My History with Chequamegon

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I’ve been coming up to Cable Wisconsin for a really long time.  Nearly half my lifetime.  It doesn’t seem that long, which, when I think about it, is kind of depressing when I project the time into the future.  Dave Flaten, who finished 2nd last year emailed me about the race, so I thought I’d jot down semi-history from my perspective.

I first came through here on kind of a detour.  I was skiing a cross country ski marathon in Duluth and we ended up driving back through Seeley to have dinner at the Sawmill Saloon. That was my first time and it started from there.

I skied up in Cable for a few years before I came to race.  I actually sent Catherine Walberg up a year before I came and she won.  She said the race was super and I should go race it.

I had heard about Chequamegon, mainly because Greg Lemond raced and won it a couple times.  But I was a bike racer and it was thought of as a tour that a couple guys raced.  Even Lemond didn’t get the respect from the cycling community.  We were all naive.

When the first official MTB World Championships were held in Durango, I was there, finished somewhere in the top 20, maybe 18th, and when I was driving back to Boulder, where I lived, I stopped in Denver to get a paper to see if there was an article about the Worlds.  Instead there was an article about Greg Lemond winning the biggest MTB race in the world, Chequamegon.  I was thinking how screwed up that was.

I’m not sure why I first came up here.  It must have been an open weekend and I’d made a ton of friends by skiing the Birkie.  Anyway, my first year was 1997.  I didn’t pre-ride any of the course back then.  Just kind of a show and go.

Marty Jemison, who rode on the road for USPS, won the race.  He won it that year and the next.  I’m not too big on professional road riders that are doping to come cherry pick MTB races, such as Lance, Levis and Marty.  So I can’t really sign off on Marty’s wins.  He is a nice guy, but beating up on Dave Wiens, Rishi and I, while doping, seems pretty deplorable now. (See Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, page 56, where Marty admits starting using EPO in June of ’97.)  Anyway, a bunch of better MTB racers started coming just about the same time, so the door was open and the stakes got higher.

I rode the race three times before I finally won.  I was on the podium all the times before then, but finally figured it out.  I won three times in a row then.

The course back then was way, way different than it is now.  I’d say the race approached a real MTB race sometimes then.  Don’t get me wrong, the course still had the 10-15 miles of Birkie ski trail, but the other “roads” were unmaintained roads, which means super rocky and technical. Climbs that you had to pick your line and could drop guys on.  That isn’t the case now.

The lead vehicle was a motorcycle back then.  So there was actual singletrack on the Martel’s pothole section.  Then quads started using the trails for access and that was gone.  There was singletrack again, for about 4 minutes, two years ago, but that isn’t there now, so the whole course is pretty open.

The course has gotten faster and faster.  I won the race a couple times in the teen’s + two hours.  Now the winning times are all approaching the 2 hour mark.  That is because the trails have turned into maintained roads now.  It is still hard, but fast and hard.

The part of the course, that has stayed the most consistent, is the Seeley Fire Tower climb to the end of the BIrkie Trail section.  This is about a 4-5 mile section that is very selective.  It is super hard climbing and unrelenting.  The race has been decided here most years.  It would be hard for this to change much, so that is a good thing.

I’m not sure how many riders actually do the long course now.  SInce Lifetime Fitness took over the event, I think there are maybe 1000 more riders let in to race, but I don’t know that number. I think it is around 3500, but I could be off.  Whatever the number, there are a lot of bike riders rolling out of Hayward  together.

The start is the most stressful part of the race for most people.  It doesn’t bother me much.  A huge mass rolls out of town, slowly for the first bit, the full off for a couple miles on Hwy 77, until you do a turn onto Rosie’s Field.  It is 30 + mph, everyone pretty spun out.

The issue is that you have your hands stuck on these super wide bars and that you can’t really protect your cockpit like you can on a rode bike.  That, plus there are a lot of riders that are pretty unfamiliar riding in such close quarters at such high speeds.  There have been some pretty crazy crashes at the start before.  Never at the very front, except one year Gene Oberpriller turfed it pretty hard on a tandem, at the front.  But other than that, it has been relatively safe.

