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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

LPP11: A collective recount of the super fatbike sprints.

Kinda sums up the night. Go to for more pics from Gilles

I spent the afternoon of Feb 14th fretting.

Not because I was not doing anything for Valentine's day (the husband was away in Waterloo), but because it felt that I was missing something. Something huge. I packed and re-packed all my gear for the night's event, but I couldn't get rid of a sense of creeping doom.

Then I realised what it was: I wasn't completely in control of this event.

Now, pretty much anyone who meets me will know within 30 minutes that "perfectionist control-freak" is not a label that applies to me, nor to LPP events, which are run pretty(okay, very) loose. But since Steward Mcintosh of Chelsea Nordiq approached me to do this event, and I said sure, I realized that I had not seen the course and didn't know what sort of support I was going to receive. I was even a bit unsure if they were going to leave the lights on at one point! This is not meant to slag Steward in any way, but just to illuminate how over the course of the day, the sense of doom slowly grew...

Partly, the sense of doom-growth was attributable to my worrying that I had over-promised and was about to under-deliver: Steward asked me how many folks would come and pay the twenty bucks to ride the course, knowing it was going to support a local para-olympian who was going to Sochi that that Chelsea Nordiq sponsored. I said twenty-five would be likely. But the afternoon of the race, I thought that number would take a small miracle to hit. After all, the race was outside of town(just outside, but still); it had snowed that morning, and IT WAS FREAKING VALENTINE'S DAY! Really, how many folks could bail on the date night of the year?

Turns out, quite a few could. 35 people showed up, a record. $700.00 was raised, to the fatbike community's credit. The support Steward offered was marvelous; lights; a course that kept everyone engaged; a cube van with heaters in it; and food and drink! All this support was great, as with such a big crowd, I was kept busy grouping and sending off waves of fatters down the course. I would like to say a thousand thanks to Sean Ralph and Mike Dougherty for taking care of the finish line chaos; making sure that riders were awarded points and those points were tallied up. Without you two, the night would've been a gongshow, way more than normal.

I was so busy that I have no idea how the racing went down. All I have are the list of the winners. For women, it was Cat Weaver, Kari Ferlatte and Marcie Girirouand. The men were Matt Surch, Rob Orange and Patrick Dupras. So, in keeping with this theme of loss of control, I am going to turn the narrative of the event to people who actually raced. I asked a few people to write a quick paragraph giving their impressions of the event, so here they are.

Matt, hunting down Jim McGuire. Thanks to John Rathwell for coming out and taking pics, again. See more at
First off is Matt, who, to paraphrase Mark Twain, didn't have time to write one paragraph, so he wrote several:

If you look at the criterium format of road racing, it's clear that interesting courses are essential to interesting races. At the other end of the spectrum, incredibly hard courses, either on the road or off-road, often lead to boring racing. The best races are run on courses that have challenging elements, but at the same time allow for strategy and tactics to play out. The fat bike sprint course, build by and for skate ski racers, was such a course.

Despite perhaps 15cm of light, dry snow the previous night, the course that awaited us was in good shape after grooming and an afternoon of ski racing. Light snow blanketed a firm base, and easily gave way to rolling tires. However, the fastest lines were the ruts that were formed as the new snow was pushed off the base, exposing firm snow underneath. 

Practice quickly revealed how slippery the track was, similar to clay-heavy mud on a cyclocross track. The opening straight led into a small step-up; as ruts formed, the trick was to stick one and go full gas. The trick here was to avoid spinning the back wheel too much, and twisting the grips like a throttle helped a bit with that. Next were two rollers, which developed firm ruts as riders bedded the track in. It was best to stay on the gas through these, and try to stay in your rut for maximum speed. 

The opening straight of these features was perfect for sorting the riders are they approached the first turn, a left, which evolved nicely into a deeply rutted motocross-style turn. As a racer, the aim was to get to this turn first, stick the rut, and power out. If you were stuck behind others into this turn, you might have to get off your line, or get stuck behind a crash. As in many disciplines, most of the race is about getting to the first turn before everyone else. 

Next up was a span of slalom gates through which four lines were available, none much faster than the others. This made for some exciting moments, as racers battled for their preferred line!

A sweeping right hander followed, which was the first 'recovery' section of the 400m course. After riding out of the saddle to this point (if possible), this was the place to sit down, spin through the turn, and try to regain a bit of composure. 

