While we’ve seen more top heavy years than 2017, there hasn’t been as deep a field in MSB history, and every single spot will be hard-earned on Saturday.
For Grand Rapids, it’s the famous Yankee Springs TT. For Traverse City, two weeks behind on weather, racing, and usually pop music, it’s MSB. The annual rite of spring returns to Mt. Holiday on May 6, and somehow comes with its almost perfect track record of perfect weather looking #SOLID.
The new course, laid out by NMMBA, gives some tired singletrack a break for 2017, and engineers some important pieces that might help to expand options to the southeast. The new section comes near the halfway mark on a route that draws inspiration from Speed of Light, the Iceman, and some of the original MSB routes. It’s an extremely fast race, with a few tough climbs that give the race some shape. Willpower Hill, Icebreaker, the Boonenberg, and a singletrack version of the Vasa CC Climb make up for the exclusion of Anita’s Hill. There’s also the short climb up the back of Mt. Holiday at the end to contend with, and there isn’t much room to pass on the descent to the line.
We won’t see Jorden Wakeley continue his streak at MSB, or runner-up Alex Vanias. Wakeley is heading to Arkansas for marathan MTB Nationals, while we assume Alex is rollerskating somewhere instead. You have to look to the final spot on the podium last year, Scott Quiring, for the top returning rider. The rest of the top ten is back, including Luke Tjsosvold, Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy, and Cody Sovis, plus the on-form duo of Jason Johnson and Tyler Weston.
That would be a strong field as it is, but it isn’t even the start of contenders. Keen sends Tim Pulliam, John “Juan Mo Time” Holberg, and big race favorite Jeff Owens to the line, as well as Shawn Luca, Eric Mannix, Marc Brunette and Mike Powers. Then, there’s Eric Grassa and Chad Wells. Kennedy and Tjosvold lose Sovis, but add Jason Lowetz and reigning Short Track State Champion Tim Coffey, with Sovis gaining a Norte teammate and future dual skier/MTB world champion Cam Owens. Just for shits, toss in Rob Martin, Ryan Harris, and the indomitable Brian Barsheff, and you have one ridiculous field.
On the women’s side, it’s the classic MSB field now that Kaitlyn Patterson is off being Doctor Quinn, Mountain Bike Racer. Susan Vigland was runner-up last year and she’s done this before, and she’s got some firepower on her side. Laura Webb, Marie Voss, and Bridgett Widrig, are all more than capable of winning. They’ll have to balance and team ambitions to hold off the likes off Beth Craven and Lauri Brockmiller. It may be a small field, but every single one of those riders could easily win, although nothing about the actual victory would be lightly earned.
Looking to watch the race? Aside from the deck at Mt. Holiday, the race’s Icebreaker entrance certainly provides a cool spot to watch the race unfold and the legs field blow to bits. Of course, you’d be a damned fool to hit TC’s east side without stopping at Breakaway Cafe. They have burritos there. And cookies.
We’ll have a race recap Saturday night.