I can’t really do a quasi history without mentioning Gary Crandall, aka The Fatman, who directs the events at Chequamegon.  Gary is a super rider friendly promoter.  And area friendly.  He sometimes spent more time volunteering at other events than promoting his own.  He knows everyone in the surrounding community and is a go-to guy here.  The real success of Chequamegon is because of Gary Crandall.  He was inducted into the MTB Hall of Fame in 2003. Very well deserved.

This race has been going on since 1983.  Dennis Kruse, who is a great friend, has done everyone of them.  One of 2 remaining guys.  Dennis just told me that in 1983, he got an award for being the oldest participate.  Crazy.  Gary Crandall raced the event that year.

Okay, this is rambling.  I love this race, even though I’m thoroughly depressed about my prospects on Saturday.  I have met a ton of great friends here and have tons of great memories already.  No matter what happens, it is going to be a life memory day, which is what I try to collect.

The Fatman and the Kansas gang last year at Chequamegon sign-in.

The Fatman and the Kansas gang last year at Chequamegon sign-in.

Dave, Marty and I at my first Chequamegon.

Dave, Marty and I at my first Chequamegon.

The start in Hayward.

The start in Hayward.

Tucker was pretty clingy when Bill was driving up to Cable a couple days ago.

Tucker was pretty clingy when Bill was driving up to Cable a couple days ago.




26 thoughts on “My History with Chequamegon

  1. numbnuts

    didn’t they have a hundred miler there? I remember investigating that race some years back when doing 100milers… should make it part of these series love hundred milers, the S100 was just a few weeks back, great race… pizza at 4000ft! great racers, great single track, great set of people… miss those races.

  2. Tom T

    I always look forward to your ramblings Steve. Some capture my interest more than others, but when your topic turns to the Northwoods (aka, Hayward/Seeley/Cable/Chequamegon) you always get my full attention. As a Wisconsin native I’ve always considered that area one of my “happy places”. Be it a trip to bike, hunt, fish, hike or just hang out its’ always good. Having done the Fat Tire maybe 20 times, I appreciate your walk through time with the event. While the sheer size of the event can humble a rider, the evolution has not discounted the grass roots feel. And while there is only one winner, the camaraderie and fun at the finish would seem to indicate otherwise. At 57 I am now a full-on age group racer. A couple years ago when an unnamed racer in my age group experienced a major hip injury- I would never wish anything bad on any competitor mind you- I thought I might have a real shot at winning my age group. In his blog in the weeks before it seemed he was still having difficulty even getting on his bike, let alone racing. While this guy has messed up the curve in my age group for years, this might indeed be my opportunity. Well despite your being in recovery mode, I think you still finished 16th, an amazing feat considering what you had went through in the weeks and months prior. I am happy to say I did get to share the age group podium with you last year. I don’t get to race this years event and am already missing the trip- the weather looks to be ideal (again). While I have to root for my hometown boy, Dave Flaten, I wish you well out on the course this year. I’m sure your name will be near the top of the finishing list. Good luck and ride like the wind!

  3. Larry T

    Two questions from an old guy who still rides (now and then) an aluminum hardtail MTB with (horrors!) 26″ wheels and brakes that rub against the sides of the wheel rims.
    #1 Why ARE the handlebars of modern MTB’s so crazy wide? It looks ridiculous but there must be a reason, right?
    #2 WTF is a cockpit? You throw fighting cocks into a pit and the term is used for single-seat fighter planes and F1 cars…but how the hell this has anything to do with a bicycle escapes me. You sit on the seat (saddle) and you reach out to the handlebars with are attached via a stem – at least on the bicycles I’m familiar with. The only thing stupider than this is a bike reviewer using the term “two-prong” to describe a bicycle’s front fork. As if some of them had THREE prongs?
    PS-enjoy your time at Chequamegon and I hope you’re feeling better.

  4. Cycling Guy

    You sound like my dad. He’s 80 something and randomly grumpy.
    #1: stability and control.
    #2: It’s an accepted term for the space you describe. And this will really push your paradigm; it’s virtual. It’s not really there, yet it is…

  5. Larry T

    OK – follow up for me (not quite 80 yet) as to MTB’s from the recent past – they had reduced stability or control because their handlebars were only 22 or 24″ wide? Geez, if only we’d known, we wouldn’t have been cutting the ends off! Meanwhile road guys are running what seems like ever narrower bars – because you know – “aero”.
    Did the old bikes have “cockpits” or is this only on the newer ones with the 27.5, 29″ or whatever the wheel size-of-the-month is?
    I’ll agree with you on one thing – a lot of this crap IS truly virtual – as in “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.”

