Wherein the racers, fans and organizers got exactly what they asked for.
The final race of the 2012 season in Northern Michigan was always going to be exciting, fast and fun, but the weather threw in an added dash of awesome. A revamped, tougher course was made even more difficult as the day wore on, capping a brilliant first season of cyclocross the Northern Lower. Einstein Cycles and North Country Cycle Sport couldn’t have dreamed for a better way to put an end on an outstanding season.
The C race kicked off the day with a light snow falling at the start. From the gun, Don Fedrigon of Hagerty Cycling wove through the field to take the lead after a half a lap, with kolotc.com rider Rob Goepfrich battling to hold his wheel. The pair slowly pulled away from the back, with Rob looking a little smoother over the barriers and in tighter sections, while Don pushed a massive gear over the open flat sections.
Only just behind, Jim Picotte battled hard to regain contact with Rob, and eventually made contact. With Fedrigon pulling away, Rob and Jim began playing cat and mouse with a lot of racing left to go. Picotte raced like a real veteran, trying to force Rob to the front to work, but Rob stayed cool and alert. Picotte had some trouble with two laps to go and Rob bounced, attacking from the front when just the hint of a gap opened up and holding the advantage to the line. For Rob, it was a breakthrough race and his first up off the third step of the season.
Kimberlee Kelley took the Women’s C race unopposed, and with Hailey Fogo sitting out the Junior race in favor of hot cocoa and Christmas carols, Zac Backus took the win after informing officials he would be completing all four laps instead of just two. Backus’ win gave his NCSS squad a clean sweep of the Junior race on the season, and his grimacing face battling in the snow and win was perhaps the Ride of the Day.
Of special note was the Kid’s Race, which featured the first Schmidt of the race with Carter taking the win ahead of a packed field, with brother Jameson riding hard on tiny wheels, and Gavin, Reese and a host of other battling the terrible conditions to complete a very tough lap.
The Men’s B race was again a veritable firestorm in spite of tumbling temperatures and an increasing snowfall. John Leach of Einstein Racing came out swinging, taking the hole shot and a lined-out field into the trees with Steve Andriese of Hagerty Cycling chasing hard, and this time on a legal bike. In perhaps the tightest first two laps of the season, the bunch rode together early, with Leach pulling away Andriese, teammate Ryan Bolin and the dreams of victory away from a decisive split. Hagerty-TOLaw U-25 captain Jake Ellis was in no-man’s land just behind the lead group with Einstein Racing’s Jason Whittaker in the same boat a few meters back for almost all of the race.
Mickey Humpula of Einstein Racing rode away from a massive chase group, successfully holding off an organized chase for nearly the entire race. That chase group, spots 7-12, consisted of Wes Sovis (Hagerty-TOLaw U-25), Ross Gibbs (NCCS), Craig Webb (Hagerty Cycling) Jason Luther (Algoma Bicycle Co.), Cody Sovis (same as Wes) and Aaron Kitscher. With three men in the group, Yours Truly went to the front for five laps to try and control the spritely Ross Gibbs and Jason Luther. Behind, Craig Webb made designs to lead out Wes, with Gibbs riding like a seasoned pro in second position and watching carefully over his shoulder. With a lap to go, Gibbs hit the front through the sand and led to the start/finish. Cody Sovis put in a fierce attack to take the lead for much of the lap, lining out the group and drawing an increasingly anxious Jason Luther to the fore. On the tight corner off the pavement, Luther did a Slip and Slide imitation down into the ditch, sending Cody into the tap and opening up the gap for Wes to ride off with a well-placed Gibbs on his wheel.
Ahead, Leach took the win ahead of Bolin with Andriese left to settle for a great third place. Jake Ellis, pulling himself inside out, bridged up to the lead group briefly and took an impressive fourth place ahead of Jason Whittaker in fifth. With Humpala safely in sixth, Gibbs and Wes Sovis duked it out in the final 500 meters, and Ross smartly rode to take seventh in a two-up sprint decided by inches.
The Women’s A race boasted the 1-2 spots of the last race, joined by Katie Tomszak. After leading for two laps, Einstein Racing’s Chelsea Strate watched Johanna Schmidt ride away into the snow. By now, conditions were deteriorated with every lap. Into the blizzard rode Schmidt, pounding out a steady pace that gave her her second win in as many tries and Chelsea Strate her second podium as well. Katie finished with her ski googles iced over, but she was smiling and happy with her race.
The Men’s A saw the return of the original trio. North Country Cycle Sport’s Chad Wells and John Cowan were back with Jorden Wakeley yanked out of his deer blind to lead a stacked Einstein Racing squad that included Ty Schmidt and Jason Lowetz. Wells withstood Lowetz’s trademark hole shot sprint to seize and early lead with only John Cowan riding at the same pace. NCCS’ Todd Friedinger rode tough in fourth place most of the day, getting caught by a slow-starting Jorden Wakeley as the Tower of Power charged through the field. If he had any chance, it was gone with a bad start. Chad Wells caught and dropped Lowetz, bunny hopping the barrier and riding what was supposed to be a run-up. In two laps, Wells had the victory in the bag, with the only question of the order of the podium behind him. Cowan rode steady and held off some early bridge attempts from the bare-legged Wakeley, with the entire field riding in a dumping snow.
The race started with open green grass, and in just over an hour, well over an inch of heavy, wet snow had completely changed the landscape. The run-up became slick and racers were struggling to make it up and over, though the massive crowd urged them on. The Lion of Flanders flew high and the percussion section gave the riders a great boost, as did the Twinkie and Twizzler hand-ups all over the course.
Wells cruised in for his first victory at Cross the Bay, with John Cowan taking a well-deserved second place with Wakeley battling all the way to third. Todd “Diesel” Friedinger took fourth, another solid finish on the day and one of the more inspiring chases in any category.
A huge thanks goes out to every one at Einstein Cycles and North Country Cycles Sport for all their work in putting together Northern Michigan’s first cyclocross series. We also need to thank Bike Lab, the USAC officials and all the racers who made this so much fun and such a huge success.
All the photos are up right here.
Here’s the Strava info from Yours Truly.