Weekend Preview: The Grind, West Branch and Hanson! (Hills)

It’s another big weekend in Northern Michigan for bikes, with the West Branch Classic kicking off the heart of the road racing season…But Hanson Hills is an attractive race for mountain biking enthusiasts. 

The West Branch Classic is the marquee event in the first weekend of June. It comes on the heels of the Tour of Frankenmuth and the West Michigan Stage Race, but the first event with serious climbs and very tough finish. It’s the last race before the pancake flat Mount Pleasant and the next truly massive event isn’t until the Cherry-Roubaix in August. Teams like Hagerty Cycling, Einstein Racing, East Hills Velo and PriorityHealth have a massive circle around West Branch, and with good reason.

The road race kicks off Saturday morning with the Criterium coming up on Sunday. Points will be plentiful for those racing both days, and it’s the time of year when riders have enough races to start jumping up through categories. After West Branch, a fair few riders will be up into the upper ranks, but require some solid results first in order to make the move. Look for strong showings from Bissell, Einstein Cycles, Hagerty Racing and PriorityHealth, including the en fuego Anthony Prentice, who’s been on the podium nearly every race this season as he attempts to move up to CAT 2 before his main goals coming up later in the season.

Saturday also brings the first ever edition of  The Grind presented by Short’s Brewery. The six-hour sufferfest at beautiful Boyne Mountain Resort features a world-class course and an ample supply of Short’s very finest. With Jorden Wakeley and Ron Sanborn off dominating the Mohican 100 in Ohio, many of the area’s best have the opportunity to take a win with the heavy-hitters out of town for the day. Registration is still wide open online so get signed up and go for glory. It’s also an excellent way to go all-too-familiar with the Boyne course ahead of the Boyne Marathon coming up in mid-July.

Sunday’s other option is the Hanson Hills Challenge in Grayling. One of the most enjoyable courses on the MMBA circuit, as well as the most balanced, Hanson Hills suits the all-around riders rather than climbers or mashers. The improving weather for Sunday should ensure a massive turnout for the race, which features a 10.5 mile course with three laps for Expert/Elite, two laps for sport and one for beginners. It’s one of the more challenging events in the state but well worth the trip for those looking for a tried and true mountain bike race this summer. It’s the sort of race that draws riders from all over the state, including a massive showing from Cross Country Cycle. At the moment, it is in the plans for kolo t.c. to make the road race before switching happily onto fat tires for the Hanson Hills race. Expect some wonderful photos and recaps this weekend!

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