bike race, one is asked, "Water or Gatorade?" At this race, I heard "Vodka or Schnapps?"
Hmmm, that is a tricky one. I am not much of a drinker, so I figured schnapps will probably hurt less than vodka. I take the hand up and try to drink it. The difficulty was not because it was liquor, but the fact that hands and face are pretty numb that late in the race. To this day, I am not sure how much I actually drank, considering how much spilled up on my jacket and bike.
I ended up taking 7th overall. A pretty good result with me focusing more on triathlon than bike racing leading up to the race. I didn't lose any fingers or toes to frostbite, and to the best of my recollection, I didn't die—all in all, a fun race.