The 2017 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships are done and lightly dusted in snow, with Cole House taking an excruciatingly close win over heavy favorite and all around nice guy Jamey Driscoll (Clement).
After weeks of nervous talk of snow, it wasn’t to be a white Nationals for Grand Rapids, but the race put on a heck of a show. Using nearly every inch of the Indian Trails Golf Course, the wide open sections of grass were punctuated with tight, rough and frozen sections of wooded and rutted sections, making the day’s races a balance between high speeds and calculated risks. Especially in the low sections and on two wooded bridges, sheer ice saw even the fastest riders slowed to a crawl to avoid a slow fall and a broken hip.
The Men’s Pro race took off with a downhill start, with a dozen riders spilling back and forth between two deep ruts in a double track. Driscoll’s day started out nervously, as the lead group splintered off twice, gapped by a rider nearly sliding out and crashing each time and cause daylight to open. Driscoll stayed calm, eyed up his chance to bridge, and regained contact to a group of seven riders. That number would split again early on the second lap, with a lead group of Driscoll, House, Jorden Wakeley (Lamere Cycles) and Corey Stelljes moving clear of Sean Kickbush (M22) and Chris Stuart.
Behind, the Women’s Pro race, Ami Stuart and Elizabeth Lurz were locked together most of the morning, while Traverse City’s own Susan Vigland (Hagerty Cycling) picked her way through the field after a cautious start. With ground to make up, Vigland paired with Kyla Anderson, with the duo slowly gaining ground. Ahead, Stuart was beginning to look more and more imperious on the front, with Lurz on the edge and waiting to react to a move. A lap shorter than the men, the fifth lap proved decisive and Lurz ceded a bike length, then another, with Stuart cruising home for the win. Luz was still comfortable in for second, while Vinland’s raised tempo saw her move safely into third ahead of Anderson, with Lexxie Mapes rounding out the top five. Last year’s runner-up Rebecca Blatt, was next through, while the youngest racer in either Pro race, Maddy Frank, rolled home tenth place to perhaps the loudest applause of the day.
Of course, the noise surrounding the Men’s finish may not have fully cleared the air. As the lead group rolled into sight of the line, Driscoll’s brilliant red jersey was a good thirty yards clear of a rider in black, the silhouette of Cole House in the saddle and trying to make up ground. Driscoll made the short ascent to the finish at a flying pace, but it was clear to the many eyes turned to the scene that House was making a frantic, desperate dash to Driscoll’s wheel. Driscoll didn’t look back until he had rounded the slow turn to the line, a lazy right hander made notable mostly for the slick concrete near the top before returning to grass for the last 15 yards.
Screaming for grip, House survived the turn to the outside, Driscoll’s left, the side to which he finally spared a glance back, but it was too late; House was already even, and had the momentum. Driscoll was out of the saddle in an instant, and deftly threw the front wheel to match the forcible mirrored reaction from House. A half a beat and announcer Frankie Andreau made the call, and ultimately the correct one, that House had taken a well earned and hard fought National Championship. Jorden Wakeley was Michigan’s top finisher in third. The rest of the top five went to Stelljes and Chris Stuart, with a resilient Sean Kickbush sixth. Justin Piontek was seventh, ahead of three Michigan riders, Cody Sovis (Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing), Rick Wetherald (Athletes in Motion) and Jon Throop (Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing), filling out the top ten.
Full results available here.