The Canadians came calling in Kalkaska and stormed away with two impressive victories at the largest mountain bike race in North America.
The Pro race was front and center under surprisingly clear, sunny skies in Northern Michigan. With rain nearly all the week leading up and more in the forecast, it was a pleasant revelation that the sun still exists north of Cadillac. With yet another stacked field in both the Men’s and Women’s races, riders were calling the course “perfect”. Aside from a few sprawling mud puddles, the course was dried up and very fast.
There would be no repeat winners, with last year’s winners both Sam Schultz and Georgia Gould both skipping the race. That meant that the returning Todd Wells would have a shot to act out his intentions on victory, with last year’s runner up, Geoff Kabush, the most likely to challenge. BMC’s Stephen Ettinger wore his US National Champion’s jersey to the line, with Russell Finsterwald and Jeremiah Bishop headlining the imported talent. Locals Mike Simonson, Dan Korienek, Jorden Wakeley, Brian Matter and a whole slew of other were also up for the race.
The Women’s field was headlined by last year’s third place finisher Emily Batty, though 2011 World Champion Catherine Pendrel returned for after a one year hiatus. Chloe Woodruff and Amanda Sin were the worrisome big names, with locals Mackenzie Woodring, fourth last year, leading the likes of Lauri Brockmiller, Kati Krikke, Sue Stephens and others in hot pursuit.
The Men’s race went off and almost immediately the battle for positioning began to take its toll. Three riders were walking before the race was off the pavement, while a whole slew of others were in trouble after a tight left-hander forced the whole race to a near standstill. The positioning paid off; while the likes of Bishop, Wells, Ettinger and other were sprinting on the front end of the pile-up, other riders were unclipped and scrambling to get through.
The miles ticked off and more mechanicals claimed riders. Finsterwald rode almost the whole day on a wheel that barely turned. With 35km to go, BISSELL’s Alex Vanias was brake-checked over the bars, his wheel tacoed and his day done. Single riders were knocked out as the miles wore on, and the lead group dwindled in number, especially through the tighter singletrack ahead of Sand Lakes.
From there, it was a matter of horsepower. Bishop, Kabush, Ettinger, Wells, Matter and others forced the issue. Eight riders survived the VASA’s hills to make the final selection into Timber Ridge’s new finish loop. It was a race to the flyover, with Jorden Wakeley one of the riders just out of touch of the leaders and running out of real estate just a mile from the line. The pros had scouted out the new finishing loop, and Geoff Kabush knew leading was the best place to be. He stayed on the gas from the flyover to lead to the bottom of a steep descent into singletrack and had the gas to stay on the nose of things with Todd Wells storming to the line. He held of Wells, with Bishop shaking his head as he rolled in third, with Brian Matter fourth ahead of Stephen Ettinger.
The Women’s race’s main selection came on the brutal, loose ascent of Anita’s Hill. The short, steep wall of a climb is a terror for locals, but Catherine Pendrel went to the fore and laid down a brutal pace. Only Chloe Woodruff kept pace, clinging to Pendrel’s wheel and scarcely having the energy to cast a backward glance to the chasers disappearing behind. Mackenzie Woodring recovered over the top to give chase, with Emily Batty stuck gapped. Woodruff’s time on Pendrel’s wheel was short, with the Canadian steamrolling away to the win. Behind, Woodring recovered beautifully to come within touch of Woodruff, but ultimately short for an historic third place for Einstein Racing.
Some great rides all over, including solid efforts from Cole House, Mike Simonson, Jorden Wakeley, Ryan Kennedy, Joe Thomas, Matt Acker and a ton of Michigan riders. On the women’s side, Cooper Dendel reaffirmed she’s the future, with Sue Stephens, Lauri Brockmiller and Kati Krikke all putting in great rides.
Thanks to everyone who volunteered, supported the race, made travel plans to attend, and those who came out to watch. It takes a lot to make Iceman the biggest race in North America, and it doesn’t happen without everyone coming together.