A true Iceman and some amazing racing. The 23rd edition of the country’s biggest race didn’t disappoint.
The Iceman Cometh once again drew thousands of cyclists to Northern Michigan for a sprint from Kalkaska to Traverse City. The November start drew typical weather; rain, snow, sleet and hail, all within a few minutes. The early waves, starting at 9am, hit the trail to 32 degree weather and fast, wide open two track with a picturesque dusting of freshly fallen snow. The honor of hitting the woods first goes to Einstein Racing’s Ty Schmidt, who, it should be noted, was bare-legged. Don’t worry, he’s Canadian.
While the official numbers are kept under wraps, word on the street is that 5,200 people started today. That number included former Iceman winners, state champions, first time riders and folks that stopped and had lunch. The wide array worked well to pack the sand pits and washed out sections, but also churned the portions of black dirt into peanut buttery thick black mud for the Pro classes leaving late in the afternoon.
The temperature never got above 36 degrees in the start town of Kalkaska, and the snow stuck in a thin sheet in spots along the 29 mile course. The Men’s field, led by Sam Schultz, Brian Matter, Jorden Wakeley, Troy Wells and Jeremey Horgan-Kobelski, warmed up quickly and took the line. The 1.5 mile asphalt sprint to the woods was larger uneventful, especially when juxtaposed to last year’s crash at 30 mph. The group hit the woods as one, but the choking off of the course isolated riders and the gaps started to open. A group of around 25 were already a few seconds up the road with myriad small groups giving a hearty chase. One crash in the middle of the pack put the nail in more than a few coffins as the trail narrowed again and four riders went down, blocking off the trail momentarily. Yours Truly may or may not have received an elbow to the back of the head whilst trying to get over and through the scrum.
That lead group whittled down more in the new singletrack section, dropping a handful in Schmidt’s trench and winding along Sand Lakes Road together at speed. Bodies were dropped again when the leaders hit the VASA, with Sam Schultz looking more and more in control with just over 5km to go and the leaders flying across Lands End Road. Michigan locals still had hopes of a hometown win with Mike Anderson marking wheels in the top five with four to go, and Jorden Wakeley not far behind and with singletrack still to come. Brian Matter couldn’t muster an attack as powerful as his 2010 move and had to settle for a sprint against Schultz, Geoff Kabush and Ben Sontag. Schultz flew by to take the win with Kabush just behind him and Brian Matter rolling across in third. Anderson held on for an outstanding 4th place and the Top Michigander prize (in addition to securing his Top Banana Competition win). Jorden Wakeley put in the ride of his career for 7th place, and proved that Michigan has some outstanding talent even when measured against the best of the Pros.
The Women’s race was just as exciting, with heavy favorite Georgia Gould taking on Emily Batty, Heather Irmiger, Judy Freeman and Mackenzie Woodring. Almost immediately, a group of five had a big lead over a disorganized chase. Gould, Batty, Irmiger, Woodring and Chloe Woodruff were working well and only a late crash involving Batty put the top five in doubt. The chase group was initially spearheaded by Sue Stephens, but riders were looking around and already trying to hold on to a top ten rather than chase too hard. After a few big pulls from Stephens, Cooper Dendel, and Abby Strigel, the group blew up over a few rolling hills with roughly 20km to go. Stephens dropped out and handed the reins to Erin Vicary, but the gaps were already there. Kati Krikke battled back to nearly catch Strigel but ran out of trail.
Ahead, Georgia Gould pulled away and won by over a minute, with Emily Batty leading in Heather Irmiger and Mackenzie Woodring. Woodring was the Top Michigander in 4th place, just one year after teammate Johanna Schmidt placed 6th, giving Einstein Racing two amazing results in the home event. Chloe Woodruff came in fifth, holding onto a solid finish in the mud and freezing conditions, no easy feat for the Tucson resident. Gould has now won her past three starts in a year she also took a bronze at the Olympics. PLUS, she got to meet Yours Truly yesterday. What a year for Gould, no?
Here’s the super-human Strava data from the incredibly fast Craig Webb, who finished 5th in the Men’s 51-52.
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