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The growing tribe of fat bike enthusiasts met in Crested Butte, Colorado on Saturday to crown the discipline’s first-ever unofficial world champions. After nearly two hours of racing, professional road cyclist Robbie Squire and local mountain bike racer Amy Beisel emerged from the snowy race course as elite winners.
Squire, who races for the Citadel-Holowesko professional road team, competed in the fat bike race just days after returning from Argentina’s Tour de San Luis stage race. The 25-year-old admitted he was a novice at riding a fat bike, having obtained gear for the race from his Reynolds/Pivot sponsors just days before the race.
“I had one ride in me before [the race],” Squire said. “I’d say that obtaining a fat bike was the biggest part of my preparation.”
Held by the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Borealis Fat Bikes, the world championship event marked the cornerstone of a five-day fat biking festival, which included two other races as well as a daylong conference on fat biking advocacy. Similar to first-generation mountain bikers, who regularly struggled with trail access problems, fat biking riders also struggle to find suitable places to ride.
Enthusiasts from the Midwest and mountain states discussed strategy for convincing land managers to allow fat biking. Opinions varied, but many advocates pointed to nordic centers, snowmobile routes and even popular wintertime hiking trails as the best routes for fat bikers.
Even the Crested Butte event faced pushback from land managers, said chamber of commerce director Dave Ochs. Ochs scrapped the original course for Thursday’s short cross-country event after the National Forest Service forbade the event from serving beer. The race was instead held on a nordic course owned by the Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Ochs also overcame local opposition for Saturday’s cross-country course — which was held on an existing nordic course that crosses municipal and private property — by showing opponents that fat bikes would not damage the proposed route.
“They were worried about damage to wildlife,” Ochs said. “I showed them it’s no different than [nordic] skiing. Nobody really knows about fat bikes yet.”
Fat biking’s problems could evaporate as participation numbers grow. Organizers in Crested Butte had hoped for 150 participants for Saturday’s race. The final participation number was 260. Attendees included mountain bike veterans Travis Brown and Dave Weins, pro road racers Taylor Shelden and Lachlan Morton, and a guy dressed as a cop in Daisy Dukes.
Squire jumped to the front of the men’s field from the gun, and after one lap had drawn out a group containing Brown, Shelden, Morton and mountain biker Brad Bingham. Morton and Bingham were dropped on subsequent laps. On the penultimate lap, Squire opened his winning gap after Shelden crashed on a tricky descent.
“You had to be really loose out there,” Squire said. “It’s like riding a six-mile sand pit.”
Squire finished with a sizable gap on Shelden. On the women’s side, Beisel led from the gun, and finished with a six-minute gap on Alexis Skarda, with Judy Freeman finishing in third.
Brown, who finished third in the men’s race, said the event is proof that “the writing is on the wall” for fat biking’s continued growth.
“There is huge potential,” Brown said. “It’s the only game in town in the winter.”