  6. Tman

    I did this race on a single in 91 then tandem in 92 and 93. That first year when Lemond one it, the course was muddy AND brutal. By the time the first 100 or sao made it through the Moose-muck the last few miles was like post-holing in calf deep sticky snow. Lemond earned that one. He has local racers chasing his ass down the whole way.

  7. channel_zero

    Haha. Yeah, they used that excuse in the 1980’s after wheel size finally standardized. When bars and stems finally standardized on mountain bikes, there were a few years of very narrow bars. Now, we’re back to wide bars.

    It’s always the same, someone somewhere notices someone winning races on narrow/wide/whatever bars and suddenly it’s a new thing and everyone has to have it and it has magical powers, like “stability and control.”

  8. channel_zero

    The Secret Race, page 56, where Marty admits starting using EPO in June of ’97.

    For a guy that seems to loathe details, that is an unusual and QUITE specific reference.

  9. Mike

    A good buddy told me and another friend about Chequamegon and we made our first trek up there in 2001. It is one of the highlight weekends of the year and should be on any Midwest mtb’ers bucket list. I met Steve around Christmas ( several years ago and he challenged me to up my mileage. I heeded his advice and was able to get into the 2:30’s a few times the last few years. Now after 10 or so years of the 40 I am back to the Short and Fat as I am starting to pass the baton on to my sons. I am bringing my 12 year old up to the northwoods this weekend to ride the 16 – his inaugural mountain bike race! I hope that this is a start to a new tradition that he and his younger brothers will follow and comment on Steve’s blog when he is pushing 70 and still cracking the top 50! Good luck and will see you up there.

  10. Barb

    Great and interesting stories, thank you for sharing ST. Makes me wish I’d started mountain biking at a younger age. And could afford to race and travel to events more often.

  11. Baba

    They are doing the Cheq 100 every year now. It’s in mid June. That is mostly single track with some gravel to tie it together, unlike the FT40. Winning times in the high 7-8 hour range.

  12. Baba

    GeneO was piloting and Joe Parkin was stoking that year they overcooked the exit corner from Cable. Stacked it good and couldn’t continue.

  13. mike crum

    I don’t understand your comment on a pro, marty Jemison cherry picking a mt bike race. you were a pro and race a ton of local races so whats the difference?

  14. sillypuddy

    Yes Mtn biking can get super tough. When u have to crank out big torque at low rpms (time to fake a flat).4 me probably more fun 2 ride, and time will absolutely fly by. Now, time 2 kick off my work boots, take a bubble bath and have a Nati-lite. And not necessarily n that order.
    Sillypuddy OUT!

  15. Paul Boudreaux

    Tman: LeMond dealt with some pretty brutal races in ’91 If you’re an American and a cycling fan this might be the only image that is better than the one of LeMond at the line in the ’89 WC that Steve posted the other day.

    Steve: If you run into your old friend be sure to ask him exactly how stoked he was crossing the line in ’89.

  16. Paul Boudreaux

    Crum: Difference=Steve wasn’t all full up on EPO and whatever pro roadies were on back in ’97. I think that was before blood bags so I guess we should cut him a little slack there. Funny though that the winner looks like the f’ing statue of David up there on the podium.

    Of course nowadays who knows what even amateurs are on at the local races.

  17. Li Chin


    I was in Boulder too in between 1992-1993. Wonder I did bump into you. Boulder got some of the coolest folks who become life long friends.


  18. Bill Hall

    Not the great race it use to be since Lifetime took it over. Wife and I just wanted to have some fun on the tandem so we stick to the short race. Much more room on a tandem. We rode the race early in the 2000’s lots of fun and affordable. Two years ago short race cost the same as the long event. $125 a piece. $250 for 16 miles. As a former USAC official I can honestly say the timing wasn’t very good and doesn’t justify the cost. It was still fun but Lifetime takes themselves to seriously . Other events are more affordable. Gary might be in the Hall but he sold out. Great volunteers, course but Lifetime can kiss my ass.