The toughest turn came next, another right hander that was slightly off-camber on the inside of the apex. In practice, riders fell left and right. As the course bedded in, a nice arc formed through the turn, easy enough to follow. However, at max speed, this one was tricky, and any dab or tumble would surely mean a top two finish would be near impossible. You didn't want to be chasing through this one!

Sweeping left around the generator and massive tower of lights, traction was good leading into the final hurtle, a slight incline banking left, dropping back to ground level with a depression to one foot high drop off. If already gassed at this point, the climb would put you into the red, and you'd have to keep it there for the final bend left and flat out sprint for 30 meters to the line. 

The racing was dynamic and exciting, exactly what we all hoped for. Like other short, high intensity disciplines, the start was key for closely matched racers. A failed pedal entry, or spinning back wheel could cost a second or two that would be difficult to get back. Taking risks in the turns could either pay off or totally flop, which is precisely what makes racing fun! When the consequence of a botched turn is a bit of snow in your face or up your sleeve, why not go for it? Indeed, just about everybody pushed themselves, and the endorphins were in the air. 

One has to look at the incredible turnout, particularly of women, and ask, how come? Fewer women race a Sunset Series mtb race in July. Snow seems less intimidating as a surface to ride on, and the format allows everybody to race until they're cooked, without fear of smashing themselves, getting dropped, or lost. Perhaps mountain bike racing would be more popular in the region if a few lessons were taken from Friday night's race.

This is from Sandra Beaubien; Thanks Sandra!

It was fantastic to see so many women racing in the Super-Fat Sprint races.  Many of the ladies were on borrowed bikes and were trying Fat Biking for the first time.  Having the women in a separate category made this event friendly for all skill levels.  The first few heats were all about staying upright on the bike, making sure not to slide out in the corners. As everyone got used to the conditions, every race got a little faster with many having really close finishes.  The final was exciting to watch – Cat got off to an early lead and pushed hard to stay ahead of Kari.  There was a battle for third and Marcie fought hard to beat out Sophie and Christine.  We can’t wait for the next race!

Here is Mike Dougherty's(who I thanked earlier) point of view:

This was also my first LPP experience, albeit from a volunteer’s perspective.
When Stew (Chelsea Nordic) mentioned the idea to me a couple of months back, admittedly it seemed like a stretch.  Convince an organization of skiers to host a fat biking event, hmnn…  But with his hard work and organizing, combined with the established series and event know-how of LPP – what a great event it turned out to be!

Aside from being LPP’s biggest event to date, it indeed raised approximately $700, which is being combined with Chelsea Nordiq’s ( significant fund raising efforts – all going to support biathlete Caroline Bisson(That's her name! Stew never got around to telling me her name!          -Flounder) at the Sochi Paralympics.

 My role was quite easy, though busy, chasing down racers to get their names (repeatedly) at the Finish and confirm their scoring (OK – it was a near constant stream of bundled up people zooming by on bikes at night).  A trip to get a warm drink for blue-lipped score-keeper extraordinaire (Sean) had me happily serving up hot chocolate to smiling rosey faces for a while.

 It was great to meet some of the Ottawa Fat Bike Society members as well as many others – French and English, male and female.  Nobody seemed particularly concerned about results, actually the only concern that I really heard was as to which shwarmas were vegetarian.

Thank you Flounder, Stew, Chelsea Nordiq and all of the participants for putting this together, supporting a local athlete and bringing positive exposure to our sport. Pretty cool that such a fun event can be realized by the regional fat bikers, for a good cause, in collaboration with another Winter sport group.

Happy riding!   

Here's Ian Steward, who brought his wife out to race with him on a bike he made for her. Love isn't dead.

For this different format race there was a monster turnout, there were people I've never seen on a FB. Lots of women were riding which is great. My wife rode her TINY XS 907 in red which was very appropo for Valentines day.

Flounder had wheedled us access to a mini cross country ski course. It was a twisty little beggar with a loose surface, never-the-same-twice corners, and was a hell of a lot harder to go fast than you thought. It even had a warm up truck with the bonus of  warm hot chocolate. Definitely not Flounder's usually provided beverage, but appreciated by many.

The racing was 4 person format heats with the top two advancing. I was usually doing fine until  I washed in a corner, or pulled my foot out of the pedal, or was surprised by not crashing, -even with full bike side to side contact with Al. Ok, I was never doing fine, but trying counts for something, right?

Lots of fun and drama on the twisty circuit from first time fat bikers Kari Ferlatte (excited shrieks) and  Deb Hine (no shrieks but plenty of smiles), Matt Surch's no-saddle run and close sprint wins, to Cat Weavers killer glare while racing. We all had a great time.

