Why do they call it a polar vortex?
Cyclists were trying to figure that mystery out while spinning round and round Saturday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails.
On a sunny, crisp morning that presented racers with a fresh coat of snow, a gaggle of bikers took off from the Wolverine Trailhead on a range of fat, skinny and studded tires.
The goal? Finish as many laps as possible of the marked course in an hour.
James Stull won the race by completing six laps in 1 hour, 1 minute, 59 seconds. In doing so, he made six passes through the “polar vortex,” a winding path constructed with flagging tape that took riders through a dizzying circle to a point smack dab in the middle, only to spit them back out onto the Wolverine loop.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but we had something like that in Anchorage,” Stull said.
James Stull owns two bicycle shops in Anchorage — Chain Reaction and 907 Fat Bikes — and said the early going at Tsalteshi was tough.
“It was like riding through sand,” he said. “But then it packed in well.”
The loop was an idea crafted two years ago for a November race at Tsalteshi, when the “Polar Vortex” — essentially a low-pressure band of air that sits in the polar regions of the upper atmosphere — became a national phenomenon. That winter saw a low snowfall, leading to the cancellation of the race at Tsalteshi, but race organizer Mark Beeson decided to bring it back this year.
Amber Bethe was the women’s winner Saturday, also completing six laps in a time of 1:12:12, and since Friday was her 42nd birthday, celebrated afterward with friends by enjoying the local selection of brews available from Kenai River Brewing Company.
“I was trying to go fast and not fall over,” Bethe said of her race plan. “I crashed on the barriers on the first lap.”
Bethe and Stull were part of a contingent of Anchorage cyclists that made the trip down for the weekend, and both had difficulty trying to describe the bizarre course.
“It was confusing at first when I got to the swirly point,” Bethe said.
Stull built a large lead on his first three laps by deciding to dismount and carry his bike through the tighter sections of the “vortex”.
“It’s pretty narrow and slow going, so I went with that,” Stull said.
However, the day’s biggest prize went to a peninsula local, 29-year-old Nathan Kincaid.
Kincaid was crowned the grand season champion of the Chainwreck Cyclocross series and was presented with an intricately carved wooden trophy that bore his name as champion.
“I love it,” Kincaid said about the summer and autumn series of races. “Whatever gives me an excuse to go out and play.”
Saturday’s race was basically considered an exhibition challenge, but Kincaid still showed up to finish third overall. Kincaid was just one of two racers to complete every race on the 15-event schedule, which included six cyclocross races and nine mountain bike races.
Saturday Polar Vortex results
1. James Stull, 1 hour, 1 minute, 59 seconds; 2. Chuck DiMarzio, 1:03:34; 3. Nathan Kincaid, 1:04:17; 4. Eric Thomason, 1:04:24; 5. Jacque Drumm, 1:04:55; 6. Tony Eskelin, 1:05:11; 7. Tyle Owens, 1:05:13; 8. David Henke, 1:05:20; 9. Brian Beeson, 1:06:33; 10. Mike Crawford, 1:10:55; 11. Amber Bethe (women’s winner), 1:12:12.
12. Ellie Mitchell, 1:02:08; 13. Amber Stull, 1:02:54; 14. Dave Edwards Smith, 1:04:14; 15. Rob Carson, 1:05:42; 16. Super Al Mitchell, 1:06:46; 17. Bruce Ross, 1:07:03; 18. Tom Seggerman, 1:10:05; 19. Jamie Nelson, 1:10:08; 20. Angie Brennan, 1:11:31; 21. Ashley Tonione, 1:11:56; 22. Will Morrow, 1:13:53.
23. Dylan Hogue (youth winner), 1:04:43; 24. Landen Showalter, 1:04:47; 25. Jen Showalter, 1:05:31.
26. Carl Kincaid, 47:40.
Thursday Chainwreck Cyclocross results
1. Mike Crawford, 36 minutes, 39 seconds; 2. Nathan Kincaid, 37:23; 3. Brian Beeson, 37:31; 4. Tyle Owens, 38:14; 5. Tony Eskelin, 39:30; 6. Amber Stull (women’s winner), 40:38; 7. Amber Bethe, 40:45; 8. Eric Thomason, 41:22; 9. Rob Carson, 42:13; 10. Dave Edwards-Smith, 42:29; 11. Phillip Smith, 44:26; 12. Jordan Chilson, 44:39.
13. Scott Huff, 37:00; 14. Angie Brennan, 37:13; 15. Ashley Tonione, 38:13; 16. Megan Anderson, 38:49; 17. Will Morrow, 39:52; 18. Jamie Nelson, 41:05; 19. Marcus Mueller, 42:14; 20. Dylan Hogue (youth winner), 43:33; 21. Tom Anderson, 44:41; 22. Landen Showalter, 45:41; 23. Jennifer Tabor, 46:00; 24. Jen Showalter, 47:02; 25. Tucker Mueller, 48:49.