We amateurs love to battle each other for top times on Strava segments. Guess what? In recent months, many world-class riders have been doing something similar with Fastest Known Times (FKT) on mammoth-sized trails.
The Kokopelli Trail has been one such battleground in recent weeks, with three-time Olympian Geoff Kabush, WorldTour rider-turned-gravelleur Pete Stetina, and little-known rider Timon Fish all setting high marks on the 137-mile trail from Moab, Utah to Fruita, Colorado.
VeloNews Groad Trip columnist Pete Stetina set the best time of 10:24:43 on April 22, but quickly hid his time from Strava, as he has a video coming out on the effort produced by his sponsor Canyon. Some people saw it, though, including Kabush.
It was game on, and Kabush teased Stetina a bit on social media.
“I always like to joke around with Pete because he’s so serious,” Kabush said. “I just happened to be checking out the info when he made his ride public.”
The initial best time of 11:52 on Kokopelli had been set by Kurt Refsnider, the co-founder of BackcountryBikeChallenge.com that tracks FKTs and BikepackingRoutes.org. Refsnider has done extensive work in mapping out and publicizing not only routes but water access points and road intersections so that others can safely complete the long routes, whether at a more leisurely bikepacking pace or at an FKT race pace.
Last May, Lachlan Morton set a new best time of 11:14.
This year, Fish went out on April 28 and rode Kokopelli in the opposite direction, and set the Kokopelli Southbound FKT at 10:29. He then returned a few weeks later and rode it northbound, posted a time of 10:28:26 — a remarkable few seconds different than his southbound effort. According to Strava, Fish had a normalized power of 286 watts for that effort.
Just two days prior, Kabush tackled Kokopelli northbound and posted a 10:27:54. Unlike all the other riders who rode mountain bikes, Kabush rode a gravel bike with a prototype suspension fork.
This week, Stetina made his Kokopelli time public on Strava.
“My time was leaked on the internet beforehand, and while I wanted it to stay private just so it could highlight this video around the FKT community and Kokopelli, at this point it’s not really a secret,” Stetina said. “I really hope people want to see the flick, though, because while I like doing fast things, I am really smitten with the community around the FKT, and it will be really cool to highlight the other players in this game.”
Stetina explained how generous Refsnider was with his time and information.
“I was on a call with Kurt, the day before I tried to break his record, and he was giving me all kinds of tips, and told me where there was a hidden water source,” Stetina said. “It is such a cool ethos. He wanted to help me.”
Planning for a major FKT is quite different than doing a supported bike race.
“There are no gas stations, no spigots, no ranger stations,” Stetina said. “You have to filter water from natural sources. The planning around dosing and rationing your supplies, it’s a whole other level of planning beyond race tactics.”
Stetina stopped to refill at Fisher Creek in the La Sals at 2.5 hours in, and then again from the Colorado River at about hour 5.
“I took and used three tall bottles, and then I have a filtering bladder with a spigot that I used as a fourth bottle,” he said. “I finished on empty.”
Stetina rode his Canyon Lux mountain bike and unreleased 2.25-inch IRC GeoClaw tires. For gearing, he used a 36t ring paired to a 10-51 cassette on his Shimano-equipped bike.
Kabush, meanwhile, had used a 42t ring and a 10-40 cassette. “If I do it again I’ll ride my 2x gravel bike,” Kabush said.
Kabush said afterward he was looking at Fish’s ride on Strava. “He was way ahead of me most of the ride, like 20 minutes ahead at some points,” Kabush said. “It wasn’t until the final two minutes or so that I got ahead of him. He must have stopped.”
(I reached out to Timon Fish via Strava to hear about his rides, but haven’t yet heard back.)
Kabush, who has battled Stetina head-to-head at gravel races like California’s Grasshopper Low Gap, said he didn’t have any immediate plans to take another crack at the Kokopelli FKT.
“Not immediately,” he said. “It’s a bit of a lottery with the weather and the wind, but with a little more prep and the right conditions, it would be interesting for sure.”