Inside the rain, mud, fun and madness of Chequamegon

Riley Amos on a thrilling second-place finish and Driftless' extremely chill vibes

When roughly 100 pro- and elite-level riders took the start line at the Chequamegon 40 in Northern Wisconsin this past weekend, they were expecting a relatively dry race. Then four or five miles in, the course turned into “instant soup” according to Trek Factory Racing’s Riley Amos. A cell of heavy rain had just missed the starting area, but it doused the rest of the course, creating the conditions for chaotic racing.

Amos was one of the steeliest riders of the day, taking second place by just two seconds behind winner Bradyn Lange in a dramatic finish that featured slide-out crashes and a muddy sprint. 

“Everyone was sliding everywhere,” Amos said. “Luckily I have experience from World Cup racing in those kinds of conditions. That definitely helped me. I was definitely putting some pressure on the descents, especially.”

Riley grabbing some mid-race fuel.

The mud forced riders to make a decision: Sit inside the pack to reap the benefits of drafting, or ride up front and stay relatively clean and safe from crashes. Amos kept himself near the head of the field, and eventually found himself in an elite group with Keegan Swenson, Payson McElveen and Cole Paton. 

With roughly six miles to go, Amos nearly fell when he lost his rear wheel and slid out 90 degrees. He stayed upright, but McElveen, who was just behind, did not. Swenson ran into McElveen, leaving Amos and Paton alone in the lead.

Amos and Ruth Winder post-race.

Swenson clawed his way back to Amos, bringing Lange and Alexey Vermeulen with him. According to Amos, “the last mile of the course was the soupiest of it yet. Like, pure soup.” He was constantly focused on keeping his wheels on fast lines that wouldn’t suck in his wheels. 

Approaching the finish, Swenson accelerated in hopes of winning. Then the mud bit him again and he went down for a second time. Amos had a chance to capitalize for the win, but Lange found a better line through the mud and just held off the hard-charging 20-year-old.

Riley still dry at the start line.

“I swerved to miss Keegan and got stuck in some deeper mud that sapped my momentum,” Amos said. “Then Bradyn swung around me on a good line, and had like two bike lengths going into the final turn. I just couldn’t claw it back through that sprint.”

Despite the daunting conditions and intense competition, Amos loved the experience. His first XC World Cup season as a full-time member of Trek Factory Racing included a podium in Andorra, but also injuries, illness and struggles to find his form. After missing the final World Cup race of the season due to Covid, he ended the season still eager to race. 

Procaliber was the best bike for the job in Chequamegon.

In Chequamegon, he not only scratched his competitive itch, but he enjoyed taking part in an event that was more centered on adventure than results. 

“It was definitely awesome how much more of a laid back, amateur-centric vibe it was,” Amos said. “The pro race is part of the weekend, but it’s not the weekend, compared to the World Cups, where everyone’s there to see the pro World Cup race. It’s really about the thousands of locals who do this race every year for the fun of it, for tradition, for hanging out and having a good time.”

Friday's group ride crew.

Amos, a Boulder native, also enjoyed racing on U.S. soil again after spending much of the year in Europe. He embedded with the Driftless crew, and got to meet Kiel Reijnen (who finished 18th) and Ruth Winder (13th among women) for the first time.

Trek had a major presence in Chequamegon, which is roughly a five-hour drive north of the bike company’s headquarters in Waterloo, Wisc. The company had a camper van on site where anyone could hang out and potentially meet Trek’s athletes, and Reijnen and Winder led a group ride Friday before the race.

Kiel Reijnen getting ready to seize the day.

The chill vibe left a big impression on Amos.

“The Driftless crew was awesome,” Amos said. “I had never actually met Kiel and Ruth before, and obviously they had amazing WorldTour careers. Getting to spend time with them, get to know them, and seeing them so relaxed and chill was really cool. You get to know the people that they are. 

“I definitely made good, lifelong friends in one weekend with them.”