Copper En Fuego

Fat bike racing... A new experience and what a blast. I haven't ridden Fatso that much since I've gotten the bike, but the Leadville Winter Bike Series was high on the winter fun list. The first race was last Saturday at Copper Mountain and I had no clue what to expect. After a short warmup and pre-ride of half of the race course, I realized I was in for a treat. A hard, challenging treat with high potential for crashing and snow sampling. The biggest challenge was a steep climb and descent up and over the tubing hill - I was able to ride it all one way but not the other on the pre-ride. With other riders around, it would be much different. And then there was the soft, powdery snow scattered around the course. It was well packed in some places, but deep and loose in others. In the chundery snow, it was a challenge just keeping the bike upright. My learning curve was going to get very steep very quickly.

As the start approached, fat bikers appeared out of the woodwork and buildings surrounding the plaza. Yikes! This was bigger then I'd anticipated. Nick and I lined up a few rows back from the start - a narrow banner on the snow at the base of the ski slope. I was more then a little nervous as the starting corral became more and more crowded. A count down from 10 to go and we were off. At least the crowds were off. I'm still not sure what happened - if I got bumped, pinched out by other riders or if my front tire got washed out in the snow. Regardless, down I went right at the start line, narrowly avoiding the metal barricades forming the chutes. Whoops! Watched the race flowing by as I got back on my bike and started pedaling. I couldn't drill it because of the soft snow - had to keep nice even pedal strokes to keep moving forward and not get swallowed. Had a few more near wipe outs in the deep snow, but kept it moving and slowly started working my back up through the field. All for naught as I wallowed in powder just before the base of the tubing hill. Down I went again! 

Back on the bike and steadily pedaling up to the summit of the tubing hill. Made it to the top still pedaling and turned my attention the plummet down the back side. Plummet it was! Weight far back over my rear wheel and try to keep the front tire from diving into the snow. Whew - made it down in one piece and giggling the whole way down. Time for the loop to the south. I was just behind the main group of women after the descent and making up ground. I was still fighting the bike, trying to stay steady in the snow. It was so different then normal riding - stomping on the pedals just meant spinning out. But it was so much fun - I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

At the base of the steep hill, it was off the bike and hiking time.  I was just behind three woman at the start of the climb and worked my way through the herd to the front. I'd figured out a good technique for hiking up the hill in cycling shoes on the preride and was able to put it to good work there. People were slipping and sliding all around me, but I was able to keep it upright and into the lead. Unfortunately, I decided to take a few too many risks on the descent off the hill. You know it's a good wipe out when the bike is a few feet above you and your headlight is buried in the snow! I was digging snow out of my glasses for the next ten minutes of riding.... Couldn't help but laugh at myself after I got going again - mountain biker I may be, fat biker I still need some work.

I actually didn't lose that much time in the crash and could see a few of the women ahead of me. But me and the bike weren't getting along that great in the snow. It was loose, powdery and I was slipping and sliding all over the place. And I didn't manage to keep myself upright or moving forward. All the snow packed into my brakes lead to a moment of panic as I descended into the village - rotors squealed but I didn't slow as much as I wanted. Double yikes. But they came back before I really needed them. The course meandered through the village - on and off snow and blacktop. Then it was back to the groomed course, climbing again. I saw lights through the trees above me - riders dropping down into the finish. I was still right there, right behind two women and slowing creeping up on them as we neared the summit. 

Thru the start/finsh line and back for another lap of fun. I was starting to get the hang of riding through the snow and having fun. Made it through the powder without wiping out this time, but the snow surfing was making me laugh. I got to base of the climb over the tubing hill just behind Rebecca Gross and started slowly crawling my way to the summit. I wasn't able to make it all the way up to without unclip in and had to run up. I watched several guys ahead of me sliding down the steep descent, but figured I could ride down it. Yeah, not so much. Another head over heels tumble, this time with the bike landing on top of me! I had to re-adjust my bar light after I slid down to the midway of the hill. Nick was hiking up as I started back down. Brilliant I might not be - I really wanted to ride the rest of the way down and gingerly remounted. Success! Made it to the bottom in one piece and still on my bike. After that crash, I completely lost site of everyone around me. I wasn't moving as quickly and really struggling to keep my momentum going. I attributed it the snow and just not being used to riding on it. I was finally starting to handle myself a little better in the powder and made it all the way back to the village without doing any more snow sampling.

Riders were finishing as I rolled through the village. It was still a party atmosphere, fueled by the fireworks a few minutes before. If I'd been thinking, I would have put two and two together. I'd been riding for an hour, with my Diablo on high the whole time. Nick had set it for one hour mode before the race.... But instead, when I hit the darkness of the ski slopes again, I couldn't figure out why my head light wasn't working. Duh! I would be riding there last climb and descent with just my bar light. The climb wasn't a problem. I was still feeling sluggish but catching the guys in front of me. Could I hold them off on the descent? The answer was yes. With minutes left in the race, I just let the bike fly thru the snow. Fun! I was giggling the whole way down into the finish line. 

Nick was waiting for me, having finished nearly 20 minutes earlier. He'd also had a crazy but fun race, placing 10th overall in a record field of 171 starters. I took 5th out of 25 women - a huge field for the women in these races. And it was so much fun. I have a lot to learn before the next race at the Tennessee Pass Noridc Center - but the most important will be staying upright at the start!

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