Midwest MTB Racing Recap: Chequamegon Preview

by Jay Richards
September 13, 2011

This weeks report previews the popular Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, which has most mountain bikers in the Midwest getting pumped up for.  I'll review some of the top riders in the 40 mile race that have the potential to crack the top 20 in the men's race and top 10 in the women's race, including the pre-race favorites to take the overall win.

Rolling down Main Street, Chequamegon 40, September 15, 2007

Probably the biggest news to come out of Chequamegonland this summer was the acquisition by Life Time Fitness. Although there was buzz when the news first broke, the general consensus of participants of one of the largest mountain bike events in the country was to hope that what has made Chequamegon great, remains. The Chequamegon is unique in that it is definitely a off-road race but fast and tactical like a road bike race. This feature has attracted road bikers to the mix of mountain bikers. Looking at the archive of past winners, most riders have a rich background of road racing and the necessary mtb skills to complete the winning formula and earn the honor to stand on top of the wood block.

Two prominent names to race this years event, Jason McCartney and Christian Vande Velde hope to add their name to the list of other Pro road bikers that have taken the win, such as Greg Lemond and Marty Jemison, to name a few. Outside the riders at the front, the Chequamegon is a race were many riders just have the goal to complete, even if it means the stone saddle award, better their time from last year or beat their age class rival they have been battling all career on the famous Birkebeiner ski trail intertwined with quad and forest trails.

Top Males

The male edition of the 40 this year has the makings to be one of the most exciting ever. There is some incredible star power and my guess the pace is going to be wicked fast off the start with only the riders having a "on" day and skills to still be hanging on until the end.

