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‘Wild experience’: Fat biking enthusiasts conquer 140-mile race

‘It’s a totally different animal’: Pair of Sault cyclers braved 22 hours of cold temperatures and steep elevation at the 2nd annual Polar Roll Ultra near Marquette, Mich., last week

The conditions may have been challenging, but two local cycling enthusiasts managed to power through one of the area’s longest and toughest fat biking courses last week.

Velorution owner Jan Roubal and Sault Cycling Club trail groomer Reg Peer completed the daunting 140-mile (or 225-kilometre) Polar Roll Ultra fat bike race near Marquette, Mich., on Tuesday.

The high elevation route featured a mix of road and snow machine trails, with a primary focus on groomed single-track – a unique alternative to the common winter Ultra races that take competitors to environments they normally wouldn’t get to experience.

For Peer, a fat bike rider since 2016, it was his toughest snowy test to date.

“It was more than what I thought it was going to be,” he admitted. “I had a rough idea what to expect as I’ve done a few Ultras in the summer before, but when you do it in the wintertime it’s a totally different animal. It was a pretty wild experience.”

Competing alongside 63 other fat bikers, Peer ended up finishing in ninth place with a time of 22 hours and 23 minutes.

While cold temperatures, steep elevations, and course length made the race taxing, the avid outdoorsman said the real challenge presented itself near the finish line.

“The last five kilometres was probably the longest,” he explained. “When you get into some single-track at 2 a.m. that has six or seven different directions to go, it made it trickier. I would ride 20 metres, stop, look at my GPS, confirm on my cell phone that I am going the right way, and then keep going.”

“I think we covered 2,300 metres of elevation – it’s not forgiving,” he added. “Anything you thought was flat was a false flat, meaning there was always a slight incline to it.”

Peer is also a well-experienced mountain and gravel biker who has a resumé filled with Ultra-sized races in the summer months.

His most notable appearances included a race referred to as “The Crusher” – a 225-mile giant that takes riders through a mix of road, gravel, pavement, four-wheeler trails, and single tracks throughout the northern parts of Michigan in July.

While wintertime Ultra races like last week’s are traditionally shorter in length, they cannot be underestimated as Peer learned the hard way during a 210-km fat bike race in Ottawa several years ago.

“I couldn’t finish that race which was a bummer,” he said. “I missed a checkpoint and had to go back for it. I just got over COVID before the race, and close to the end, I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t drink water without choking. I was just 10 kilometres away from the finish.”

“But the Polar Roll Ultra last week was even tougher, so it made the finish a lot sweeter,” he added. “It was the furthest I had ever gone on a fat bike.”

Meanwhile, Roubal made an appearance at last week’s Ultra for the second straight year.

This time, however, he wasn’t in a rush to complete it.

“I took this Ultra a little different than others I’ve done,” he said. “I decided I was going to chill out, relax, and ride with different groups of people and take it easy. There wasn’t a lot of nerves or anything like that beforehand. Overall, everything went fairly smoothly.”

“It’s also just nice to get outside,” he added. “Spending a bunch of time out there without responsibility is always great.”

Although Roubal enjoys the shorter courses, including a 30-mile race he finished in eighth place at the same Polar Roll event last week, there’s a particular camaraderie of the Ultras he can’t help but favour.

“The shorter stuff is fun, but it’s kind of like one big intense effort, and your heart rate is pinned the whole time,” he admitted. “The Ultras are bit more laid back. There’s some conversation going on and people are chatty. It’s a different experience and forces you to do something hard.”

Both Roubal and Peer have been impressed by how quickly the fat biking community in Sault Ste. Marie has grown in recent years, and they’re excited to see what lies ahead for avid riders in the area. 

“It’s an overwhelmingly supportive community,” Peer said. “A small group of us who were fat biking quite a bit in the early years, we’re finding we don’t really recognize anyone anymore on the trails or in the parking lot. We’re like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ There’s lots of tourists which is pretty neat to see.”

“Through Velorution, we see a lot more people coming to town for our outdoor recreation, and fat biking is becoming quite a draw,” Roubal added. “The Sault Cycling Club and Hiawatha have been doing a really good job with grooming, so the conditions are good almost all the time. Crimson has done great with their trails as well.”

Twenty competitors from the Sault and surrounding area participated in the 15- and 30-mile races at the Polar Roll near Marquette last week. The results were as follows:

15 Mile Race:

  • Anthony Talentino, 9th overall (Sault Mich.)
  • Kimberly Fisher, 14th overall and 3rd place female (Sault, Ont.)
  • Kimbal Beckett, 20th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Mark Muschett, 21st overall (Desbarats)
  • Klaus Peltsch, 31st overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Cindy Pruce, 34th overall and 8th place female (Sault, Ont.)
  • Annette Nenonen, 47th overall and 16th place female (Sault, Ont.)
  • Erin Ratelle, 50th overall and 18th place female (Sault, Ont.)
  • Elizabeth Barban, 109th overall and 39th place female (Sault, Ont.)

30 Mile Race:

  • Jan Roubal, 8th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Dusty Jakomait, 15th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Darrel Philion, 21st overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Steve Sachro, 23rd overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Mark Fisher, 98th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Adam Cowley, 112th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Reg Peer, 113th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Matt Tonon, 116th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Chris Drysdale, 128th overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Taylor Beauregard, 133rd overall (Sault, Ont.)
  • Kyle Slater, 144th overall (Searchmont)

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Alex Flood

About the Author: Alex Flood

Alex is a recent graduate from the College of Sports Media where he discovered his passion for reporting and broadcasting
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