2021 Iceman Course + Wave Preview

If you haven’t had time to ride the course yet, here’s a quick summary of what lies ahead of you and 5,000 of your best friends on November 6. Some say the course is too easy. Some say it’s too hard. That usually means it’s just right. 

Iceman Course Distance + Elevation

At 28.5 miles long, it’s a bit shorter than what riders took on in 2019. But is this a “short” Iceman? Not really. Most Icemans in the 30+ editions of the race were under 30 miles, so 28.5 miles is pretty on par for a “normal” Iceman race distance. The 32 miles covered in 2019 was something of an anomaly – much more the variation on the norm than the distance we have to cover this year. 

Depending on your electronic computer device, the race elevation you’ll see on race day will be right around 1,200 vertical feet. For some, this may sound like a very flat edition of the race. While we are losing the Boonenberg and Anita’s in 2021, there are still some really tough climbs for riders to deal with. Toss in some sand and gradients over 10% on much of the more challenging climbs, this year’s race will be just as challenging as those you’ve taken on in the past. 

Make It Stick? Still there. VASA CCC Climb? It’s in and now even closer to the finish line than in the past. Icebreaker? If you don’t feel this climb at the end of the day, maybe you’re doing it wrong? 

We’re probably 200 vertical feet less than in past Iceman editions, but man, it’s not going to be easy. If it is too easy, you’re encouraged to race the Pro class. 

For a more in-depth look at the course this year, be sure to check out this post from the Iceman people.

Gravel Bikes? 

There have been some grumblings on social media about this race being too friendly to those who decide to ride gravel bikes. To me, that’s kind of a cool thing about Iceman and off-road bike racing in general. You can ride whatever bike you want in order to make this race a unique challenge for yourself. For most people, it’s not about winning, but rather setting a goal and giving it hell to meet that goal. Gravel bike? Go for it. 32 year-old Gary Fisher on 26” wheels and rim brakes? That’d be pretty badass. Whatever floats your boat, you do you. 

But after riding the course several times this year, I can say with a certain level of certainty that a gravel bike, particularly with gravel tires, is unlikely to be an advantage on race day. I say that for a few reasons. 

One, the sand, particularly at the Kalkaska end of the race, is going to be a massive challenge for everyone. Anyone running gravel tires is going to have to be a multi-time CX National Champion (a la Geoff Kabush) to be able to get through those sections and remain upright. And even he ran big tires in 2018, a year where the race featured a gravel road section. That section is not in the race this year. 

Second, the two-track sections may look like a boon for gravel bikes (and their big gearing) on paper, but it’s not quite that simple. Sure, it’s a two-track on a map, but you’ll see for yourself that the vast majority of these two-track sections only have one racing line. Ride in the other track and you’re going to be plowing through sand and roots. Passing in these sections will be super challenging, and likely neuter any advantage held by gravel bikes/gearing.

Lastly, some of the descents in this race are deceptively bonkers. Water bottle hill? It’s back this year and Dan Madion (a tooth remover by trade) is clearing his calendar on Monday morning after the race for riders who choose to ride rigid. There are also some sections where riders will ride on the grassy edge of a two-track to avoid sand – in many of these spots, the trail isn’t ridden in and is exceptionally rough. Like, spine-shatteringly rough. On a full-squish bike. A gravel bike? I can’t even imagine. 

Still want to ride your gravel bike? You totally should! It’ll be a hell of an accomplishment to tell your buddies about while sipping a Bell’s. You do you. Follow your heart. 

Iceman Wave Assignments

Trust me, I get it. To see yourself pushed back 2, 3, 5, or even 10 waves is probably a massive let down in 2021. But after taking a minute to think about it, it’s really not as bad as it may seem. Iceman organizers said they’ve reduced wave sizes by 25% or more this year, meaning as many as 50 people per wave were pushed back right alongside you.

Let’s do some light math. In 2021, most waves will be right around 100-105 people. Let’s factor in that at least five riders per wave won’t show. That would mean that wave 10 has 900 riders in front of them this year. Cool. 

In a “normal” Iceman year, waves have 130-140 people in them. Using the 140 number, wave 10 would usually have 1,260 people in front of them. So, even if you’re a few waves further back than normal, you’ll likely have the same or even fewer people in front of you than you would have in your usual wave. 

Final Takeaways

Be ready for some sand. If you have some wider tires, consider throwing them on to get you over the initial sand pits that await as soon as we leave the airport. Once we get across Williamsburg road, you simply can’t coast. The 25K and 10K sections will be insanely fast, with a few tough climbs thrown in there to whittle down groups before coming to the line at Timber Ridge. 

With smaller waves, making sure you get in a group will be crucial to ensure you have a draft on Sand Lakes Road and on the 25K. 

Most of all, be ready to be a positive person on the trail. It’s easy to get overhyped and pushy when you’re racing, but please remember that we all go to work on Monday. If you really think you’re hot shit, move on up to the Pro race. So try your best, push yourself, but be a good sport to those around you. After all, you’ll be sharing a Bell’s with them after, so you don’t want any side-eyes thrown your way. 

Rock and roll. Have fun. Oh, and help Iceman raise $1,000 to buy helmets for kids at Traverse Heights so they can ride and roll safe. 

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