Midwest MTB Racing Recap

by Jay Richards
October 18, 2011

Wow, another great mountain bike season in the Midwest is nearing the end. It won't be long until the first flakes of snow are falling to the ground and the skis are gliding across the white gold.

This weeks final report is an exclusive report with cycling legend, Steve Tilford. Tilford is know in the Midwest circles as three time winner of the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40, nationally as the first NORBA champion and internationally as masters World Champion in mountain bike. Tilford continues to race at the elite levels in road, cross and mountain bike and has a loyal following on his website as he shares his in depth perspective on racing and cycling, generating a huge fan base. Although Tilford hasn't raced as much mountain bike in recent years, look for him to toe the line next season.

I touched base with Tilford this past week via email to ask him a few questions about his cycling career, thoughts on doping and plans for the future and fun facts on his hair!

  • How did you first get in to cycling? What was your first bicycle?
    I first got into cycling when I was 13. My brother and I mowed lawns all summer to buy some Schwinn Sport Tours. But right then a bike shop opened that sold European bikes. My brother ended up with a Motobecane Gran Prix that had sewups and I got the 30lb Schwinn. Soon I had an all Campy LeJeune and the pretty quickly after that a Colnago.
  • You were the first NORBA National champion in 1983. Can you explain for first time readers what that race was like and the bicycle you used?
    I was totally out of my element at the first NORBA Nationals. It was only the 2nd day I've ever ridden a MTB bike. The first day was the day before. I was National Cyclo-X Champion already and had pretty good form. Kent Eriksen, from Moots, built Roy Knickman and myself bikes and our sponsor, Michael Fatka, had them painted like Raleighs. Alexi Grewal, Olympic champion to be, flew with them out to LA from Denver. Alexi was hurting Roy and I so bad the day before that we talked Micheal into paying Alexi to ride in our jersey. It was an important race because some folks from Levis were there and we we trying to get them to sponsor our team, which they ended up doing for the next three years. I went back to the course a couple years ago to do an article for Mountain Bike Action. I rode the course and was surprised how dangerous it was. The single track had many sections that if you screwed up, you were going to be really hurt. Like dropping 50+ feet. We don't do that anymore much.
  • Besides racing Chequamegon, any plans to ever race Nationals or a National again?
    I'm going to be racing my MTB more next year I hope. Everytime I get on it I think I need to race more. I'm doing a race next weekend, the Berryman Classic, in the Mark Twain National Forest south of St. Louis. It is nearly 60 miles and takes a little over 4 hours. Super technical, rocky single track. I will race some Nationals again. I'm so unfamiliar with the sport that I don't even know what the race series are anymore.
  • I have NORBA national results from the early 90's and the xc races seemed to be always in the 2 1/2 hour range. Much different than the lap times and lap distances currently in the World Cup and Pro XCT..What were the years like, courses and riders, you were racing on the NORBA circuit?
    The same 2 1/2 hour range normally. Sometimes they got the distance super wrong and we'd end up doing over 3 hours. We were racing a World Cup in England and it was almost 3 1/2 hours for the winner. That is a hard race when you're planning on an hour less. I don't quite understand the 1:45 thing. It's not long enough to let the guys that start at the back to move up to the front. Most our good cross country riders can win marathon events, so I don't quite understand the thinking.
  • Mountain biking has definitely changed since you first started with the gravity side of things and the multitude and variety of events. How do you feel about the state of mountain biking and racing in general?
    I feel that mountain bike riding and racing diverged a while ago. I'm not sure what happened. It seemed like the promoters got greedy, but maybe I'm wrong there. It got too expensive for the average weekend racer. I think that is why this festival races have replaced the National circuit. People just want to go out on the weekends and ride their MTB with friends and maybe watch some really fast guys race too. That used to be a Norba National. Now it is a 6 hour race. I think that the pit rules are keeping the average good Cat. 1 guy from going to bigger events. Last year, in Fontana I think, there were two Pro women at the event. That is sad.
  • Is Chequamegon the only mountain bike race you have on the radar each season?
    Normally. I like hanging up in the Chequamegon area. But, like I said above, I'm going to try to pick and choose some more MTB events this next season. Probably Leadville for one. I generally don't get along that well with bike racing and altitude, but I spent a fair amount of time in Colorado this summer and felt better than I used to, so I think I'm going to give Leadville a shot.
  • You really put an effort, preparation wise, to do well at Chequamegon this year. Even though you had a very impressive result, you weren't satisfied with the finish? Is your mindset to always try and win this event?
