Yesterday was a pretty special day! I was able to pull off the win in a 14 man sprint to the finish line for the 40th edition of Chequamegon 40. For those who don't know - Cheq is a point to point race from Hayward to Cable, Wisconsin. It takes place on the American Berkiebiener trails where the Berkie XC ski race takes place every year. It is mostly 30 foot wide grass trails with some pinch points and steep climbs thrown in. It's main difference from most of the races we do every year is that it's a 2 hour race in the midst of 6, 7, and 10 hours. It's tactical, but at 20mph plus on mountain bikes!
This was my 4th time at Cheq, but with the creation of the Grand Prix, last year and especially this year, this was the best field ever put together in 40 years. I could have picked 15 guys I thought could win the race on their day. In 2019 I won, 2021 I was 2nd to a flying Cole Paton, last year I finished 3rd in a crazy mudslide of a race and this year I had high hopes.
Going into the race picking equipment and feeling confident in it was hard. There are so many ways that guys are trying to find a competitive edge nowadays that even though this is a mountain bike race, there are many ways to race it! There were full suspension bikes with gravel tires, full suspension bikes with drop bars, hardtails with drop bars, gravel bikes with suspension forks, regular full suspensions and what seemed like the safe choice in a way and what I felt best on was a hardtail with 100mm suspension upfront.
The race started fast and hard up a grassy hill as the first fight for position began. I made a goal to never be out of position, even if that meant I was spending a bit extra energy at times. The race was flat out for two hours, constant reshuffling and never really known when or if the elastic was going to snap. There were so many guys that I had my eyes on, knowing they could make a winning move on their day. The first big feature of the course is about half way through, Fire Tower Climb. In the past this has been a launch pad for winning moves, but with some course changes, many of us thought it was a bit different this year.
The climb is about 2 minutes long and MAYBE 2 riders wide. I fought hard to be first into that pinch point and rode hard up it wanting to see who was having a good day. About 1/3 of the way up, Howard Grotts Passed me and we rode to the top together. With only small gaps on top, about 25 guys regrouped after the climb as we entered the rolling hills of the Berkie Trail.
These climbs zap all your energy in the wet mushy grass and we lost a couple more riders here, but still had about 15 going into the end. Moving into the finale with about 10 miles to go, the trail started to get a bit more slick and moving up became harder. I stuck to Keegan's wheel and tried to protect 'my side' the closer we got to the line. With about 1/2 mile left to race, the course opens up into 100ft or so wide before narrowing back again. This gives nearly everyone in the group a chance to make a move. I was in position, but cognizant of being boxed in by guys going early. With about 300 meters to go I saw a flash of red and jumped onto Alex Howes wheel...it was tough, but I know how savvy Alex was and thought he had a great line. When Alex started slowing with about 150m to go I jumped from his wheel to Zach Calton's before launching a final kick! Coming across the line first was pure elation. I had a goal at the beginning of the year to win a LTGP race, I wanted, like everyone, to win Unbound or Leadville...but Chequamegon feels fitting, it feels like home in a way.
Race Time: 2:04
Distance: 39.4 MI
Avg HR: 169
Max HR: 191
Avg Power: 300
Max Power: 1098
Avg Speed: 19.02 MPH
Frame: Factor Lando HT
Fork: FOX 32 - 100mm (68 PSI)
Wheels: ENVE M5
Cockpit: ENVE M5
Components: Shimano XTR (36 - 10/51)
Tires: Kenda Rush 2.4 (17F/18R)
Sealant: Orange Seal (a bit extra for the low pressure)
Bottles: Polar Bottle
Head Unit: Wahoo Bolt
Grips: ESI Chunky with some motivation engraved