Last week, we made the call. No doubt the announcement that this year’s Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge wouldn’t happen disappointed a lot of people, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive calls, emails, and text messages in the days since our racers heard the news. Your support has made a very tough time so much better, and we can’t thank you enough for the donations and kind words. Continue reading “For The Fun Of It: The 2020 Course”
We’re getting in the heart and the heat of summer! As the weather improves and the miles rack up, we’re deep in the woods looking at ways to create a unique, challenging course that will keep you on your toes.
So, how does a course come together? One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle comes from working with Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to learn more about logging plans. Each year, the DNR harvests timber from state land, and there are times that their planes involves sections of the Iceman course.
We try to forecast those plans and establish new ways around logging forests, or anticipate clean-up efforts in the event that the logging in finished before race day. One of the important elements of refreshing logged sections of trails is to keep them open not just for the first Saturday in November, but to ensure marked and unmarked trails remain accessible year-round for riders.
There is one section scheduled to log this year, but no date has been set to work on the Make It Stick area we’ve used the past few editions. On the bright side, we can open up the ‘old’ route in no time, and that flexibility gives us time to work on Make It Stick if logging operations are finished with a few weeks before November 7.
We are also looking at last year’s wave times, average speeds, and other information to inform where and how we can reduce back-ups and open racing. After a tough 30th edition made even more difficult with rain, snow, and mud, 2020 was always planned to be a world apart. Instead of one for the climbers, we’re working on a route suited to the rouleurs, the strong riders who put out a lot of power on the flats and can really put the hurt on other riders when the race hits the Vasa.
At this stage in the season, we have a few ideas in mind and have given the proposed, top secret route to just a few locals who will be riding the course to establish some baseline times and give their impressions. With group riding slowly coming back, we will also be able to get a better idea of how the new course breaks up slightly larger groups of, say, ten to fifteen.
Once the DNR is open and taking permits, we’ll finalize the route and create some high-quality maps to submit for their approval as a part of our event permit. Once those receive the green light, we’ve got a course!
Want to be ready? Get riding. Plan on faster, flatter, and a shorter course that puts the emphasis on horsepower over climbing.
It’s time. Labor Day Weekend is but a distant memory (or was it yesterday?), the kids are back in school, and all eyes are focused on November 2. For some, Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge is the ultimate test of the season and every second counts. For others, it’s about finishing. My dad always talked about races about racing; whether he was in the lead group or off the back, he always measured how good his day went based on how long he was in that mindset of racing, not surviving.
To get you prepared, we bugged a plethora of locals. From the local hero ranks, we pulled the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. In addition to running Max’s Services and traveling the globe to support his kids, Jeff Owens somehow finds time to be one of the fastest riders in town. He’s finished as high as 16th in the Pro race, and he offered his advice on how to get ready for Iceman from a few weeks out through a few miles in.
1. Don’t kill yourself at the start or first half of the race trying to keep up with people who are faster or just flying by you. You will catch those people once they get tired. Ride your pace and get with a good fast group to conserve energy for later; make sure to help keep the pace up and don’t be content to sit in the whole time. Help with the tempo, because you need to make some friends for later in the race.
2. The hardest part of the race doesn’t happen until you get to Rock so be ready when you get there to work hard with the group you formed.
3. Keep that wheel in front of you on those tough climbs like Anita’s and the CC Climb, a few seconds of suffering to hang on with that rider in front of you makes a huge difference, you can recover so much faster when you have that wheel once you get over the top!
4. Don’t forget to eat/drink even if it’s cold! Grabbing bottles and food with cold hands and bulky gloves isn’t fun, but you have to make the effort. Plan where you’re going to eat and drink ahead of time.
5.Don’t try new nutrition on race day. eat stuff you have used and works for you. Also, try hard to wake up early enough that you can eat breakfast 3 hours before your race, you have to get that food in your system and if you’re over 25, you need those 3 hours to digest.