  • Brian Matter:  Matter comes in with the #1 bib plate for the second year in a row, having won in 2009 in a sprint finish over Cole House and taking the win last year over Tristan Schouten. Matter is in the small, elite group with Steve Tilford as the only only three time winners and a fourth win might be an accomplishment never to happen again. Matter's experience of having the course memorized is a huge factor when battling riders that might be, on paper, more "fit". Matter has had another solid season and knows the sequence to be dialed in 100% come race day.
  • Cole House:  House is back to do battle after his second place finish in 2009. He recently took the win at WORS Reforestation Rambler, a somewhat Chequamegon type course in a sprint over Matter, showing his mtb skills are on form. With his road racing background, he has the "formula" to take the win. There was a nice article about House in the Indian Country Today Media Network, highlighting the fact he is the only Native American in the Pro peloton.
  • Tristan Schouten:  After battling some illness years ago, getting married and having a kid, Schouten has settled into a routine and like Matter, knows what he needs to do to be in the best form possible for the 40. Schouten has been close many times and one of this years he should cross the line first. If he does it this year, it would be impressive.
  • Christian Vande Velde:  A Tour de France veteran and a most interesting addition to this years event. Not having heard of many mountain bike races CVV has competed in puts the ability to handle the technical nature of the course in question. However, it would be naive to think the Garmin Cervelo comes in cold turkey and for sure he will be up at the front and will make for a most exciting race to see if he is there until the end.
  • Jason McCartney: Another current road professional, racing with the RadioShack team. Jason has experience racing mountain bikes placing fifth in last years Treadfest WORS race.  2007 was a impressive year on the road as he took stage 14 in the Vuelta a Espana and was 3rd overall in the Tour of California.
  • Steve Tilford leading the charge up Fire Tower Hill, Chequamegon 40, September 19, 2009
    Steve Tilford:  Tilly is always in the mix and the three time winner races to win even at the young age of 51 (racing since in the days with the icon Ned Overend, another ageless mountain biker). Steve knows what to do and if all systems are go, will be up there at the front until the last miles and doing what he can to be in lead before the finish line to stage off a sprint finish... but could be tough to do with this years stacked field.
  • Doug Swanson:  Like I say every year, when Swanson is on, he is on. The two time winner is eager to add his name to the three time winner list. Like he did the two times he won, he will race to win and not thinking to be conservative racing in a pack. Just throw it down and hammer the big dog until the tongue is hanging out in desperation, is how Doug races. He took yet another short track win at Maplelag this year but the way he did it was most convincing and a confirmation his form is there even though he hasn't been racing as much this summer.
  • Mike Anderson:  The Alpena Michigan rider flies a bit under the radar in these parts but his fourth place finish last year was no fluke and should be in the front group until the end.
  • TJ Woodruff:  TJ hasn't had the year he maybe expected, but thats not  saying it hasn't been impressive. Like I said in the past, TJ will one day win this race. With the star studded field this year, it is going to be challenging but I know TJ has been training hard and is probably one of the "smartest" in regards to training, being a coach for others and helping them be the best they can be. The local favorite, his experience plays a big roll and he is eager to toe the line after being in Europe during last years addition as part of a train high sleep low training program (featured in one of last years Midwest mountain bike reports).
  • Jeff Hall:  Jeff is what I call a pure mountain biker.  Most of the above riders have spent a lot of miles road racing but Jeff's career is defined by his dominance in the mountain bike scene including world cup racing and national championships. Hall has only done a few races this year including the Thursday night races at Buck. He puts in some big commuting miles and I would not be surprised to see the Hollywood team rider in the front group until the end. If by chance the race is a mudder, which it doesn't look to be, this 40 champion in 1995, two years after he won back to back titles in the Short and Fat, would rise to the top.
  • Jack Hinkens:  Talk of pure mountain bikers has me putting Hinkens right behind Hall. Hinkens was the silver medalist this year in U23 at Nationals and one of the top Americans at the recent World Championships. Jack doesn't have the experience like the above riders but when Hall won in 95, they said the same thing about him. Outside of the riders in the Pro peloton, Jack has probably pinned the bib more than anyone racing Chequamegon this season, racing hard since early spring. Having the energy to be in top form might be missing but he knows how to suffer and like Hall, if the race is muddy, look out.
  • Michael Olheiser:  Olheiser has Chequamegon running in his veins and had his best finish last year at sixth, just a few seconds behind Swanson. With the solid field it will be tough to move up from last years top 10 finish but he should definitely be in the mix.
  • Mike Phillips:  Phillips tried to retire but likes racing his bike to much. A seventh place finish last year was one of his best ever and a solid season this year has him picked to crack the top 10 again.
  • Scott Kylander-Johnson:  Scotty has had one of his best seasons ever, currently second in the Minnesota state series in the Elite class. If the course included some of the popular singletrack found in the CAMBA system, Scott would drop everyone and probably win by a huge margin, having, in my opinion, some of the best bike handling skills in the Midwest. Scott and his wife Sara win the toughest mountain biker award having raced with injuries that would put most people in bed watching sale priced DVDs of Lance Armstrong tour victories.
  • Pat Lemieux:  Growing up in Fargo, named the toughest city in the country this spring, Lemieux knows how to handle adverse conditions and has established himself as one of the top road riders in the Midwest. His win at the Seeley Pre-Fat a few weeks ago has boosted his confidence and if his bike can make it in one piece to the finish line, he will be on it as one of the top dogs to cross the electronic sensors.
  • Todd McFadden:  Todd sneaks into a top 20 favorite having nailed one of his best seasons ever in the Midwest. Racing technical courses in Duluth, point to point races in Wisconsin and 100 milers in between, the former third place finisher in the 40 has the form and experience to be up in the mix the entire race. He was the leading point getter in recent polls as top mountain biker in the Midwest for 2011.
  • Michael Simonson:  Simonson pulled out a ninth place finish last year which is no surprise consider the rider excels in events in races like Chequamegon and having won the Ore to Shore multiple times. The consistent rider should be up in the front again and will have to have another great race to pull out the top 10.
  • Chris Peariso:  Another top ten rider from last year, Chris loves to ride and race his bike and knows how to suffer. He didn't "have it" at Nationals this year but has had some solid results in the WORS series and will race to win, regardless.
  • Bryson Perry:  Placing eighth last year was an impressive result for the two time winner of the Leadville 100 mtb race (won this year by National Champion Todd Wells).
  • Cam Kirkpatrick:  Cam and McFadden could be battling it out as the fastest old guy. (Tilly is in his own category) This is a compliment as Cam's 12th place finish at 44 years of age was 8 years on the second oldest top placed finisher, Jason Sager, who was third (and isn't on the start list this year).
  • Nathan Guerra:  Nathan continues his consistent grind in the WORS world, taking an impressive win against a stack field. He works hard and appreciates the ability to race under the circumstances he has had in life.
  • Darrin Braun:  Another top gun in the WORS battle. Top 11 finish last year, like many riders who had top 20 finishes, this will take an all-out effort to be up there with the stacked field.

Top Females

The race for the top step in the female side of things is interesting. Although there have been some battles in the top ten in years past, typically there aren't groups that battle it out and instead it usually comes down to being in the right spot and making the right move. Racing with dense packs of male racers, women rely on their support crews to get time splits and know that getting with a group that is driving a consistent pace and pushing them to the limits is key. Like the men's race, the star power factor bumped up a notch with the addition of a few extra pros.

