After a year away, thousands of off-road enthusiasts returned to the big woods of northwestern Wisconsin for the 38th Annual Chequamegon MTB Festival presented by Trek. Nearly four decades after the 27 original riders hit the famed American Birkebeiner trail, this Northwoods Drag Race has grown to become one of the largest mass start off-road events in the country—and it showed this weekend.
Riders from around the country packed up their bikes and made the trek to revel in the beautiful, fall-colored woods of Hayward, Wisconsin. On Friday evening, while the adult riders picked up their bibs for Saturday’s race, our youngest off-roaders spun their tires in Cable, Wisconsin, for the first of two Little Loggers competitions of the weekend. Some rode, some strode, some even ran, but all enjoyed the family-friendly atmosphere of the Pre-Race Festival, filled with live music, delicious craft beer, and savory food truck options.
On Saturday morning, nearly 3,000 racers of all ages and skill levels flooded the gate at Hayward Primary School for the start of the Chequamegon 40. Across the woods in Cable, WI, another group of fat-tire fanatics grouped at the Birkebeiner Trailhead to kick off the 16-mile Short & Fat race through the rugged Northwoods terrain. As far as “iconic Wisconsin fall days” go, the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for the simultaneous mass start at 10 a.m. Cast against a backdrop of reds, yellows, and oranges, the horn sounded, and the ATVs led the wave of cyclists down Hayward’s historic Main Street. As they headed toward Rosie’s Field—the first of many featured spots along the Chequamegon 40 course—the riders were greeted by sunshine, low-60-degree temperatures, and that cool Northwoods fall breeze.
A few hours later, as our Pro and Elite riders lined up at their shot for Chequamegon glory, the sun sat high in the sky, illuminating the 40 miles of single-track terrain ahead. Several inches of pre-race rainfall made an already gritty Northwoods course even more challenging, as riders now had to dodge crater-like puddles while traversing the rolling succession of 25- and 50-foot climbs. By the end of the day, mud stripes covered helmets, bibs, and backs; reports of cramps were widespread; and the IPAs from Fulton and Bent Paddle tasted all the better.
The never-ending changes of terrain and surface conditions didn’t slow down our top racers, though, as Abraham Tillquist of Northfield, Minnesota (2:25:02), and Anne Mayer of Madison (2:44:33), claimed the top male and female spots, respectively, in the mass-start Chequamegon 40. Across the woods, Ben Brandvold of Minneapolis (58:12) and Mandi Johnson-Hibbert (1:12:56) of Pelican Rapids completed the Minnesotan sweep of the Short & Fat 16.
In our Pro divisions, “dethroning the champs” became the theme of the day in two nail-biting sprints to the finish. On the women’s side, 25-year-old Melisa Rollins of Salt Lake City took down defending champ 37-year-old Jenna Rinehart of Mankato, Minnesota, edging her out by a single second for a winning time of 2:36:39. On the men’s side, 23-year-old Cole Paton of Durango, Colorado, stole the throne from reigning 26-year-old Alexey Vermeulen of Pinckney, Michigan—again by just a second—finishing in 2:15:26. Corey Stelljes (Madison) and Kenzie Statz (Wisconsin Rapids) claimed the third-place men’s and women’s prizes, respectively.
While our champions took their pictures and collected their hardware, the party continued at the Birkie Trailhead in Cable. Our Little Loggers logged their last laps; participants threw back their final brews; and dozens of lucky winners took home raffle prizes—from hats and t-shirts to power washers and new Trek mountain bikes. Life Time and the 2021 Chequamegon MTB Festival presented donations to CAMBA for $20,000 and the Wisconsin High School MTB league for $2,500, showing just how much of a community event this really is. As the sun set on another year at the Chequamegon MTB Festival, riders, family members, and spectators alike left smiling and thinking ahead to Chequamegon MTB 2022.
FULL results from the 38th Annual Chequamegon MTB Festival presented by Trek can be viewed here. Thanks to everyone who participated, volunteered, and sponsored this epic Party in the Northwoods. We’ll see you next year!
Recap by Kevin Horner.