Led by a second place performance from defending champion Chris Stevens, the Big Ring Flyers bicycle race team had a huge impact at the 2019 Fat Bike Birkie, the world’s largest on-snow fat bike race. The race was held Saturday at the American Birkebeiner trailhead near Cable.

There were 22 members of the Big Ring Flyers who competed in the 28-mile “Big Fat” race on Saturday, and four more competed in the shorter “Chico” race. It isn’t just quantity that makes the Flyers’ performance on Saturday impressive. Six of the top 20 finishers in the Big Fat race were members of the Flyers.

Stevens, of New Richmond, was one of three racers who battled for this year’s race championship. He finished 16 seconds behind race champion Corey Stelljes of Madison. Stelljes had a winning time of 1:46.26, with Stevens finishing in 1:46.42. Stelljes finished second to Stevens in 2018.

Nearly 1,100 riders from 22 states and three countries competed in Saturday’s races.

Among the other top Big Ring Flyers top finishers were Joel Beskar of New Richmond, who placed eighth. The Flyers are based in western Wisconsin, with the largest share of the team members from the New Richmond-Hudson area.

The success on Saturday comes in a race that has grown to have a reputation as one of the biggest fat tire races in the world for the winter season.

“The Birkie is by far the hardest course we ride all year long,” Stevens said. “Between miles 16 and 25 the hills keep coming. They’re big and they’re steep. The climbs are relentless and they’re hard.”

Stevens was part of a pack of five riders who broke away early from the pack in Saturday’s race. Stelljes broke from that pack, with Stevens and Josiah Middaugh in hot pursuit. Stevens said he lost traction twice during the race, with each of those slides costing him at least 10 seconds. He was in third place with 1,000 yards to go. At that point the riders hit a large incline. At the top of that hill, Stevens caught Middaugh and was able to pass him in the final 300-yard downhill stretch to capture second place. Stevens said it was quite similar to how he caught Stelljes last year in winning the race.

Stevens said one of the competitors he was most concerned with was Ted King, a Tour de France rider from Vermont. King ended up taking sixth place. Stevens said he thought the best performance among the members of the Flyers was from New Richmond native Tanner Olek, who placed 18th.

“That’s incredible for a guy who’s only been riding two years,” Stevens said.

Thomas Olek of New Richmond was expected to be a top 10 finisher in the race, but a back injury on Friday night took him out of the race.

47K Big Fat race

  1. Chris Stevens, 1:46.42
  2. Joel Beskar, 1:51.43
  3. Jacob Olsen, 1:54.51
  4. Chris Stindt, 1:55.01
  5. Justin Rumley, 1:56.19
  6. Tanner Olek, 1:56.22
  7. Corey Burton, 2:02.18
  8. Chris Iverson, 2:08.29
  9. Brian Burns, 2:11.12
  10. Rod Hawkins, 2:14.38
  11. John Koplau, 2:17.20
  12. Brian Headlee, 2:19.10
  13. Bruce Blair, 2:37.22
  14. Scott Goulet, 2:38.07
  15. John LeRoy, 2:50.24
  16. Kesha Marson, 2:52.09
  17. Jon Hailey, 2:57.54
  18. Sarah Hartung, 3:06.42
  19. Jill Beskar, 3:06.42
  20. Joe Kelzer, 3:06.49
  21. Chris Wiswell, 3:23.04
  22. Cheryl Iverson, 4:33.46


21K Chico race

  1. Jake Palen, 1:00.36
  2. Glen Gutting, 1:39.08
  3. Nubia Silva, 2:34.10
  4. Joleen Gutting, 2:48.16