Take 5: Fat Bike Worlds competitor Jeff Cospolich | SummitDaily.com

Take 5: Fat Bike Worlds competitor Jeff Cospolich

It's not everyday you get to compete in the very first world championships for a winter sport on the rise. Consider Jeff Cospolich one hell of a lucky guy.

This weekend, Breckenridge mountain bike veteran Cospolich joins an estimated BLAH fellow competitors for the inaugural Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte. The event is the first of its kind for fat bikers, at least in the U.S. on a major stage, and Cospolich is ready for a taste of racing on the snow. He and a few other locals — namely professional road cyclist Taylor Shelden and his dad, Kevin — have already been warming up on local trails and at early-season races.

In December and January, Maverick Sports teamed up with Gold Run Nordic Center in Breck for two races on the groomed Nordic trails: the Fat Bike Open and Ullr Bike, held in conjunction with the Ullr Fest. Both were previews of the Worlds to come, attracting high-level pros like Dave Wiens, Brad Bingham and more, plus elite locals like Cospolich. At about 10 miles, the Breck courses were about 10 miles shorter than the Worlds course he'll face on Jan. 30 — and that's just fine with him.

"I figure my tolerance for suffering is right around the 18 to 20-mile range," Cospolich said, noting the race on Jan. 28 covers a 30-mile course. "I don't mind suffering, but 30 miles in January is asking a little too much."

If you can't tell, Cospolich is no stranger to bike racing. He's been living in Summit County for two decades and competing on a mountain bike for nearly as long, beginning in 1997 with the Mav Sports summer series. His fat-bike background is much, much slimmer: He first pedaled one just three years ago, but ever since then he's been hooked enough ride two or three times per week.

And now, he's heading to the first and only fat bike Worlds. Before his trip to Crested Butte, Cospolich took time away from the French Gulch trails to talk about fat-bike training, its parallels to mountain biking, and why he's hoping and praying for singletrack in CB, not just groomers.

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Summit Daily News: The first-ever Fat Bike Worlds are coming to Colorado this weekend. When you first saw and rode a fat bike, did you expect the sport to explode the way it has?

Jeff Cospolich: I guess this is the first, right? There might be someone else in Europe doing it and we just don't know, but as far as I know this is the first. (Ed: The only other high-level event I found is USA Cycling's Fat Bike Nationals.) I probably didn't expect this at first, but after a few rides on it I knew that it would gain popularity with people in ski towns. I wouldn't use the word explode, but it's not going away anytime soon. When the skiing sucks the fat biking is good.

Outside of a ski town, when I saw that almost every big company is starting to have a fat bike — and not only that but have a suspension fork on fat bikes — I knew that this was something that would stay. They're making it appealing to people who don't live at 10,000 feet where there's snow all the time, like people who are living on the coast can take them on the beach. You just don't need a fork on the snow around here. It might come in handy on a bumpy trail that's been post-holed, but you really don't need it. It's for people who might want this as they're bike all year-round.

SDN: Do you think a sport that's so young deserves a world championship? I guess there's one for everything else…

JC: There definitely is interest nationwide, and I think the World Championships is kind of fun at this point. First of all, there probably aren't many people, not many international riders, who would have a sponsor that will pay to fly them across the world for this. You're probably looking at an established professional mountain or road biker who might have a sponsor that's interested, who says, "We'll give you a couple grand to give this a try." We had Nationals in Utah last year and again this year, so I think anywhere that it's cold and there's snow — the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest where it's cold but maybe not always new snow — it will survive. It's just better than riding indoors.

SDN: Have you had the chance to ride the course in Crested Butte yet?

JC: No, I haven't even been to Crested Butte in seven or eight years. I did a few Mountain States Cups (mountain bike races) there a long time ago, but if I remember one thing it's a beautiful place. People say that it's what Breckenridge was like 20 years ago. It's one of the best places in the state for mountain biking, that's for sure. I checked out the website to see where they're taking us and it looks like they'll have us on the Nordic trails. It sounds like this will be similar to what we've been riding and racing at Gold Run here in Breck. I don't think we'll be on any singletrack.

SDN: Are you disappointed there won't be more technical riding at something like the Worlds? You've told me before you prefer singletrack over roads.

JC: Yeah, that's with everything. Just yesterday I went out on my cross-country skis and it was incredible. Part of that was because I got on singletrack. On an ideal winter day I'm skiing or snowboarding powder, and on an ideal summer day I'm riding singletrack. That's the same in winter: On a bad skiing day, I want to ride singletrack on the fat bike. I just like to be on trails, not open roads.

SDN: Where have you been riding locally to train?

JC: Mainly the French Gulch area, but I don't really look at this time of year as any pressure to train. I just ride my bike when the snow is good and that's typically been two or three times per week. I've been getting out before work at least once and out at night at least once, and I can usually get out once on the weekend with my dog. That's about three hours of riding per week, so no huge commitment. In summer when you're training it's much different. You're spending 10 hours on the bike every week to get ready for something like Breck Epic.

SDN: What do you like about riding your favorite French Gulch trails in winter as opposed to summer? Do you approach them differently?

JC: I like it because they're the most reliably packed trails anywhere in Summit County. It snowed 8 to 12 inches in town since Sunday, and even though I wouldn't try to ride today my guess is that some point tomorrow (Jan. 26) they'll be good. They just pack in so quickly and, of course, they're singletrack. You can even get a long descent in if you want downhill. You can take Sallie Barber all the way to Carter Park along V3 and that's a pretty long downhill, whether it's summer or winter. It's about 10 minutes. That's not bad in the snow.

SDN: How has mountain bike racing in summer prepared you for fat-bike racing?

JC: The two aren't as close as you would think. The big similarity is the effort. It becomes a measured, time trial kind of effort with fat biking. You might stick with a rider, ride their tire if you're familiar with them, but you know how long the course will be and just want to maintain a high note.

To be honest, cyclocross has been closer for me. It's an anaerobic effort for about an hour and this will be close. The best training I've had is those races on groomed Nordic center trails. Even though it's groomed out there you want to stay in the tracks, especially in corners. The last thing you want to do is wander away from the tracks and lose your line. All it takes is a momentary lapse of concentration and you'll be bogged down in the snow. Some of these races are very tight, finishing within 10 or 15 seconds, and you can't have mistakes if you want to stay in the mix.

I will also be interested to see how much climbing there will be. That's usually the deciding factor: the Gold Run Races are flat, but the Copper race (on Jan. 23) had a lot of climbing and that was fun. If you have a few mistakes and climb well you can still be in the thick of it. On a flat course, if you bobble once you're pretty much out of it.

SDN: What's your goal for Worlds?

JC: Honestly, I just want to have fun. If it were a local race and I'd been doing this for 20 years, where I know the racers I'm up against, I might have a results-based goal. I just want to cross the finish line knowing I put in a good effort. I want to meet new people, and I'm also going to the conference on Thursday. I want to see other successes and failures from other resort towns to see what they're doing. I think Breck has done a good job with fat bikes so far.

Fat Bike World Championships

What: The first-ever world championships for fat biking (that anyone knows of), hosted primarily on groomed Nordic trails at and around Crested Butte ski area

When: Wednesday to Sunday, Jan. 27-31

Where: Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Cost: Varies

The solo race on Jan. 28 and championship race on Jan. 30 are both open to the public. The weekend also includes an industry conference on Jan. 29 and parties on the first and final days, all hosted by sponsor Borealis Fat Bikes of Colorado Springs and Odell Brewing of Fort Collins. For more info on the events, including course maps, start areas and online registration, see the Worlds website at http://www.cbfatbikeworlds.com.

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