Rock Road 50/50 Race Preview: Simonson, Wakeley, Kennedy Headline

2013 Northmen Cross - 2

A new race, a new challenge, and the chance to be the first winner of Traverse City’s gravel road race. 

It’s a race tough to peg. It’s 90% gravel roads, but some of the most selective parts of the Rock Road 50/50 look more like something you’d see at the Iceman Cometh. TC’s new race has drawn interest for a challenging, relentless course that has riders debating which bike to ride, which tires to run, and who to mark on race day, September 21.

There’s still over a week to decide, but the head of the race has confirmed some fast riders. For Mike Simonson and Jorden Wakeley, it’s a battle between former teammates on an all-new course. Simonson has certainly put more focus on the gravel events in 2014, but Wakeley hasn’t done much aside from win, and the duo will enter as the two big names-and targets-expected to win. It’s a chance for Ryan Kennedy to jump up to the next level, and if Simonson and Wakeley mark each other out, then it may be time for “Mr. President” to toss his name into the ring for top honors.

Aside from the top three, it’s hard to say who’ll play a role in the finale, but with so many big names on the line, it’s hard to believe anyone will be let up the road for long. M-22 enters Sean Kickbush, who is building for a strong fall that includes a big red circle on Peak2Peak and the Iceman Cometh. Hagerty Cycling is tossing in Hal BeVier as its team leader, with a possible anchor with Craig Webb, too. BeVier is riding at a high level this fall and, with the support of the consummate teammate Lars Welton, should certainly be in touch late. KEEN has Tim Pulliam, Eli Brown, Mike Powers and others, and if they survive the early moves, they will have numbers in the lead group and the mentality to attack. Einstein Racing has already stated that its goal is to help Ryan Kennedy win, even if that detracts from its chances in the Team Competition. Kennedy will count on Jason Whittaker, Eric Pollard, Nate St. Onge and Cody Sovis to be of some assistance early.

For those looking at the course, don’t let the total elevation fool you; there’s hardly a mile of truly flat road on the whole course. If the three miles of Vasa 25km Pathways doesn’t break up the race in the opening minutes, the four bergs that follow it will. The Broomenberg and the Mabelberg are short and sharp, but will do a lot to weaken legs and minds ahead of the Kennenberg. It’s steep (gradients up to 15%), loose in spots and spills into a technical downhill, but even that pales in comparison to the Wesselberg. The Wesselberg is actually a series of short, steep pitches over nearly two miles. Any gaps coming off the Kennenberg will be exacerbated on the Wesselberg, with the fastest part of the course coming a few miles later.

While not flat, the run from River Road to Broomhead is the fastest, but still rough and tumble, especially if the rain lets up and gets dry. It’s here where the first tactical decisions of the race will come up; for Wakeley and Simonson, how much work to put in to keep others from catching back on? For the likes of Kennedy, BeVier, Power, Brown and the other team leaders, work and keep the other teams’ from rejoining, or sit in and let the lead group re numerate?

The women’s field is slowly adding names, and like the men’s, it’s like an honor roll of TC’s fastest. Hagerty sends it dynamic duo of Lauri Brockmiller and Susan Vigland, while Einstein Racing counters with Beth Collins and Stacy Smith. It should serve as a great preview to the fall’s big battles, and a safe sort of dry run for Iceman Cometh a month and a half before the big one.

Registration is open here.

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