I traveled out to Sturgis, SD this past weekend to do the seventh race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, TheTatanka 100. Since this is a new race to the series and located in a state I have never visited, I figured it would be an adventuresome race trip. I wasn't wrong: South Dakota is a beautiful state and the race was definitely a backcountry mountain biking adventure.
Often times it can be quite difficult to pick the right single gear to use for a race. Making this choice is made even more difficult when I've never before raced on a particular course or in the geographic area. I mostly use previous race times and the course elevation profile to chose my race gear and have had good luck using this method. By considering this information for the Tatanka 100, I decided to use the same gear I used at the Mohican 100 this year, 40x23.
The Tatanka course has two different personalities. The first part of the course is mostly single track and also has a lot of long, steep climbs over the first 50 miles. The second part of the course is very fast and mostly on double track trails or gravel fire roads. Overall, this makes the course very difficult to do on a single speed bike because finding the right gear to use is almost impossible. Nevertheless, I would probably use the same gear I used if I raced here again. The gear ratio I used was manageable on the first fifty miles of the course, but I found it to be a bit too easy during the second part of the race.
At the start of the race, I felt very good and was able to escape with a few other riders during the initial miles of single track. During this time, another single speed racer, AJ Linnell, also made this early split from the large pack of riders behind us.
I noticed my breathing was a bit more labored than it usually is when I was climbing the first couple of steep climbs on the course. I'm quite certain this was due to the thinner air of being at over 5000 feet in elevation. Eventually, AJ was able to take advantage of my lack of being acclimated to the higher altitude and he put a gap on me during a particular difficult climb somewhere in the first twenty miles of the race.
Thinking I had plenty of time to catch AJ, I allowed for myself to recover from chasing AJ up this difficult climb and hoped to catch him later in the day. But, when I arrived at the third checkpoint and discovered AJ had already put six minutes on me, I knew it would be difficult to catch him.
Additionally, with the course conditions becoming much faster during the second part of the race, I was unable to close any meaningful amount of time on the lead single speed racer. I continued to ride hard, though, and actually battled back and forth with the second place open male rider, Kip Biese, for much of the race. This helped keep my pace high and also made the race more interesting and fun.
At the end or the race, AJ maintained his lead over me to take the SS win and second place overall. I chased hard until the end and was able to hold on to second place in the SS class and fourth overall. It would have been nice to win this race, but I am not disappointed about my result because I still felt like I was riding very well. Additionally, it was also very cool to ride in an area I've never seen before and to race on this very beautiful course.
I can't close this race report without saying congratulations again to my tough singlespeed competitor, AJ Linnell. He rode a very strong race and helped me remember that winning a race is never an easy thing to do.
Anyone curious as to what the Tatanka 100 single track is like can watch this video to view the beautiful riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota.