It’s a bit of a tradition that rides limp across the Traverse city Trails Festival finish line and slip into the Boardman River just a few yards away. Hot, tired, and caked in dust, it’s a refreshing way to take a deep breath. Spectators and family members, even fellow racers, typically crowd the bank and ask how it went. It usually takes a second before they get an answer.
This year, it’s hard to offer a prediction even before the race takes place. Th 40 and 25 mile races get just a few minor tweaks by Race Director Tom White, but the winning recipe remains the same; give riders just a few miles to shake things out, then chuck them into singletrack. Tactics, skill, and just a bit of luck play big roles, but at the end of the day, it really does come down to being able to thread together a relatively mistake-free race.
The 25 mile is the XCO distance and this year deservedly gets a nice boost to the start list. The Expert field has over 50 riders between both men and women, and nestled in there are a few nuggets of talent worth keeping an eye on. Last year’s winner, Garrett Jenema, has bumped up to the 40, which means current SOL World Champion and John O’Hearn enter as the big favorites. Kent McNeil and Paul Olson should also be in the mix, with our own Wes Sovis and Tim Bottrell also more than capable of a podium overall if they can ride without any errors late.
On the women’s side, Chelsey Schlicht, Beth Grassa, and Erica O’Hearn should lead the charge, with Cindy Duby also a strong bet in the singletrack. It’s a strong field that will have a really interesting dynamic. These ladies will likely end up mixed in with big groups of men, and it’ll be critical for them to stay on each other’s wheels to be able to react to any gaps or attacks.
The 40 mile race sees Jorden Wakeley enter as the favorite, with Jeff Owens registered but not 100% sure of racing. That would mean the only podium racer from 2018 returning is Cody Sovis, who would be the first to point out that, sometimes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut. Dan Ellis has shown himself a new rider in the singletrack and should figure in the top five places, as will Josh Zelinski. JZ has few rivals in the title of smoothest singletrack riders, and it’ll be a treat to follow his wheel on race day. Sunset Scott and Garrett Jenema both enter as podium contenders, with Jenema entering as the SOL yellow jersey after Stage One and having a stellar spring and summer so far. The wildcard of the weekend has to be Luke Tjosvold. He is perhaps the best singletrack rider in town, though he’s lacked the fitness to really be in races over the past few months. He’s definitely shown himself stronger and, if he can see Wakeley or Sunset’s rear wheel over the top of the climb up from Ranch Rudolf, he’s got a real chance.
As exciting as these fields are, there’s really no doubt about which race is the most exciting. The 40 mile women’s Expert/Elite field is STACKED, and all of Traverse City should be proud to have this many women taking on such a tough course. Aged from 29 (Chelsea Lubben) to 62 (Beth Collins) and ranging from long-time racers to relative newbies, It’s going to be a close race, too, and on paper, it’s tough to pick a top five between all the strong riders. Laura Webb, Amie Elve, and Megan Doerr have the miles in the legs this year, but we’d never count out Marylin Kamp or the ultra smooth Meghan Sarna. Wes has picked his neighbor, Courtney Greening, to impress, so toss her name on top of the pile, too.
With so much singletrack, there are a number of important chokepoints and segments, but we’re thinking one will be the most telling. Our BOLD PREDICTION for the race? You’ll be able to tell the final results by the segment results on Strombolis Lake. It’s late in both races and a dead-leg 25 miles into the 40 miler and offers both flow and a few grinding climbs; how riders tackle that 3.5 miles of trail will be really telling into how they’ve survived the race so fat and gives an idea of what they have left.
Late and day-of registration is 4-7 Friday at Ranch Rudolf, and 7-9am Saturday morning. Get off the fence and get into the woods.