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FatTire 40 and New Friends in the Desert

A weekend work trip with the mountain bike in tow turns to a last minute decision to race the FatTire 40 miler in AZ. A nice flight into Goodyear, AZ on Thursday evening ended with an awesome group night ride around the hills of Goodyear with 21 riders lit up like a string of white Christmas lights. Yes 21 riders with lights, it was so cool! Also, it was nice to meet some really awesome local riders who showed us some sweet singletrack and a nice western diamondback rattler. During the ride I heard a fella mention his buddy was taking it easy on the hills because he was racing Saturday…hmmm…. “A race” I say to myself. After the ride I get the details on the “FatTire 40” in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Fountain Hills, AZ.

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Friday starts with a drive up to McDowell and some race course recon. First impression is that it’s like riding on marbles. Tiny loose gravel covers every turn and lots of flat, windy singletrack mixed with steep rocky climbs and bombing downhills. The 2.0 ThunderBurt on the rear left over from winter short track is certainly a poor choice but the decision is made to register and give it a go on Saturday. With temps in the mid 70’s and sunshine forecast, what could be better?

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Saturday comes and after the standard prerace breakfast of oatmeal with PB and honey I scramble to get to the line early, with 70 plus racers in my class I’m thinking a front row spot is a must.

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8:20 a.m. arrives and the race goes off right on time. After a 300-yard sprint up the gravel road to the singletrack I enter in second place. Feeling good at this point it’s time to settle in and click some miles off. It’s only a matter of minutes before the leader is getting away on the flat singletrack and I feel the guys behind me trying to pass. Get passed on the flat singletrack? Never, I tell myself, so I try to pick up the pace only to overshoot a couple of corners and end up making my own lines thru the desert and saguaro. I lose a few spots with the off trail excursions and hoping I haven’t punctured a tire I end up sliding back to around 10th place, barely able to keep the lead group in sight. It’s obvious I’m struggling on the flats so I hang on a few more miles until we reach the fire road that leads us up to backside of the mountain. I give it all on the road to catch back up to the second group and settle back in around 7th place with the top 3 still in occasionally in view. Back in the singletrack, I’m hanging on again trying not to lose spots, overshoot another corner with an exit over the bars, break the Garmin mount and luckily I see my Garmin on the ground with half of the barfly still attached. I throw it in my jersey and with a quick bike check I’m on my way. Trying to count the riders that passed I guess I’m in about 13th place. Now I find myself in that place where the lead group has gone and no one is in sight behind, let the mind games begin. I try to push the pace but feel like I’m going nowhere and it starts to feel more like a solo cruise than a race. I feel the top 10 I was hoping for slipping away. I know the course is 40 miles with 3100’ + ascent but with my Garmin in my jersey I have no idea how long I’ve been riding or what is left elevation wise. Finally the course turns upward and after a couple 100% efforts I start seeing some riders scattered in the distance. They get closer with every climb and finally I have a carrot. One by one I recognize the jerseys I had become so familiar with on the fire road. I see these guys who were so much faster on the flats really working hard on the hills and I try and make a point as I pass with a 110% effort to get a gap each time, and it works to get solidly in the top 10. Course flattens out again and here they come, damn, how can they be so fast on the flats I ask myself. I get passed by 1 guy and see a couple more a few yards back. With around 5 miles to go based on the signs, the course turns up again. I’m feeling good attacking the hills and building a gap behind me. I catch a familiar jersey up the last singletrack hill leading to the gravel road climb back to the finish. I sit in and wait to make a move hoping I’ve saved more than him. 50 yards to the line I go and end up a few seconds ahead and finish 8th. It was a hard ride mentally and I’m happy with the results. Time to head back to Goodyear and meet some locals for another group ride. After 10 miles at the FINS trails we end up at an awesome pump track in town. Some hot laps around the track and the day is done. I’m smoked but wouldn’t change a thing except maybe my back tire!!

Kelly Hudson

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