If they’re on hand, good luck.
Riders were having flashbacks to the 2014 Iceman Cometh mudpacolypse this morning, as a steady night’s rain lingered into the morning hours and, like an unwelcome house guest, plopped down over the State Hospital and ate the last of our Cheetos. A day-long drizzle waited only until the last lap of the Elite race to finally shove off, and in the meantime, racers were treated to wet and muddy trails and a greasy, rocky and spectator-laden descent for the ages.
The Elite fields were small to begin with, but discretion played the better part of valor for a number of riders, including last year’s winner Lauri Brockmiller and Hagerty’s Ross Williams. They were reduced further all too early, when a bad crash took Ty Schmidt out of the running, and John Leach played the role of good human to make sure he got out of the woods okay. Leach was essentially rescued three years ago when Michelle Howard did the same thing, and Leach paid the kindness forward in the type of action that makes Traverse City such a great cycling community.
For the leaders, however, there was only the flexing of muscle over the first ascent. Einstein Racing’s Cody Sovis fired the opening salvo, taking the hole shot and lining out the field over the gravel road to the base of the climb. Once the trail titled up, however, M-22’s Sean Kickbush took aim. On the 11% grade, it was a study in contrasting styles for the first 30 yards of elevation, with Kickbush flailing and stomping out of the saddle, while OAM Now’s Alex Vanias, a big race favorite, was in the saddle and pedaling perfect circles. The duo inched clear of Sovis, with Super Expert Jeff Owens making contact near the top, but later the victim of Elite-level crossfire.
Kickbush’s advantage was reduced at the end of the first lap and it was The Lion of Leroy’s turn on the second ascent. He inched out an agonizing gap over the next circuit, turning 15 seconds to 20 and 20 to 30, just out of reach until he was just out of sight. Over the remainder of the race he would put those types of seconds into Kickbush, with the top three riders of the day each riding their own time trial, while fourth place rider (and just way cool dude) Tim Bottrell battled on.
The descent was an absolute show, and it was Kickbush taking the biggest risks to close the gap. While he lost 15-20 seconds per lap, behind him Sovis was ceding roughly forty-five seconds, finding himself just over a minute and a half down at the halfway mark but fading late, especially with a mechanical on the last loop.
Time gaps were open and entertaining in the women’s race, with Beth Craven using her descending skills to put heavy favorite Kaitlyn Patterson a minute down after one. Patterson waited and measured, learned the mud, steep descent and let her climbing talents bring her back into the lead after four laps. That fifth lap, with both women well aware of each other, was the fastest for both Craven and Patterson, with Patterson staying steady to take the win.
Vanias’ runner-up at MSB and win at CtV are worth a blush, but Kaitlyn’s perfect May is one for the ages. The pair also took the illustrious Speed of Light Giro Competition over the same span, and sit looking solid for a WorldTour run by the end of summer.
You can find full results here.