Audio version available on the Podcast: Ep 18 – 2018 Solstice Chase Race Report
Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Venue
The venue was really awesome for a fat bike race or really any race in general. One of the biggest issues with most fat bike races is having a warm place to hang out before and after the race. Huge thanks to the St. Croix Falls Fire Department for opening up the fire hall to the racers and letting us hold the event there. Additionally, Trap Rock Brewing Company opened their doors for the swag give away and free samples of their brews, even though they are not scheduled to open until next year. The Monarch IPA was amazing!
Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Course
The course is actually a really great course for fatbike singletrack racing, because it does offer many passing opportunities. You are usually only on singletrack for not much more than a mile at a time and then are dumped back out on rail trail, bike paths or some old ski trail for plenty of passing zones. The other great thing about this course is the amount of access points to it. I think there were spectators scattered throughout the entire course, which makes it even more fun as a racer.
Both my Training Peaks and Strava account show a little over 1,100 feet of elevation gain over the entire 13.5 miles, which makes for a far from flat course. Although this isn’t ridiculous from a mountain biking standpoint… that elevation gain makes it a fairly challenging fatbike course, especially when the hills get a little rutted up later in the race.
Woolly trails are usually groomed and they actually were groomed the night before the race. However, we did get a couple inches of fresh snow the night before the race that did not help things out at all. Low tire pressure was definitely your friend here. I honestly don’t even know what mine were at, but I would have went even lower to do it over again. My front was low enough to have some significant sidewall squat when pressuring down on it with a little less squat in the rear. I should have checked them after the race to see what they were at.
The rail trail, bike paths and wider sections ended up getting pretty rutted up and were really difficult to even grab a water bottle. The first lap conditions were pretty good, but they were fairly deteriated by the time I hit my second lap with about a 6 inch wide rut to ride in. If you hit the edge of the rut, you were in trouble. It was like riding a twisty skinny for 6 miles. All that said… That’s fatbike racing, so embrace it and enjoy it!
My Bike Set-Up
I actually raced a bike that I had just finished building the night before and never really properly fit myself up on yet. That being said… I’m really happy with the new build! It’s a custom Trek Farley Carbon build with the Bontrager Carbon Wampa 27.5 wheels and very similar to a stock 9.8 Farley. I had to put a crankset in it, but ended up robbing the rest of the parts off of my other bikes to get it built for the race. Anyways, I’m looking forward to getting some more time in on it.
The Solstice Chase Fatbike Race
I didn’t get lined up quite in time and was about 5 or 6 rows back, putting me at least 40 places back as we left the start chute. I jumped on the gas as we hit the road and then hammered up the snowmobile path trying to make up spots in traffic. Many folks were dabbing or completely washing out, while I was able to stay on the pedals for most of it and picked off a lot of places as I weaved through the traffic.
There was a really soft climb up to the Gandy Dancer trail and I could see the leaders not far in front of me, with quite a few folks off their bikes and hiking the climb. I managed to stay on the pedals and make the entire climb and get ripping down the Gandy Dancer. I think I ended up hitting the first section of singletrack – Big Oak, in 7th or 8th position.
Big Oak has some tight switchbacks at the beginning with a few more scattered throughout the section. It’s fairly flat and actually loses elevation by the time you spit out the end of it. It was fun racing, because we passed by some of the start area in one of the switchbacks and then by the trailhead in another bermed turn. It is a great spector trail and fun for the racers with all the spectator access.
I had a good ride through this section and my bike handling was on par for being on a new bike that had not seen singletrack yet and only about a mile of riding in total before lining up at the start line… As I mentioned above, I had just finished the build the night before. I could tell the singletrack was going to be tough with a couple inches of fresh snow over the previous day’s trail grooming. As I also mention above… that’s fatbike racing and we embrace it and enjoy it!
There was also a great crowd at the end of Big Oak cheering on all the racers.
I hit the snowmobile trail after Big Oak and went to grab my bottle from my frame, but the trail was way too soft with some ruts already from the few riders in front of me and probably some folks doing some warm up riding before the race, so I never ended up taking my bottle.