  19. Steve Tilford Post author

    Bill – I understand your cost concerned. But, I don’t think the race ever cost $125 a rider. It is $89 this year for the 40. I’m not sure the Short and Fat entry, but I very much doubt that it is more than the 40. I don’t think Gary sold out. I think he just felt he needed a change. I’m not sure that if the Birkie or someone else bought the race, it would be much different.

    And timing, I can’t agree with you here. The timing is spot-on and instant. You can following the results live on the internet when the riders are crossing the line. I’m not sure what your experience was, but if you had a bad timing experience, it was definitely not normal.

  20. Bill Hall

    Steve it did cost us $250,looks like $100 each and not sure what the other $50 was. for the short race on the Tandem 2years ago. Maybe they have lowered it , but that is what we paid.
    As for the timing , it’s different for those up front. In the short race the clock starts with that first group . By the time our wave went out about 8 minutes gone by. Everyone one’s clock starts then. I get that , the winners should be up front. I know back in the pack riders it’s not crucial but when you pay that kind of money my time should represent the time we spent on the bike. My clock should start when we begin or adjustments at the finish. Also we had a few riders cut the course , skip the final hill at the end ,finish in front of us, clearly visible , and times posted that way. I think it maybe the race loses interest in some riders and see it as no big deal.
    Gary has done a great job with this race but like Leadville, Lifetime is not doing these events any justice.
    Let me just add Steve, our previous Fat Tire races were great. So what had changed?
    We won’t go back to the event. We visit Hayward frequently and we ride those great trails .

  21. Bill Hall

    Actually found the invoice , $185 with $12 reg. fee. I think the extra $50 was non race related stuff I guess. Still to much for 16 miles I think.
    Good luck to all you racers this weekend.
    Lifetime…..I will zip my lip on them.

  22. Steve Tilford Post author

    Bill – You didn’t have to go to that extent. Who cares whether it was $185 or $250 really? It is expensive. I thought since they went to chips in the numbers they had a mat at the start line, like Iceman, but obviously I am mistaken.

    It would be a good debate whether it is best to start your time when the gun goes off or when you cross the start line. I can see real arguments on both sides.

    For the guys that are going to win the race, the current method obviously works. For the guys standing there for minutes before they get to the start line, not so good.

  23. Bill Hall

    Thanks for your reply Steve . Good luck this weekend.
    It does make for a good debate. One year I was working a race at Truman Lake Mo. with Split second timing and in a cat. 3 race a rider won who started two waves after the 20 something riders. It was kinda of weird. 8th guy across the finish line actually won, he had the best time.
    In mtn. bike races every rider wants to know their time and place. I use to get questions on that all the time.
    My wife and I always enjoyed finishing the short race , grab a beer and watch the finish of the big race.
    Gary is a class act but I fear these grass root races are in danger of becoming less frequent because of cost.
    I use to give back money earned from many of my mtn. bike races I worked . Not big profits, but should there be? Oh well food for thought.
    Side note , two years ago we talked briefly to another tandem couple great folks, took time to talk long bikes. It was the Ericksen’s on a Ti tandem ,very cool.

  24. Gene Oberpriller

    Good history and stories there Steve. Especially the try try again and then win! Joe and I to know that one all too well. Except Brian Matter, geez.
    Anyhow, I need to clarify and remark on your comment about Joe Parkin and I “turfing” it at the start.
    It was a 2 Quad lead out that year. 1st time. Joop and I ripped the corner like a boss on to Hwy 77 faster than the rookie quad lead, who chose to go on the outside of the corner as we took the inside. (Cooper was behind for some reason) That move put us in the lead of everybody.
    Rookie quad proceeded to blast past us and move over in front of us and shut the throttle down. Bad move on his part as anybody knows that quads are heavy and slow and tandems are light and fast. He brake checked us.
    We ran into the back of him and down we went. We just went fetal till all the noise stopped and then got up. A few scrapes were checked, bike checked, thumbs up and off we went. Wind on the sales was gone. I should also say that Joop and I had only rode the tandem for a maybe a hour or so beforehand so that didn’t help We were way in over our heads. Still the most terrifying Chequemgon we have ever done! OMG the downhill speeds…..


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