WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The US Open Fat Bike Beach Championship, which claims the title as the largest beach race in the nation, is returning to Wrightsville Beach next month.
Shawn Spencer, the director of the competition, said the growth of the race comes from the growing popularity of fat biking in general.
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“It’s an awesome sport, great exercise, and a fun way to explore the barrier islands in an environmentally friendly way,” Spencer said.
The race will take place on the weekend of March 27-29 in front of the event’s host hotel, Blockade Runner. There is both a 1-hour and 2-hour race, with multiple age groups and a relay division, according to a release sent out Thursday.
“We build a one-half mile loop course on the beach the morning of the event, utilizing the natural surfaces of soft and hard sand below the sand dunes,” Spencer said.
The two-hour racers will start at 2 PM this year, and the 1-hour bikers roll out at 4:10 PM. There will be a sandcastle-building contest before the race, with cash prizes awarded to first and second place winners. The sand castles will then serve as course obstacles during the race.
Spencer discussed in detail the characteristics of a “more natural” and organic course than recent years, how the tide will impact racers during the race, whether past champions will again compete in the race, and comparisons to the world-renowned Leadville 100.
The 2020 course will be more natural. In 2018 the Corps of Engineers was dredging, and there were huge pipes we had to traverse. In 2019 we used a mini-excavator and dug some trenches and built some massive climbs over obstacles. This year we are going more ‘organic’ and utilizing volunteer labor to hand- shape the course. The course will be marked with sandbags and marking tape. Some unique dismounting options will be new for 2020.
The race is dictated by the tides. When the tide is low, the bottom part of the course is packed sand, providing faster speeds, plus an opportunity for the racers to recover from the upper part of the course. Fat bike tires will go most anywhere on the sand, but they definitely roll faster and easier on the hard pack when the tide goes out. The soft sand is a grind. The longshore currents also cut into the sand and sometimes leave us with a sizeable drop off at low tide.
We expect to see some returning champions this year. Rumor is that Robert and Philicia Marion from Mount Airy will return to defend their titles. They will definitely be the ones to watch in the professional field.
Past champions say the Fat Bike Beach Championship is harder than the Leadville 100. The Leadville 100 is a 100-mile mountain bike race that starts above 10,000 feet. To have the Fat Bike Beach Championship compared to the Leadville 100 is quite a compliment if a hard race is what you are looking for.