2015 Big M XC Race Report (Fat Bike Open)

I don’t normally write up post-race reports, but this past weekend’s Fun Promotions cross country mountain bike (XC) race at Big M ski area in Udell Hills was fun and notable, so I figured I’d give it a go.

A week earlier my buddy, fellow CRAMBA board member, and Tree Farm Relay team mate Chris Westerlund expressed an interest in going to race, and with Beginner (his class) and Fat Bike Open (the class I wanted to do) starting at 2:45pm time seemed like it would work out for a single-day trip. So, we made plans to go. While the Fat Bike Open class is inexplicably the same length as Beginner (two laps) it still sounded like a fun time, especially if we padded the day with some North Country Trail riding at the end.

Meeting at about 8:30am at our place the drive was pretty easy, affording us plenty of time to stop along the way and grab lunch (Butter Burgers and onion rings at Culver’s in Cadillac), arriving with just shy of two hours to spare. This gave us breathing room to register, change clothes, get bikes ready, and warm up. I’m normally not one to warm up much before a race, but as I’ve been finding that ~20 minutes into a race I hit a small wall and feel blah for a few minutes I decided to give it a go. The random trails, two track, and paved roads around Big M allowed for an easy ~30 minutes pedaling around and playing with tire pressure (Strava data, 10 PSI front, 11 PSI rear), which left me feeling quite good. Between first check while sitting in the sun on the car and rolling around in the cool shade my tires lost 1 PSI — a non-trivial amount on a fat bike — so I’m glad I did.

While warming up and getting ready we were able to chat with a number of different folks including some friends from the west side, folks who were at the Tree Farm Relay the day prior, and Steven Terry, a friend-of-a-friend from the Traverse City area. Steve and I had ridden together last autumn during an Iceman pre-ride that I attended on the way back from my first Marquette trip, so it was great to see him again. Being a pretty regular racer and sponsored by Framed Bikes I was pretty sure that he was going to beat me, but we ended up trading places throughout the race, riding together for most of it, and having a great time.

After starting a few minutes late (the kids race which used the Corkpine loop was running over) the race was on, with Bob Kidder (472) taking off in the lead, followed by Mike Dolefin (470), Todd Rillema (473), myself (475), Steven Terry (474), Steve Balough (471), and Kevin LaRoe (476). (Start photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) This order continued until the trail turned slightly uphill near the turn from Corkpine to Bullwacker (marker 34) when Mike, Todd, myself, and Steven passed Bob. We snaked along the Bullwacker single track heading southwest until the long, two-track-ish climb up to marker 47, when Steven and I pulled by Mike and Todd. From there on out it was him and I riding alone together at the front.

Steven and I rolled along through the twisting, flowy single track, with occasional brief bits of chatting but mostly riding along pushing a bit. I’d occasionally pull away, he’d occasionally catch me (thankfully he had a loud freehub so I could tell when he was close without looking), and then after the first lap (turn photos: 1, 2) Steven pulled past me on the long Bullwacker climb. Riding right on the edge of my ability I hung on to his wheel up the climb and was a bit surprised when he pulled over slightly at the top and let me by. We rolled through the course again, a bit faster this time, and then with about 1-2 miles left — I believe just after marker 23 where the course makes a hairpin downhill left turn — I saw Steven about 50 feet behind me on the ridge and decided to see if I could keep the lead and finish ahead of him.

I did my best to pick good lines through the remaining twisty trail, over some brake bumpy downhills, and to keep pedaling hard until the end and it worked, finishing a mere 27 seconds in front of Steven (finish photos: 1, 2). The photo above shows me at the finish area, pushing pretty hard as I was spinning away in the top gear on my fat bike (30:11). Despite the look I was pretty happy at the end, as this is only the second non-beginner race that I’ve won; the first being the Addison Oaks Fall Classic in 2014 which didn’t take nearly the same amount of effort. I don’t race much, and I’m not normally too far back in the standings of races that I do enter, but ending up on the podium, much less winning, is a very rare thing. (Podium photos: 1, 2.)

Chris ended up having a great race as well, taking first place in his category, surprising the leader with a pass not far from the end. He’s now on track to win his category for the whole MMBA Championship Point Series which’ll net him a nice custom jersey. (Chris’ finish photos: 1, 2, podium shot.)

The full race results can be found here.

After the race Chris and I headed over to the Udell Trailhead of the North Country Trail and had a fun ride south to Udell Hills Road and back (Strava data, NCT map). This area climbs over the hill in Big M and includes some great scenery, wonderful flowing downhills, and fairly decent climbs. It was a great way to end the day and got us ready for a nice meal at Clam Lake Beer Company before heading back home.

It was a good day.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.