The 2018 USA Cycling Fat Bike Nationals was the first USA Cycling Fat Bike Nationals that was really a true test of fat bike skill and fitness. The course at Cannonsburg Ski Hill was blessed with 8 inches of fresh and fluffy lake effect snow just the day before the race. After everybody was done pre riding the course Friday afternoon, the race directors set out to groom the trails for the race. The freshly groomed course just didn't have enough time to set, perhaps if it was wet enough snow it would have compacted better, but as soon as the first race hit the course, a rut was formed. That 6 inch wide rut would become the real course for the days races.
The Pro Mens race started at 11AM, just after the Amateur Men had finished. The rut was already a good 3 to 4 inches deep and there was no chance at riding any other line but the rut. We took off sprinting to make sure we were in good position for the first single track section with Corey Stelljes taking the lead, Cole House in second, Myself in third, Richard Wetherald in fourth, and fellow Alaskan David Arteaga in fifth. Behind me on the half mile single track section, I could hear the squealing of brakes, and grunts and groans as riders fought for control in the soft snow. The race directors saved this short single track section just for the pro race and it became the only section of the whole course that wasn't all rutted up. Immediately after the single track section was a short, and steep yet fairly wide hill followed by an even steeper single track climb. Corey, Cole, and I got ourselves a gap as soon as the race pointed uphill. After that first real climb, we hit the rut, which would be the only pedal able path throughout the remainder of the course. Corey bobbled and Cole got around but I didn't. I gave Corey all the encouragement possible to catch back on, but Cole saw his opportunity and poured on the power and precise handling that the course required. I tried to pass Corey, but it just wasn't possible to ride outside the single file path with any amount of speed or control. Eventually Corey crashed and I was able to get around and move into second place, but it was too late. Cole already had 30 seconds on me and was just as good if not better than me on every section of that course, so making up time would prove to be nearly impossible. I held the gap of 30 seconds for the first 4 out of 8 laps, never making up time, but not losing much time either. The rut on the course just kept getting deeper and deeper throughout the race, up to 8 inches by the end. Concentrating on one line and chasing for so long with Cole out of sight took its toll and I started to lose a little time on the 5th and 6th lap, and lost a lot of time in the final two laps. Cole took the win by 6 minutes, I finished second, and Corey was third another 14 minutes back. In the end, Cole and I lapped every racer except for Corey in third place.
As tough as it was, I enjoyed every minute of it. I missed the 2017 Fat Bike Nationals due to illness, but they were on a flat golf course, and the 2015 and 2016 Nationals were just high altitude road races on snow, so a technically challenging and physically demanding course was very welcome in my eyes and I hope the future of Fat Bike Nationals follows Cannonsburg's example.