Breckenridge cyclist Taylor Shelden wins Ullr fat bike race
More than a foot of fresh snow at the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge resulted in soft, packed-powder conditions for more than 35 cyclists to pedal through during Saturday’s Ullr Fat Bike Race.
In the event’s fifth year, the competition returned to the Nordic center after taking to Breckenridge’s Main Street in 2017 and 2018. At the end of Saturday’s event, Breckenridge pro cyclist Taylor Shelden won the 12-mile adult-distance race with a time of one hour, three minutes and 3.02 seconds — tops in both the overall competition as well as the pro open men division.
The 31-year-old Shelden’s time came in just under 40 seconds faster than Mark Meadows’s Littleton team, who won the amateur men 40-49 division with a time of 01:03:48.73.
Despite an admirable grooming effort by the Gold Run Nordic Center crew, Shelden described Saturday’s racing conditions as very slow due to the 12-to-15 inches of fresh powder the Nordic center received over the prior two days.
“You just kind of feel it — definitely mentally more challenging,” Shelden said. “You can see that you are not going as fast, just kind of feel like you’re in quicksand the whole time. And, a lot of the uphill parts, I think a lot of people struggled with those.”
To combat the conditions, Shelden let the air out of his fat tires down to 2.5 pounds-per-square-inch (psi). He said on a typical day riding his Scott “Big Ed” fat bike, he inflates his Maxxis fat bike-specific tires to 6 psi, sometimes even 8 or 9 psi when conditions are particularly firm.
Though the course packed down as the competition played out, Shelden said mental focus was of utmost importance to ensure an ideal ride.
“It’s definitely sort of akin to racing or riding your mountain bike in the sand,” Shelden said of Saturday’s conditions. “You have to kind of be a little looser in the steering and kind of let your bike do its own thing. You can’t have an iron grip on the handlebars, or else you’ll go sideways. So being able to sit back a little bit and float the front wheel through the soft stuff was important.”
Throughout the race Shelden said he and other racers opted not to stand up and pedal due to the possibility of their back fat tire bike wheels spinning out. Pushing through the race in a seated fashion while sticking to bigger gears, Shelden got out in front at the start of the race amid a pack of a half dozen other top riders.
For Shelden, one of the course’s most difficult stretches came shortly thereafter on that first lap, when he and the other top five or six racers traversed the soft snow along the 0.7-mile Bronco Dave Nordic trail.
“Kind of a false flat,” Shelden said, “maybe a 1-2 percent (grade). It was not a serious climb, but it was enough where, going uphill, it was very soft on that section. You had to stay focused, stay seated and grind. If you could make it through that, that’s where you can make up a significant amount of time.”
Shelden was able to create a bit of a gap between himself and other racers after that portion of the race. Looking back on the win, the 2018 Breck 100 mountain bike champion Shelden sees fat tire biking as an ideal way to mix up his cross training each winter.
“Instead of having to ride my trainer indoors all the time, being able to go outside in winter on my bike is good mentally as well,” Shelden said. “I wouldn’t say the fat biking races are my focus. I’m definitely trying to do as well as I can in them, to build up for the summer for some of the bigger mountain bike races I’ll be doing.”
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