Have fun. We’re all amateurs; you can only do so much. Don’t ruin the experience by getting too worked up, too nervous, or disappointed with how it goes. If you hit Timber Ridge tired, you did it right; then it’s time to crack a beer.
Part of the fun of Iceman is that course is never the same. Even if 80% of the traditional 30 miles remains unchanged, we’ve always found a way to keep the remaining 20% exciting, fresh, and tough. This is is my first year designing the route that will bring over five thousand riders from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and it’s the new section that really embodies everything about our goals for 2019.
Skiers know it, and so do plenty of trail runners and hikers. But mention ‘Headwaters’ or ‘the 5k’ to a mountain biker, and you get about a 50/50 split on them knowing what you’re talking about. I’ve been obsessed with this section of trail for a few years now. In our weekly Speed of Light ‘fake’ race in Traverse City, I’ve never been able to figure out a good, safe way to include it because there just wasn’t a starting spot that made sense. All winter, we ski Headwaters when we need a tough workout, and I try to ride it as often as I can.
One of my goals for the 30th edition of the race was to make the race exactly 30 miles, but no matter how I routed it, I couldn’t get my perfect “30 For 30” to match up. Finally, it hit me! I need about three miles and, since my limited metric conversion skills could handle it, I had my 5k!
It made more than sense when I thought about it beyond the arithmetic, too. This summer, Traverse Area Recreational Trails and Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association got to work on a two-mile Skill Building Trail at the Bartlett Trailhead. This two mile section is designed for kids and beginners to have a safe, accessible way to rip laps right from the trailhead. The trail reaches almost to Headwaters, and there’s singletrack that lets riders hop from the Skills Trail to Headwaters. It’s a natural progression that beginner riders will incorporate Headwaters into their riding as a bridge to longer, more challenging rides.
Headwaters is really a series of hills, with two distinct peaks. Some of these trails are sandy, and we’re going to direct more of our trailwork to improving trails we have and can easily access, rather than cutting short trails that will only be used a few weeks per year for racers pre-riding the course. We want to make Headwaters a part of where we ride all year long!
The final motivation was to make even more space in the final 5 miles to pass. For 90% of the field, the last twenty minutes of Iceman is a wild mix of passing and being passed, and even on wide trail, that can be tough, especially if you’re in a group of riders in a similar speed. Elevation is the ultimate selection; by the time you hit the finish line, Headwaters and the hills that follow are going to have you ahead of who you should be ahead of, and behind who you should be behind. There’s no hiding, but there’s plenty of space and time to get around people on these hills.
And it’s going to make for one incredible finale, too. The entire section is six feet ride or more, with a number of short and steep climbs. It’s not just an ideal launching pad, it’s a series of ideal launching pads that will see the race leaders throw attack after attack at each other, albeit it with about 26 miles of tough racing in their legs already! Because it’s so close to the Bartlett Trailhead, it’s going to be a great place to spectate, and if I had a choice, that’s exactly where I’d be to watch the first waves and the Pro race come through. My bold prediction? This year, even the fastest riders will hit Timber Ridge in ones and twos.
That’s because the climbing doesn’t stop with Headwaters. Riders then hit the Vasa CC Climb plus a few little top-secret wrinkles near the finish. The numbers tell the story; over 25% of the races total elevation gain comes in the final four miles! Don’t let that intimidate you, though; it just means the first twenty-six miles are easy, right?
July. The very height of summer in Northern Michigan. Hot days, warm nights, searing sun and plenty of time between now and November 2…or so you’d think! Today, we had our first full staff meeting to bring you the 30th Annual Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. From logistics, security, course marketing, shoot, even where we’ll put the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, the first thing I’ve learned over the past six months is that there isn’t a detail, idea, or improvement that we leave to chance!
One of the biggest things that makes Iceman so exciting are those little changes to the schedule or course. Starting in August, racers are putting in Out’n’Backs to scout out that new turn, climb, or descent that might give them the edge, or at least buy them a handful of seconds. Those recon rides are a part of the buzz, the excitement of the race, and a fixture for locals and a real treat for folks who make the drive to Traverse City to see the course for themselves.
