Sixty-two “fat bike” riders cycled past beach goers, over man-made obstacles and through natural ones on a sunny, breezy spring afternoon in Wrightsville Beach Saturday.
Racers navigated a one-mile loop course where they had to ride over elevated areas, into sand trenches and through tires that stood upright out of the sand. There were also two open areas near the water, where riders could forge their own path on the wet, packed sand.
Professional mountain biker Robert Marion took home the top prize at this weekend’s 2nd Annual U.S. Open Fat Bike Beach Championship, which took place on the sand between the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and Crystal Pier.
The rider from Mount Airy dethroned Wilmington’s Ben Brown, who was the overall winner in last year’s inaugural race and placed first in the men’s 16 -25 age division this year. They both competed in the 24-mile expert race.
For the first time, women competed in the race (according to organizer Shawn Spencer, none registered for last year’s open.) Rider Jesse Piersol from Downington, Pennsylvania became the competition’s first female overall champion. She also completed the expert distance.
Competitors from several states came to the area for the race, but several of the winners were from Wilmington and surrounding areas. In addition to the 24-mile distance, there were also 16-mile and 8-mile long races. Winners were divided by race and age group.
A few dozen people gathered by the race’s start and end point behind the resort, cheering competitors on and offering them water as they rode by. Some spectators, like Wanda Smith, who was vacationing from the Midwest with her husband, had never seen anything like it before.
“I didn’t even know these kinds of bikes existed,” Smith said. “We were just walking on the beach and noticed there was something going on. It’s really neat to see. It’s different.”
The race was organized by the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and Bike Cyles, a local shop located in the Mayfaire area of town. The event benefits the non-profit Wrightsville Beach Foundation, which raises funds to improve the town’s public spaces.
“The community in which we live is the reason healthy and fun events like this race are possible,” said Spencer, who owns Bike Cycles. “Without the support of the volunteers, the sponsors, the racers and Wrightsville Beach, we couldn’t have this positive event which helps fuel the local economy in several ways.”
For more information about fat bikes, which are similar to traditional mountain bikes but are fitted with tires 4 inches or more in width, visit www.bikecycleshop.com.
2016 U.S. Open Fat Bike Beach Championship Winners
Expert Division – 24-miles
Female Overall Champion: Jesse Piersol, Downington, Pennsylvania
Male Overall Champion: Robert Marion, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Male 16-35 Winner: Ben Brown, Wilmington, North Carolina
Male 36-45 Winner: Christopher Dougherty, Leland, North Carolina
Male 46-55 Winner: Nima Ebrahimnejd, Wilmington, North Carolina
Male 56+ Winner: Craig Hendrix, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Female 36-45 Winner: Suzanne Tulsey, Oak Island, North Carolina
Sport Division – 16-miles
Male 16-35 Winner: Terry Slack, Hope Mills, North Carolina
Male 36-45 Winner: Jason Laxton, Boone, North Carolina
Male 46-55 Winner: Ed Stilley, Wilmington, North Carolina
Male 56+ Winner: Louis Almekinders, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Female 16-35 Winner: Philicia Marion, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Female 36-45 Winner: Maijaliisa Burkert, Vass, North Carolina
Beginner Division – 8-miles
Male 10-15 Winner: Eric Stock, Wake Forest, North Carolina
Male 16-35 Winner: Jonathan Ward, Wilmington, North Carolina
Male 36-45 Winner: Gary Stevens, Wilmington, North Carolina
Male 46-55 Winner: Joe Baes, New Bern, North Carolina
Male 56+ Winner: John Hoover, Morehead City, North Carolina
Female 36-45 Winner: Marilyn Laxton, Boone, North Carolina
Female 46-55 Winner: Stephanie Taylor, New Bern, North Carolina
Female 56+ Winner: Linda Rachner, Martinsville, Virginia