There’s a scene in “Staying Alive” that reminds me of the North American Vasa. STAY WITH ME ON THIS!
It’s the scene where John Travolta has just one the gyration competition and he’s on top of the world. Little did John know, by and large, it would be all downhill from 1983 to today. But he didn’t know that then, and he went for the most memorable strut in cinematic history.
The connection here is that the North American Vasa is the chance for Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association groomers to show off a bit, too. Every winter, John Roe gets his cronies to take their A-game up a notch for one full week in February and mold the snow into something beautiful…and fast.
Winter has been halting this year, and racers from all over the state are constantly refreshing their weather apps to see what February 8 is going to look like. With a thick base still very much intact and freezing overnight temperatures leading into race day, the course should need a quick scrape to add some texture and be ready for an incredibly quick day. The high is a near-perfect 28 degrees, and the later start for the fat bike events means the snow may even have a bit of time to corn up if the sun pops out.
The Vasa Fat Bike Race is a bit of a curveball in the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series. While the other events have shifted to short, circuit-style, time-based formats that are awesome for spectators, the Vasa has stuck with its traditional long lap set-up, and with good reason. The 35km race uses a mix of Riley’s Loop and the Winter Sports Trail, a singletrack that’s manicured as often as needed for months. Traverse City has some of the best fat bike riding around, and the Vasa is a unique way to experience the trail on a route you’d probably never ride on your own.
It’s a course that offers little in the way of elevation but a lot on tactics. It’s very much like Paris-Roubaix in that the hardest efforts are often the final sixty seconds heading into a section of singletrack, with the best bike handlers hoping to lead into the tight stuff and flex their muscles. Meanwhile, the roadie-types are looking to get in first and ride at their own paces, only to open things up on the other end and gap those stuck behind. With two laps to tackle, the first circuit is about positioning and looking over rivals for weak spots.
Smarts will certainly come into play for many in the pack, and that might be the most important focus for Series runner-up Kyan Olshove. Sitting tied on points with Nick Wierzba after two races, Kyan has a world of potential but a lot to learn in a bunch. Luckily, he’ll have plenty of allies if it comes down to chasing Series leader and heavy favorite Jorden Wakeley. Wakeley sits 25 points clear, with Eric Langley and Levi Meyer filling out the top five.
A few years back, Susan Vigland swept the Series en route to the title, and she’s picked up where she’s started. With a perfect 400 points to match Wakeley’s tally, Susan will be looking to stay perfect on Saturday. After a recon last weekend, she’s ready to defend a 15 point lead to Erin Reicha, with Anabel Miller another 5 points back.
We may have only had two races to go by, by Rob Richardson has proven to be a winter force. Also two-for-two, Rob has been markedly consistent since the season started at Fat and Flurrious, and he’s going to have a bulls-eye on his back this weekend. Much like Kyan’s recruiting efforts, Paul Olson may have to organize a chase if things shake out with Rob up the road on Saturday. If the old adage of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is true, then it won’t take long to get a few corners ahead and hope to cruise away. Kris Sands, Jim Jackovatz, and Todd Wanley all have skin the Series, too, making the top five in the Master’s category one of the most interesting.
Two races, two winners, and only two entrants so far in the Women’s Masters category, with Kim Fisher and Wendy Britain both at 200 points. With three races left, any woman could still show up, throwdown, and seize the title. Taking the win at the Vasa would be one efficient way to get that started.
Online registration for the 35km and 17km races is open here, with registration at Timber Ridge Friday from 2-8pm and day-of starting at 7:30am.
Check out the 2020 Series standing right here.