The second race of the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series is on the horizon, and locals had a chance last Friday to hit the actual course. It’s going to be the fastest fat bike race in history.
The mostly-weekly Friday Night Lights Ride from Einstein Cycles gave locals a great preview of the course last Friday, with some of the favorites on hand to check out the wrinkles that make the first-ever fat bike race at the North American Vasa different from the ski events. For the riders looking to take the Fatathalon titles, which combines the 27km ski and 27km fat bike times of racers, it’s an important check-in to see where time could be won or lost on tired legs in the late afternoon sun of February 8.
Einstein Racing’s Jason Whittaker, Jason Lowetz, Sean Kickbush and Dave Walston, as well as Hagerty’s Craig Webb, took on the full course Friday to inspect the Jack Pine Bypass and the big curveball of the race, Logger’s Run.
Out of Timber Ridge, however, it’s less than a half a mile before the first short but steep climb, with another a quarter of a mile later. These will split the pack, but it should be a select group of front runners that hit the reverse side of the Vasa CC Climb together. If anyone is going to keep race favorites Jorden Wakeley and Matt Acker in sight, this is where they’ll have to hang tough. There’s one more unnamed climb at 2.74 miles in, but the big tests come on the twin Vasa Climbs. Vasa Climb 1 is a bit misleading on paper, as it comes at the bottom of the descent of Anita’s Hill. Good bike handlers will still have a little bit of momentum on the lower, gradual slopes and be able to power over the steeper sections of the climb in the final quarter mile of the climb. The descent of Anita’s could actually be just as selective as the climbs that follows it; speeds of over 30 miles an hour into a tough right hand bend should favor the bike handlers like Wakeley, Lowetz and Nate St. Onge.
The Vasa Climb 2 comes in at .7 miles with a 4% average gradient, but that includes the myriad small rises going into it. There are multiple sections that go over 10% in gradient, plus a long drag over the top. This is the chance to make a move, as there are just a few more ripples in the next two miles to really get separation for those with climbing legs.
After a final short steep ascent across the metal powerline, the course is essentially a 9km leadout to the finish. Speeds here should be 15-17mph for the leaders, and at those speeds, it’ll be tough to make up ground, or open a gap for anyone trying to make a move from the bunch. Here, if there is anyone with Wakeley, they’ll likely force him to do the pacemaking and hope for a sprint. Acker is an explosive rider and would be a big challenge if Wakeley is at all tired from pulling into the finish.
The wrinkle is the left hand turn onto Logger’s Run. That trail wasn’t well groomed on Friday, but it should be perfect by race day. It is much narrower than the Vasa, and if there are any bunches together, it’ll be a race to hit Logger’s Run in the front four positions. From the turn, it’s two miles to the finish, with a wide-open sprint to the line, if there’s anyone still capable of sprinting after spending the last hour at full gas.
You can check out Webb’s Strava file and map of the course here.