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Chris Stevens endures, wins Birkie fat tire race

Chris Stevens (center) is shown on the awards podium following his win in the Birkie fat tire race on Saturday. Submitted photo

Through his distance running, Chris Stevens has established himself as one of the top endurance athletes in western Wisconsin.

Stevens has became equally as accomplished in biking. On Saturday, Stevens won the championship in the 47K division of the sixth annual 45NRTH Fat Tire Birkie, the world's largest fat tire bike race. Stevens crossed the finish line in a photo finish, just ahead of Corey Stelljes. Both these bikers were top 10 finishers at the race last year, when Stevens placed ninth and Stelljes fourth. The race was held on the legendary hills of the Birkie Trail, just east of Cable.

Stevens won the race in 1:48.12, with Stelljes recording the same time in second place.

Stevens races as a member of the Big Ring Flyers Race Team. Six months ago, Stevens and several teammates started a new "elite race division" of the team, calling themselves Team Apex. Stevens is the team manager for the new team.

"This was likely the biggest win of my endurance career," Stevens said. "To win the biggest fat bike race in the world for the new team was huge."

Stevens wasn't the only Team Apex rider who had an outstanding day Saturday. Thomas Olek placed eighth, Joel Beskar 12th and Christopher Stindt 23rd. Stevens said he draws inspiration from the life transformations some of his teammates have made.

"What makes this group so great is we treat each other like family. Some of the physical transformations have been mind boggling. I'm blessed to never have had the physical challenges some folks have with weight or fitness. These folks and their transformations inspire me. We inspire one another. It's incredible camaraderie," Stevens said.

Stevens and Olek worked together with a single goal in mind.

"The plan Thomas and I had for Saturday was first and foremost to win. For Apex to win was bigger than to be second and third," Stevens said. "We had many strategies depending on a few things. We are the only two that can ride as teammates."

Stevens said after the first five minutes of the race, he decided to break away from everyone. Stelljes was the only rider who could stay with him. They decided to work together, drafting off one another to extend their lead over the other racers.

"With about one-half mile left, Corey attacked me hard. I was able to get back with him and it was then cat-and-mouse until about 150 yards to go," Stevens said. "I was in the lead but he was all over me, comfortable in my draft. I jumped as hard as I could on the pedals and went all in. He tried to respond but with a slight downhill finish we literally ran out of gears on our bikes. Once I had a gap, he couldn't close it and the win was mine."

Stevens said the team members are fortunate to have supportive families, teammates and sponsors that deserve credit for what everyone in the team is achieving.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

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