Well, for the 30th ‘gala’, as Steve “Iceman” Brown has taken to calling it, we’ve cooked up something big. I was going to start this announcement with a pun, the best (worst) of which follow below:
I hope this new idea has wings!
The new start venue has taken off!
2019 will see all new heights!
Due to the number of eye-rolls, however, I’ll just let this parachute down and land on you: we’re moving the start venue to the Kalkaska Airport! The Village of Kalkaska has been such an incredible host for years, and when we sat down about the move, they were way ahead of us. Not only was it on their radar, but it was also on their to-do list! They’ll be making some changes to allow for all of our parking, bus drop off, rider drop off, start chute and over a mile of the course to all easily fit on the airstrip!
The move to the airport, from a racer’s perspective, achieves a lot of good. Logistically, every aspect of race morning will be easier; you’ll be able to park close to the start, warm-up on dirt roads, watch your friends take off (another pun, you’re welcome) for over a mile, and have access to vendors for your support crew. We’ve got packet pick-up and the Pancake Breakfast within site of the start banner, plus Porta Johns right where they’re handy as you line up.
Additionally, the start has plenty of time to shake out. Since the move to the Fairgrounds, the Iceman start in every wave has felt a bit like riding in a mob of Black Friday shoppers; there’s not much of a lead-in before you slam into a narrow opening. It’s made the opening two minutes of the race more important than ever, but that can be frustrating when you’ve spent months training, just to get buried on the first bit of singletrack.
Instead, you’ll have nearly a mile and a half of wide, fast riding on grass, gravel, and a bit of paved runway to sort yourselves out before slashing across Island Lake Road and onto a wooded two-track. You’ll have another three-quarters of a mile until you see singletrack, giving each wave roughly two miles to shake things out. The first ten minutes still matter a lot, but you’re going to slot in where you deserve to be.
We’ve got a lot more to come about the race over the next few months, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated about some exciting stuff from Bell’s Brewery, Trek Bikes, and everything Iceman Cometh Challenge. Are you getting ready for November 2? You better be!
It’s not the hardest, most selective, or most brutal part of the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. In fact, it’s one most riders look forward to.
There are many, many tough segments on the Iceman Cometh Challenge course that feature every single year. They might be steep hills like Anita’s, challenging descents like the Water Bottle Hill By-Pass, or just really, really fast like Sand Lakes Road. But the one I’ve always focused on and looked forward to is RallyRoundTheRock.
Since GPS head units starting offering Live Segments, we’ve all probably starred a few segments to chase. In a race, the Live Segment feature is almost more useful in simply reminding yourself when the next climb or choke point might be. For me, Rally Round The Rock was always a bright, loud ‘ding’ that not only was I past Williamsburg Road, but I was also nearing home turf and the Vasa Pathway proper.
The segment is fast, and that’s definitely reflected in some of the top times posted over the years. Alexey Vermeulen set the KOM time by in 2016 at 2:51, a single second ahead of Alex Vanias on the very same day. Last year, Christy Keely took the QOM at 3:02, with a lot of riders coming in around that three-minute mark for the early waves and pro races.
That means hitting the 1.1 mile section at twenty miles per hour! The segment includes a long straight section of quasi-singletrack that parallels Sand Lakes Road. It’s a slight descent that’s punctuated near halfway with a sharp, sandy right that shoots you across the road to the north. It’s another straight stretch before another right turn onto the gravel two-track. For locals, that two-track is the final few hundred meters of the Power Section, and the return home to the Pathway.
For a lot of racers, hitting RallyRoundTheRock, whether they know they’re on it or not, mean you’re almost done with another edition of Iceman and another season of mountain bike racing. It’s often fueled by loud cheering at Williamsburg Road, and you’re often spurred on again at the Rock, where Sand Lakes hits the Vasa.
If you need a little something to look forward to on race day, make sure you’ve got this queued up and remember, when you hit this segment, there’s no point saving anything; you’re almost done!