It’s Iceman Week! For many of us, it’s like the week before Christmas, the Super Bowl, and National Pie Day all rolled into one. This isn’t a normal Iceman Week, of course, but nothing in 2020 has gone according to plan. Continue reading “The Weirdest Iceman Week Ever…”
A chill in the air, leaves on the ground, it’s feeling like Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge season! As disappointing as it may be to have to miss this year’s edition of the race, we’re working hard to bring you a taste of the fun…safely! Continue reading “October Update”
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”
It was way, way back in March on the long drive down to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe for the registration party that we started bracing ourselves for this possibility. The Festival Foundation was scrambling not only to sign up eager Icemen and Icewomen for our 31st edition but also to switch the Leapin’ Leprechaun 5k to a virtual event. To my knowledge, they were the first event to make the move. They were not the last.
On the drive home that night, I thought that, at most, we’d miss a few of the spring races. Over the next few weeks, events in April, May, and June canceled or postponed. Then, it was July and August. I got texts, emails, phone calls, and messages almost every single day asking one thing: “We’re still racing Iceman, aren’t we?” By August, that had changed to something more frustrating, more disappointing, and more honest: “Why have you’ve canceled Iceman yet?”
We weren’t sitting on our hands. Iceman planning starts the Sunday after race day, and that was certainly the case in 2019. By the time we flipped the calendar to 2020, we’d already restructured parking, changed traffic flows in Kalkaska, created the new course, and looked at how we could build more participation in our women’s Pro race.
All of those plans were put on the back burner with COVID-19. By the end of March, we were already looking at a ton of ways to tweak our race for fall. As confident as some of our racers were, our team watched as event after event were forced to throw their hands up. For the Foundation team, canceling the National Cherry Festival was almost certainly the most difficult decision of their professional careers. In the process of evaluating that event, we started to realize more and more that Iceman as we all know it wouldn’t be possible.
We ran through dozens of changes to the event, eliminating the obvious elements such as cutting the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo, removing our busing and shuttles, and drastically whittling down race day infrastructure. The finish would have no BISSELL Celebration Zone, where we often get more than 10,000 racers and spectators. In fact, after cresting Icebreaker, racers would be able to see the extent of the finish area in a split-second, with only a timing tent, first aid station, and a very apologetic race director asking them to keep rolling through to the parking lot to get picked up.
There were many reasons to cancel the event and very few feasible ways to put on anything that resembled the quality race that’s become such an institution in bike racing. First, I think it’s important to say that even if we could have put on the race, bringing over 4,000 people to our region during a pandemic would have been dangerous. Especially with many kids heading back to school, it was impossible to forecast what conditions would look like not just in Traverse City, but in major population centers like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and other places that send their best riders north for the weekend.
Next, we were denied a permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. From the beginning, we’ve trusted and respected the guidelines and restrictions put in place by the state to keep people safe. The DNR denying the permit wasn’t a barrier for us; we believe it was yet another way for us to measure and evaluate risk, and we thank the DNR for working so closely with us this summer. It confirmed what many of us knew to be true; bringing together people from across the state, Midwest, and country isn’t the right thing right now.
Finally, the decision came down to quality. The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge earns its reputation each and every year by being the biggest show in town. Our race committee spends months planning and weeks setting up something that feels a bit like the Super Bowl halftime show. We were very concerned that a watered-down version of our race would leave a bad taste in the mouths of participants; come for the Rolling Stones, but see the middle school band? It just isn’t what we do.
I want to thank the Foundation staff for working tirelessly to try to make this happen. We met weekly (on Zoom, of course) to discuss safety procedures, bounce new ideas off each other, and constantly find ways to make the 2020 Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge a reality. I strongly believe that if any group of people could have pulled off a safe race for thousands of people in a pandemic, it would have been this team. But because they are the quality, caring people they are, they also knew that the best decision for our racers, our sponsors, and our wider community would be to wait until 2021.
Racers, we’re going to work just hard to make sure that 31st edition of the race happens. What we need is your support to get this staff through 2020 and ready to work on making 2021 the biggest party yet. We understand that times are difficult, but if you can afford to leave your donation, you’ll be ensuring that our tradition of racing through the snow, mud, and rain in November carries on for generations to come. We’ve lined up prizes from Bell’s, a Trek Top Fuel, tons of Clif Bar, and other awesome rewards for donating, including a chance to ride with 2019 Pro winner Alexey Vermeulen!
Be safe, stay healthy, and look out for each other. Until next time, we’ll see you in the woods!
We’re back on the airwaves Sunday, December 1 on CBS Sports! For the second year, the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge airs across the country to highlight our racers, our winners, and our partners from sea to shining sea. And we’re inviting you to tune in with us!
This year’s viewing party will be hosted by ONYX Sports Bar inside Turtle Creek Casino. We’ll be there by noon so we have plenty of time to settle in and loosen up before the Iceman program premiers at 1 pm EST on CBS Sports. The hour-long feature will highlight the history of the race, the perks of the region, and the demanding conditions of the 30th anniversary of this incredible event. Get a taste of the Bell’s and feel the chills of the Pro finish with all your pals, and get ready for 2020.