I rode strong through Regal Park, but definitley had a line of riders chasing. I had one rider in front of me, that I kept approaching. He was riding just fast enough that it didn’t make sense to try and get around him, but he was slipping up a lot and the line behind kept getting closer. The course bypassed the rock gardens, but Regal Park has a mix of flats, a few roots and minor uphills and then ends with a hill on an old ski trail.
We came out of the woods to hang a right going up hill on the old ski trail and the guy in front of me slipped out, causing a minor spill and knocking me off my bike. I ended up losing a few spots here as I tried to remount and get rolling again.
I think he ended up back out in front of me again while I was trying to get back up and rolling and I was fighting some of this same situation through Wissahickon, but was eventually able to get around him. I rode strong through Wissahickon with a group chasing hot on my tail. Wissahickon has a lot of short ups and downs with some tight switchbacks.
Once we dumped out on the Gandy, I tried drinking my bottle again and it was half frozen, I slowed down as the trail was rutted to try and drink and ended up dropping spots to a line of riders that were chasing through Wissahickon. I should have stayed on the gas here. The race ended up being short enough that I could have just drank my bottle, which was full of Coca-Cola, at the start line and probably just finished the race without feeding at all.
I had a strong ride through Erratic Rock, making the entire climb up to the back of Erratic Rock and enjoyed the flowy descent back to the bottom. I attempted to take a drink from my bottle on the Gandy before entering Big Oak, but ended up washing out and crashing. I almost washed out again just before entering Big Oak.. These couple moments, costed me a few more places in traffic.
I was still feeling strong going into lap 2, but my lack of taking the time to properly fit myself on my bike was starting to take effect as some fatigue was starting to hit the upper body. Anyways, I was slipping up in some spots and then just started to get twitchy. From there, things started falling apart…
I washed out myself on the old ski trail hill coming out of Regal Park, dropping a couple more places. Then, I really dumped a bunch of spots with a washout early on in Wissahickon… I floated the front end out of the rut and went down. I got off the trail as a line of riders went by. By the time I could get my bike back up and ready to remount, another line of riders were coming up and I had to let them go as well… This happens a lot more often in fatbike racing than traditional mountain biking.
On my aproach to Erratic Rock, I saw Jeff Hall coming back the other way toward Big Oak, so I was within 10 minutes or so of the leaders still. The climb up Erratic Rock was a much tougher ride this time around, with the first climb being torn up a lot with not much traction and only a narrow rut to ride. I made it out of Erratic Rock safely and then made a pass on the Gandy prior to Big Oak. I mention this, because I slid out in the second switchback and ended up losing that place plus a couple more in the process. I think I said something like “serves me right” when I slid out and had to let the guy go by me that I had just passed.
I had a strong finish through Big Oak, but I was pretty depleted of energy by the time I crossed the finish line.
By the time I made it back to the finish line, I had dropped back to 39th place out of 151 finishers with a finish time of 1 hr, 31 min and 57 seconds.
Final Thoughts On Solstice Chase
I ended up finishing about 12 minutes back from the leaders and in general, it was some fairly tight racing through a majority of the field. My 2nd lap was 3 minutes slower than my first, but that 3 minutes in the 2nd lap made up a difference of just over 20 places and most of the other 10 places were lost on the Gandy Dancer trail while reaching for my water bottle in the first lap.
I’m a bit out of good race shape fitness and most of my bike stuff has been fairly low intensty. The occasional running has helped me hold some of that higher intensity cardio fitness though. It was so nice to be back out racing on a bike again. Overall, I was fairly happy with how I raced aside from my bike handling issues in the second half.
I don’t have any race plans for January, as my Saturdays are booked up with the Get Fit <–> Eat Right – Workshop Series that I partnered up with Luminaries Retreat for. However, I will be doing some Fatbike and Skate Ski racing in February. So, stay tuned for some more race reports in another couple months.