Brian Matter, Michael Olheiser and Jason McCartney on the podium. Amy Dykema

Michael Olheiser, Brian Matter, and Jason McCartney on the podium. © Amy Dykema

Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival may not be a cyclocross race, but since the mountain bikers that race it tend to refer to it as a “road course,” and some serious cyclocross powerhouses are landing on the podium, we thought it deserved some mention, and photographer Amy Dykema was able to provide us with some inside info into this cult-status event, as well as some killer photos.

by Amy Dykema

Some people pooh-pooh the Chequamegon 40 because it’s not technical.  But not only does it hold a special place in people’s hearts, it can be really, really hard.  The hills wear people down. It’s very bumpy and some years there are huge puddles. It’s 40 miles and you are out there with 1850 other people. The top guys race it in a paceline, like they are on the road, but for everyone else it means many things. It’s a personal journey of trying to beat your time from last year, or trying to make it up all the hills without walking, or trying to finish in the top 50, or beating your buddy, or whatever. People talk about how many years they’ve done it.  Tales about the race are shared afterwards with friends and strangers, sometimes over and over. People have race weekend traditions – where they stay, where they eat, which trails they like to ride. The start is in Hayward WI and the finish is at Telemark Resort in Cable, WI. Started in 1983 by Gary Crandall, who recently sold it to Lifetime Fitness, it’s a very special race for many people.

People are heartbroken when they don’t get in the race — there’s a lottery every March for the 40 and the 16 mile Short and Fat.  There is a contest in the summer for people who didn’t get in, in order to convince Gary to let them in. One couple I know promised to get married at the race if they got in. He let them in, and they got married at the race!  I saw them there again this year; they come back every year for their anniversary.

This year, Brian Matter (Gear Grinder/Trek) won Ore to Shore, and just won Chequamegon — for the fourth time, the third in a row.  If he wins Iceman this year (he won it last year), he’ll win the Midwest’s Triple Crown of MTB racing. It’s considered a huge accomplishment to win all three in one year. Brian is in great form – look for him at the Planet Bike Cup USGP this weekend. At Chequamegon, Michael Olheiser came in second and Jason McCartney came in third.

The men's podium at Chequamegon.  © Amy Dykema

The men's podium at Chequamegon. © Amy Dykema

Crosser TJ Woodruff (Trek Bicycle Store Boulder) got fourth place in the 40 mile race. He won Ore to Shore last year, so he is proving himself to be capable of doing very well in these big Midwest MTB races. He should be coming into the cyclocross season with  good form.  Chequamegon is a home course for him, since he grew up nearby. His soon-to-be bride is pro MTBer Chloe Forsman, who is riding for the new Race Club 11 team.  Chloe started off her first ‘cross season by finishing in the top ten at CrossVegas.

The top ten men at Chequamegon are worth noting in general: 1) Brian Matter, 2) Michael Olheiser, 3) Jason McCartney, 4) TJ (Travis) Woodruff, 5) Mike Phillips,  6) Matt Shriver,  7) Steve Tilford,   8 ) Jack Hinkens, 9) Cam Kirkpatrick and  10) Cole House.

Lea Davison (a top Specialized pro mountain biker who will be racing cyclocross at  the USGP this weekend, according to the confirmed riders list) won the women’s race. Jenna Rinehart was second, Rebecca Sauber was third. I asked Lea if she does much cyclocross, she said she does Nationals and some other races now and then, but doesn’t focus on it. [Editor’s Note: see more on Lea in Issue 13 of Cyclocross Magazine.]

The women's podium at Chequamegon.  © Amy Dykema

The women's podium at Chequamegon. © Amy Dykema

‘Crosser Catherine Walberg from Kansas, a past race winner and age group CX Masters National champ, got fifth in the women’s 40 mile race.  Katie Lindquist, wife of Kent Eriksen , the framebuilder,  got seventh in the women’s race. I don’t know if she’s a cyclocrosser, but the frames they make are pretty awesome!

Chequamegon is definitely a cult race. It has achieved a legendary status.

Some people only do Chequamegon, and not much other racing, so all year long, that is what they are training for.  It’s all they talk about, regarding training.  This is not as common these days, now that there are more races.   When Chequamegon was one of a few races I did, I would spend the whole year “training” for it, i.e. using is at as motivation!  That was what I said to myself and others all summer, “I need to go out and train for Chequamegon.” Before MTB racing got so popular via the WORS series and other races, people were often measured by how they did at Chequamegon, because it was the big race that roadies and XC ski people all did. Mountain biking used to mostly take place in the Fall in the Midwest, and was a sport that roadies did after their road season was over. Now we have more dedicated year-round mountain bikers. Some people still measure their racing capital by how well they do at that race, though.

Others refuse to do it because they think it’s a “roadie course.” Whether it is or not, it isn’t easy!!

Many people can tell you exactly how many years they have done it. They remember the years they missed by things like, “except for the year I broke my leg,” or as the couple that got married said, they missed it the year she was giving birth!

Sounds like fun to us!