    After you win any race, it's hard to be satisfied with not winning. I've won Chequamegon three times and had an opportunity to maybe win it a couple more times. Obviously the competition has changed year to year. And the midwestern MTB racers are all national caliber now. I've flatted two out of the last three years. This year, I was going pretty good, but not great. I needed to make it just to Janet Road with J-Mac, VDV and the gang. The end of the race is much better for me than the first half. Not being able to contest for the win isn't as bad as not being able to observe the action. That's what I missed this year, not seeing how it played out from the high point on.
  • Do you have a preference over one discipline of cycling versus the other? Cross, road or mtb?
    Not really. Every time I spend a lot of time doing one, then when I get on the other bike I think, "shit, I should be doing this more." I think I have to have good fitness to compete at any of the aspects of the sport and riding the road is mandatory for that. It used to amaze me when Doug Swanson would show up at Chequamegon and only have ridden his MTB bike for the past month.
  • Many career cyclists have migrated to cycling towns but you have maintained your roots in Topeka. Why is that?
    Convenience is the main reason. The airport in KC is only an hour away and it is not an all day flight to either coast. I had a place in Boulder for a couple years, in Cardiff, CA too, but Topeka is centrally located, good training, the weather is pretty great all year around and it is very inexpensive to live here.
  • How often do you get on the Nord boards? What do you like about cross country skiing? Have you skied the Birkie or any other Nordic races?
    I try to ski from the day after Christmas until ???. Usually it is a couple weeks up in Cable, but it has sometime been nearly a month. I've only skied the Birkie three times I believe. The first time was from the 3rd wave, when it was 1000 person waves. I finished 197th I think. Something less than 20 seconds of not making the elite wave. I think I finished in the 90's once, but that was when I was racing MTB full time and didn't really ski more than five or six days before the race, and that was around Christmas. Last year I didn't ski at all because I went over to Belgium for Master's Cyclo-X Worlds. This year it is going to be the same, but when the Master's Worlds is over the 2nd week of January, I'm going to spend awhile on the snow. Right now, I think I'd like to ski the Birkie this year, but I'm always in flux it seems.
  • Folks post comments on your blog regarding health issues as "getting old or how you feel when you get old" but you never discuss "getting old". Do you feel like you are ever getting old or something you don't think about? How many more years do you plan on racing?
    I try not to dwell on getting old. There are enough barriers in athletics to allow more into your psychic. I try to recognize changes from aging and address those changes, but I don't know what those changes are going to be or if they are permanent or just normal ebb and flow of being an athlete. I don't think there has been enough studies on older elite athletes to believe anything that you might read to have any credence. I've never really taken any time off, so I don't think I fit the normal mold of an older elite athlete.
  • Have you ever held a "9-5" job or always been able to race bikes as a profession?
    Not really. I threw newspapers in junior high and high school to pay for racing. After that, it became self sustaining. I went to college for a semester, but moved out to Colorado Springs to the Olympic Training Center when I got the invite. I've have given up a fair amount of what most people would think of as a regular lifestyle to be able to live my lifestyle.
  • You are very outspoken about doping. Do you feel processes to catch cheats are moving in the right direction? Will the sport of cycling every be truly "clean" ?
    I'm super against drug usage. I think it is just like stealing from your friends. Maybe worse. It's like stealing from your friends and then doing it again when they go out and buy new stuff to replace the things you stole earlier. Of course I think it is moving in the right direction, but it is still super polluted. I really don't understand this 2nd chance thing. For certain drugs, these oxygen carrying drugs and growth hormone etc., I say adios. Racing bicycles is privilege, not a right. Cheating to take away life experiences from others who spend their whole lives to get to that point is not something that can be forgiven. Nothing is really truly clean. Not sports, business, life in general. I don't think the sport will be clean, but I believe that the "dark days" of the sport are behind us.
  • My son Jake wanted to know how long you have been growing your hair out?
    I don't know, maybe 15 years. I don't really do anything with my hair. I don't own a comb. I just wash it everyday and it pretty much does whatever it wants.

Thanks to everyone who made it a great season and the folks who contributed race recaps and information for the reports.

Looking Ahead

Stump Farm Trail Race and Duathlon

Scott Putman from Lakewood trails gives heads up to the Stump Farm Trail Race and Duatholon to be held on October 30th. The Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski Team will host 10 mile and 5K trail races and a 5K run+20 mi Mt. bike duathlon at the Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico as a fundraiser.

Keep the wheels moving and Think Snow!!

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.