Ross leads strong Alaska showing at world's biggest fat bike race

Alaska is fat bike country, so no wonder a contingent of Alaskans did so well in the world's biggest fat bike race last week in Wisconsin.

Leading the way was Anchorage's Will Ross, who repeated as the overall champion at the fourth annual Fat Bike Birkie, a 47-kilometer race held on a segment of the American Birkebeiner ski trail.

More than 1,000 cyclists entered the two-day event, which offered criteriums and kids' races Friday and the 47-kilometer Big Fat and 20-K Chico on Saturday.

Ross, 26, shaved nine minutes off his winning time in 2015. He finished in 1 hour, 46 minutes, 56 seconds to beat runner-up Brad Bingham of Colorado by nine seconds.

Sheryl Loan of Eagle River grabbed third place in the women's competition and led a group of three Alaska women into the top 10.

Loan, 57, finished in 2:11:39, nine minutes off the pace set by three-time women's champion Jenni Rinehart of Minnesota.Anchorage's Amber Stull placed eighth (2:14:35) and Palmer's Stacy Kolstad was ninth (2:15:01).

Cyclists in the 47-K race rode a loop that began and ended in Cable, the starting line for the famous Birkebeiner ski race — which, incidentally, was won by Fairbanks skier David Norris last month.

Ross said two inches of snow fell the night before the race. The trail was groomed Saturday morning but was soft in spots, he said.

"It was about finesse. It was about trying to get traction out of the soft snow," Ross said. "It was inconsistent snow, so if you were riding in a straight line it was just fine but if you tried to corner your tires would gouge in."

The victory was worth $500. "It paid for my bike to get there and back," Ross said.

"I had an arsenal," he added. "I brought studded tires, five-inch tires and four-inch tires.

"I stuck with the tried-and-true four-inch tire. All the people with five-inch tires were working harder."

The Birkie was the latest in a series of ultra races for Ross since the start of the year.

He won the 50-mile Frosty Bottom race in Anchorage, finished second in the Arrowhead 135-mile race in Minnesota, was second in the Susitna 100 from Knik to McGrath, 10th in the elite men's division at the fat bike national championships in Utah and then repeated as the Birkie champ. His winter season wraps up at the end of the month with the White Mountain 100 in Fairbanks.

Eight riders from Alaska competed in Wisconsin. In the men's race, Jamie Stull (1:55:57) — who won his age group at the national championships in Utah — was 23rd overall and third in the 40-49 age group. John Sindell was 25th overall (1:55:58) and Jason Lamoreaux was 33rd (1:56:53).

In the women's race, Kolstad won the 40-49 age group and Stull placed fifth in the 30-39 age group. Andrea Kettler placed 24th overall among women and 13th in the 30-39 age group (2:34:20).