The biggest target of the fat bike season is just a few days a week, and the creme of the fat bike crop is locked in for the trip to Marquette.
It’s an important date for a variety of reasons, chief among them the opportunity to rides bikes and drink beer in one of Michigan’s best towns, Marquette, but it’ll be a serious few hours on the bike for racers looking for victory or simply survive the grueling 50km course.
Weather conditions look frigid, with the long-range high for the day lingering around 9 degrees on race day. The wind could be a factor during the lake crossings, where the wide-open expanses could make for a long slog for riders already feeling the miles.
The top guns are back from last year, and they’ve already ridden brilliantly in their preparation races. Jorden Wakeley returns with ambitions of breaking his own course record and is ready to deliver. His training has been entirely focused on the event, and if the Giant of Grayling is that focused on an event, it’s tough to imagine anything less than an aircraft, a flight suit and a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
Danielle Musto is also back and her January run of form has been equally impressive. Firsts all the way around and with a comfortable margin at all events, she’s also focusing on racing her time of last year for competition. Like Wakeley, she enters the race with no established challenger, though that doesn’t mean she’ll settle for anything less than her very best in fat biking’s biggest race.
Throughout the field, however, there are racers worthy of a podium place. Musto’s teammate Jill Martindale has been consistently on the pointy end of things at crunch time. Her gutsy ride at Fat Chance!, stealing second place away in the final lap, plus a solid third place at Farmer’s, proves she’s got the form to attempt to give Grand Rapids two riders in the top three.
April Morgan, second last year, is also back and is flying somewhat under the radar. She opted to ride the shorter route at GLFBS’ first race in December, but is up for the full 50km again at Noque. She may have find some allies in the form of Einstein Racing’s three-women contingent. Arianne Whittaker, Chelsea Strate and Stacy Smith will all be on hand to try to tack on another podium. Chelsea Strate has lead the team thus far, and she’ll be the best bet to challenge. If the course is fast, Whittaker should also play a factor if she’s still in touch in the finale.
The Men’s field won’t resign itself to racing simply for second, and there’s firepower a plenty to give chase, or work Wakeley over if his patented attack-from-the-gun-and-hold-on tactic doesn’t work in the opening miles. Evan Simula’s form is on the rise, and Nate Versluis is also back for Farm Team Racing, along with teammate Steve Bartzen. Eric Stanke had a solid ride last year and could be ready to step up in 2014. Dan Jansen, THAT Dan Jansen, is podium threat and almost a lock for a top ten.
Craig Webb will also make his first start and should be in the hunt. He’s one of the few riders to challenge Wakeley’s times at Speed of Light and Iceman, though it could take a bad day from Wakeley or a lot of help from others to stay tight on the wheel of the big race favorite.
Einstein Racing had a field day in 2013, with then-rider Wakeley taking the win and slotting riders in 3rd, 4th and 5th in the top five. This year, they bring a reshuffled and perhaps deeper line-up, even if it is without the race favorite. Jason Lowetz was third last year, and enters as co-leader with Sean Kickbush and Nate St. Onge. Kickbush was second at Fat Chance!, and Nate St. Onge is on the form of his life entering his Worlds debut. Ryan Kennedy is also back after fifth last year. They also start Jason Whittaker, an Ironman and Ice Bike top five rider from Iceman. They also have Jim Picotte, Keith Conway and Bryan Upcraft.
Worlds is this Saturday, January 25 in Marquette, Michigan. Be there. Unless you’re working.