Next up is Jim McGuire (aka BMX Jim) who we all expected to kill it. He almost did:

So this was my first time at a LPP "race" since the inaugural effort at Hampton park many months ago, which I rode on a crappy old hardtail MTB. This time was vastly different, riding my brother's high end Salsa carbon-fiber build, I couldn't exactly complain. That, and the fact that this race format was about as close to BMX (my first love in biking) as we are going to be able to find. I arrived as the ski folks were packing up and waited for Flounder to arrive. A few warm up laps on stiff legs resulted in a mild hamstring pull which thankfully inmproved with more riding and staying warm. A few 'heavy hitters' showed up, including the always fast Matt Surch, Rob O, Ian Radford and Brent Atkins. Not to mention my buddy Al McConnel, Andrew Olive , Dave Bilenky and a dude on a unicycle fat bike wheel. I think around forty riders in total including a bunch of female riders, yeah! Flounder had his format loosely planned and went with motos or heats of four, with riders gaining points for a first or second place. The racing itself was a riot, with basically only one good line in the first turn, followed by going as fast as you could while still maintaing traction. The snow was just loose enough in spots where a little extra push in a turn would send you sliding with a foot down. So Flounder and the efforts of scorer Sean Ralph determined a final four with Me, Matt, Rob O, and another guy who is apparently very fast on his MTB. Matt was predictably fast and took the lead, while I chased hard until a crash on the second last "straight". I think I went down because I was trying too hard. Ya - thats it. I attempted to get up and still beat Rob O and the other guy, but was forced to settle for DFL. In the womens race, it was a large group of five women I think, with Cat Weaver of Trips for Kids fame leading from wire to wire. The 'race' fees were used to help fund a local para-olympic athlete on their trip to Sochi-excellent. I hope to be back next year, as the venue and format were awesome.

This is from Jakob, aka "the crazy-fast unicycle guy":

The event looked well organized, we had everything, good lighting, good marking everywhere, a clear start and finish line, hot chocolate and shawarmas! As a rider and spectator, the course was awesome, short and sweet. Having a small lap like that made it fun for everyone who wasn't riding unlike big laps where you can't see anyone. Racing 4 at the time was perfect, just enough riders to motivate riding faster and not too much so we all had enough space for riding. 

The event was awesome! It made Valentines day much better than usual!

Thanks everyone who helped make this event awesome.

Presidente Brett
Here is Brett, chief of the Wheeler's tribe:

I was dead on my feet tired that evening and almost did not show up because the event started a bit late for a working guy like me who starts at 7am on Sunday-but I did not regret my decision to participate, the fun far outweighed the fatigue.
  The theme was laid back fun with friendly competition-kind of like the the kind of fun competition you have with friends at a house party playing charades or pictionary.
There was hot chocolate and shawarmas and a place to warm-up wihich is super well though out for such a low pressure production!
 The venue was first class spectator friendly that had me ringing my cow bell and cheering my friends in the events.I will be back for more in the future with more Wheelers.

Brent Atkins 
El Presidente 
West Quebec Wheelers

I've saved the best for last: Deb Hine was so moved, she expressed herself in verse!

Valentine's night
and the timing's just right
to try fat bike excite
under a full moon light

Winter nights in Chelsea
are a regular for me
But winter's to ski,
Don't you agree, Flounder and Tall Tree??

My first time on a fat bike, how hard can it be?
I can ride a cross bike in sand, so surely
I can race a few laps on a course which is really
for cross country skiing, on this borrowed blue Surly!

I'll skip the gory details about going anaerobic
and how that feeling made me feel rather close to being sick
Turns out I don't have a single muscle fast twitch
Instead, I'll list the highlights, of which
the night was rich:

friends old and new
awesome course
bright lights
warm temps
a full moon
Chelsea Nordiq cooperation
a good cause
a jump!
racing right to the line
skids and falls
hot chocolate!

Today I was back on my xc skis
And that's the winter activity
that's the greatest for me

But what a fabulous night of fat bike camaraderie!

Wow. I've inspired rhymes. 
I'm going to leave it at that, because how can I top it?
Thanks again to everyone who raced, and I hope to see you all on March 15th. Location TBA, as usual.

1 comment:

  1. Where's the GoPro/video footage of this? Every freakin' neighbourhood should have one of these tracks!

    P.S. Why only Fatties? I'd ride that shirt on a 29er!