With Worlds coming two days, the mercury has taken to skinny dipping down from “frigid” to “screw you”.
Thursday’s high is a rather stark 5 degrees, with a windchill below zero. As the riders start to gather in Marquette, the only respite from the very, very cold looks to be Friday. For the locals and early travelers, that should allow for some sharp and serious reconnoitering of the race course and the brilliant trail systems in Marquette. The city is a pioneer in fat bike advocacy, grooming and attitude, and with Noque’s race organizers recognizing this, it makes perfect sense that the ski race was one of the first to include fat bikes.
Race day looks to be the coolest date of the weekend, with a high of 6 degrees, but with an expected wind of 22 miles per hour. While much of the course is in the trees, the lake crossings, especially the first one just a few miles into the race, could blow open gaps made by the first steep climb coming out of the start.
This one is only easy to pick for the top steps. Jorden Wakeley and Danielle Musto have been completely untouchable on fat bikes for the past two years. The only time Wakeley wasn’t the winner, he broke a chain 50 meters into the race at Fat Camp!, where he was also forced to quit early after riding without a light in the dark.
Behind those two, however, both the men’s and women’s races are wide open. There are at least five riders on each side that could take second place, and it’s impossible to tell who will be on their best day. Some variables that could make a difference include how riders adapt to the cold and wind, and how good the course is after the skiers are through. In faster conditions, watch for Sean Kickbush, Ryan Kennedy, Jason Lowetz and Nate St. Onge of Einstein Racing, as well as Hagerty’s Craig Webb. Evan Simula will be in the hunt as well, though he might do better in slower, sloppier conditions. Though he’s not on the start list, Tyler Gauthier could return to mount a defense of his podium last season. Einstein’s deep stable also includes Jason Whittaker, a rider who gets better as the race goes on and could play a major factor if he’s in a group in the final few miles.
Behind Musto, there’s a surplus of quality racers who could hop into second place. April Morgan will be looking to repeat that result of last year, though the depth of competition looks a bit more complete in 2014. Jill Martindale would like nothing better than to give GRBC a 1-2, and she’ll need to keep Morgan in touch throughout the day. Einstein Racing’s three-pronged spear of Arianne Whittaker, Stacy Smith and Chelsea Strate are also primed for the big target of the year. In good conditions, watch for Whittaker and Smith to stay in touch for a long ways off the gun, and keep in mind that no one is as good in the extreme cold as Strate, who is known for sunbathing in temperatures under 20 degrees. Minnesota is a strange place, and she’s the queen of it. The dark horse going in is probably Melissa Colflesh. A solid mountain biker that got better every start last summer, she’s on the start list and a touch under the radar….until now. You’re welcome.
Check back tomorrow for links how to receive text and email updates of riders and skiers from Noque. Nicky is on it, everyone. It’s on her list of things to do today.