It’s difficult to believe that ideal race-day temperatures in the 60s for a November event in Northern Michigan would garner disappointment.
But if the race is the Iceman Cometh Challenge, well then, the name explains the chagrin. This is Michigan, after all, and what else would 4,000 winter-hardened Midwesterners like better at their mountain bike season-ender than tearing it up with Old Man Winter?
Beer? Well, yeah, but that comes after racing the Iceman.
“I like snow,” says Race Director Steve Brown, otherwise known as the Iceman. “Last year it was 34 and two weeks later we were cross-country skiing at the finish area.”
It may have been a touch chilly when the first of 30 waves began crossing the startline in Kalkaska, Michigan at 9 a.m. Saturday on the way to the finish some 28 miles through the woods near Traverse City. But by late morning things were positively balmy.
So what if the warmth tamed the Iceman into the Niceman; it just showcased an already classic day of a bikes, brews and burning quads.
And even though the hard-core say they relish racing in the snow and cold, there is something to be said about a picture-perfect fall day in the Northern woods — particularly for family, friends and finish-line frivolity.
“This is just huge,” U.S. cycling stalwart and Michigan homeboy Frankie Andreu says of the Iceman vibe. “Overall it’s better to have good weather; people don’t bail out.”
Pourin’ it on
If five different — and slammed — micro-brewers and accompanying food vendors were any indication at the finish area, not many of the 4,000 racers and their supporters bailed after the race.
And depending how one takes on the actual Iceman Cometh Challenge, bailing is likely dictated on how hard each person pours it on.
For those rolling a race pace, a sub-two hour finish is the goal. This year top pro men finished in 1 hour 35 minutes (plus change), while the women were about 10 minutes behind. Male age-group winners were roughly 1:45 while the women rolled in around 2 hours.
The 28-mile, point-to-point course is largely flat, peppered with rollers and a few short, steep hills — Anita’s Hill being a late-race bitch that many riders hiked.
“This is totally different from doing laps around a ski area,” Brown says of the Iceman track.
For the technically challenged, the forested course is rather forgiving due to it being a combination of doubletrack and dirt road with short sections of twisty singletrack scattered throughout. Other than fitness level, the real tests are the ever-present sand traps.
If you’re thinking of doing the Iceman and doing well, hit the interval training hard beforehand. The nature of the course, and it being a point-to-point, mean that flat-out speed is the order of the day no matter if you’re a pro or an experienced age-grouper.
Alison Dunlap, the 2009 Iceman woman winner, was gassed at the end of her first-ever attempt at the 20-year-old classic.
“It’s like a short-track race for 28 miles,” she says. “Everything comes at you so fast.”
Andreu has done the race as a pro and age-grouper. The pro field one year he raced was “damned fast,” he says.
“Another year I did it as an age-grouper and it was flat-out,” Andreu says. “Lactic acid to the eyeballs.”
And if you’re not keen on passing on hills or in choked-up singletrack, you’ll get slowed down and become that tire-rubbing aggro ass everyone hates.
If you are that aggro, A-type perhaps the Iceman isn’t for you. That is unless you can chill and enjoy being in the company of thousands of other cycling lovers — even if they are slow, hairy-legged and in front of you.
Registration snafus for the 2009 Iceman caused the normal 2,000-plus race entries to double, Brown says. Nonetheless, the 30 wave starts — some of which had well over 100 riders — went off smoothly.
“By the time the first guys finish, we still have an hour of starts going,” Brown says.
As long as the weather is bearable that means the finish-line party is an ongoing affair. And since the pros don’t start until 2:30 in the afternoon, there are kids and beginner races squeezed in until the top guns fly in for the finale of the day.
“If you can’t have a good time here,” Andreu says, “you have a problem.”
Homepage photo: One of the 30 start waves for the Iceman Cometh Challenge, which begins in Kalkaska, Michigan. Photo by Bryan Mitchell.