  • Jenna Rinehart:  The reigning champ is in a similar position as Matter with three total victories including back to back the past two years and her first coming in 2007 to make the three. Flying a bit under the radar this season being busy as a new bike shop owner in Mankato, Jenna did race the Ore to Shore but fell victim to a flat. The former U23 National champ has the talent to make it three in a row and the only four time winner.
  • Lea Davison:  Davison, who broke Rinehart's streak with the win in 2008, is also in the classification of pure mountain biker. Having the experience of previous participation is key and will be acclimating nicely with the running of the Velo Bellas youth mountain bike camp this week for area female dirt shredders.
  • Sara Kylander-Johnson nearing the top of Firetower Hill, Chequamegon 40, September 16, 2006
    Sara Kylander-Johnson:  Sara has had another fantastic year, pretty much winning everything she has entered. Despite taking all three wins at Maplelag over Labor Day weekend, she is under doctor orders to rest her noggin and is a question mark for this weekend. If she is cleared to race, her form should be there to make a good battle for Lea and Jenna
  • Chloe Forsman:  Forsman had a solid season racing the PRO XCT National circuit including a handful of top ten finishes. The former u23 National champ should be up at the front and possibly riding with Rinehart and Davison doing direct battle.
  • Rebecca Sauber:  Rebecca has competed in more ultra endurance and 24 hour events this season but has the speed for when it is needed and has potential to throw it down for a podium finish.
  • Catherine Wahlberg:  Drinking from the same fountain of youth as Tilford, Wahlberg is the only other three time winner besides Rinehart and still a threat for the overall even at the young age of 49.
  • Lisa Krayer:  Third place finisher last year, will be a good battle to improve a spot but if everything falls in to place For Krayer, anything is possible.
  • Abigail Strigel: Strigel has made her name in the WORS world, dominating races and provide good battle for the out of staters such as Kim Eppen who will be stoking for her husband Brian in the Eppen duo. Strigel is looking to improve on her sixth place finish and could benefit from a stronger women's field this year.
  • Lindsey Kriete: The Wauwatosa native recorded an impressive fourth place finish and could be in a chase group with other females battling for the coveted top ten placing.
  • Dianna McFadden: Racing a consistent season, the Duluth resident spent most of her time racing in Wisconsin.  Kriete favors the WORS type course and looking for another top ten finish.
  • Meghan Korol:  Part of a group of four female riders that placed within a minute of each other last year, Korel has the potential to improve on last years 8th place finish.
  • Michelle Flanagan-Haag: The Hayward resident has the privilege of riding the Chequamegon course whenever she can and the experience always comes in handy. Should be a good battle between her, Susan Juedes and Andrea Matter to round out the top ten.

The latest information regarding Chequamegon can be found on the blog including information about the partnership with Trail Genius, which will be providing an interactive race experience for this year’s event. The Trail Genius team will be documenting the 40 mile race via camera and GPS to create an online virtual ride experience. Viewers will be able to relive the event online with all is grueling roller coaster ride glory.

As noted in previous mtb reports, the main events have been filled for the Chequamegon, but for riders who want still want to take part of the action might considering a day of riding on the CAMBA trails on Saturday and watch the exciting finishes then participate in the Sunday Funday events. It is some good fun for sure and in all the years participating, Sunday is sometimes the best day out of the weekend! This year organizers will have a punch card to encourage riders to participate in all the events with a chance of winning an entry in 2012.

US Mountain Bike Marathon Championships

Fast Wax founder, Dan Meyer, has been in Oregon training for the US Marathon MTB Championships, which will be held this coming weekend as well. Dan reported last week:

"I rode the course on Monday with Don Leet from the Sunnyside Bike shop. The course will be a fast rolling mix of single and double track. It climbs from the Old Mill district toward MT Bachelor and back. It will be a fast paced race, the key to race is descending fast on the loose gravely trail and handling the speed through the banked turns. There is a huge price to pay for not riding very precise and staying in the center of the trail. Look for some fast times for the 50 miles."

We are hoping for a full report from Dan upon his completion. Good luck!

Keep the wheels moving!

About the author...

Jay Richards maintains a very active lifestyle. He somehow finds time between managing a full-time resort (Maplelag) and bringing up a family of four boys with his wife Jonell, to compete in both mountain bike and a few cross-country ski races. Jay rides for Maplelag Resort, manages the Maplelag/Paramount mountain bike team and enters his 21st year of racing and promoting mountain bike races.