Watch for drink specials at ONYX and take time to check out the casino during your visit. Can’t join us at 1 pm? The program re-airs for the West Coast at 9 pm our time, so you’ll have a second chance on that same day.
Three decades ago, 39 mountain bikers with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning gathered in Kalkaska. It was frigid; winter had swept in early, and for the first edition of the race, it piled up. That year, Steve Brown had put together something that was certainly competitive in spirit, while also offering a sense of adventure. It was an event that posed a rather simple question: what if?
What if we sent riders from Kalkaska to Traverse City? What if more showed up a year later, and even more the year after that? What if Iceman brought in riders from across northern Michigan, across the state, across the Midwest? What if we finished here; what if we started over there? What if we had beer at the finish venue? What if that microbrew festival turned into nearly a decade of Bell’s Brewery, and our very own ale?
Over two years ago, just before Christmas, Steve Brown gave me a book called Tai-Pan. It was about an ambitious trader in Hong Kong that built the largest, most ambitious trading company in the Far East called “The Noble House”. Just one book in an epic saga, it’s the story not of one person, but of an enterprise bigger than a single person, and about the commitment to carrying on the standards, the morals, and the idea for generation after generation. Before I was too far into the book, I started to get the idea.
Last year, I showed up to the start line knowing that it could be the last time I race. It was quite the feeling; I’d been sick for two weeks leading up to it, but instead of being disappointed, it let me just relax and soak it all in. The nerves, the last-minute decision on what bike to ride, the long, agonizing wait for the Pro 2:30 start. Every second meant something, and that odd perspective stuck with me. What could possibly attract thousands of mountain bikers from around the country to travel to Traverse City, in terrible weather, to race bikes?
When you take that step back, what you see is that because of what Steve and Connie Brown have poured into this race, and the incredible people that they’ve tied in to make it happen, Iceman truly is more than a race. Competition is just one small ingredient of a recipe that combines tradition, hardship, passion, failure, resilience, success, and a quiet sort of relief that comes not at the finish so much as it does at the start. We have all faced challenges and sacrifices just to show up; we’ve put in the miles, we’ve traveled the hours, we’ve made it all come together for one special day in November.
Looking at the race now, I don’t see a race by which my friends will judge my fitness or ability. I see riders that wake up at 3:45 am to ride their trainers in the basement before work so they can train and still make it to Junior’s soccer game that evening. I see a guy who lost 55 pounds riding bikes not to win his age group, but to just finish 30 miles of everything the Pere Marquette can muster. I see a woman who requested to move back fifteen waves to ride with her sister so they could motivate each other, no matter the weather. I see a dad who, though he could probably win his age group, enter the Pro race so that he won’t miss his son take on the Slush Cup.
I’ve got two simple requests for you tomorrow. First, please appreciate those banners. Seriously. As a racer, I used to think they just appeared, already draped over the hard fencing and magically removed Saturday night. They’re not. Dozens of volunteers spend countless hours setting up the start and finish venue, and they do so in the rain, in the snow, and in the cold. Those venues aren’t just parts of the racecourse, they’re the stage for the biggest show in mountain biking. Behind every banner and sign is a volunteer and a sponsor; without them, this show wouldn’t go on.
Finally, look out for each other. To preserve our natural spaces, to promote our sport, and to ensure that events like the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge have a future for the next thirty years, it’s going to take every single one of us. If we do nothing else with this race, I hope we continue to grow the sense of community that is fostered by joining a local club or team, becoming a member of your local trail association, and by participating in and supporting events that have a larger purpose.
Now go lose sleep about which tires you’ve picked out for tomorrow, and we’ll see you in Kalkaska!
The 30th edition of the Bell’s Iceman Cometh is going to one of the most exciting editions of the race yet, and one huge reason for that is the decidedly unpredictable nature of the women’s Pro field. Just a single rider returns from 2018’s top five, which means we’re in for a wide open race in which tactics and brains will be just as important as the riders’ legs. From across North America, the top mountain bike talent will descend on Traverse City to vie for bragging rights, a big payout, and an even bigger bottle of Bell’s beer. The field of 22 just might be the most evenly matched to date, and we’re expecting some incredibly close racing for 2019!
A multi-time Czech national champion and Olympian in mountain biking and cross country skiing, Katerina Nash is a true legend of the sport. If we had to pick a favorite to win this race, it’s most certainly Nash. More than capable of winning any event she enters, the experienced Nash will look to take her second Iceman crown, with her last win coming in 2017 in dramatic fashion, just ahead of… well, see below!
Rose Grant takes up the line in the stead of her Stan’s NoTubes/Pivot Bicycles teammates Chloe Woodruff and Sofia Villafane. After having to write-off her 2018 season due to injuries, Grant has stormed back in style, winning the Leadville 100 in 2019. Grant came tantalizingly close to winning Iceman in 2017, where she was narrowly beaten by Katerina Nash. Based on her run of form in 2019, Grant has every chance to take the win when she and Nash renew their rivalry on Saturday.
Haley Hunter Smith had a breakout year on the World Cup scene in 2019, becoming a fixture at the front of the races and getting plenty of camera time. This is her first Iceman, so be sure to give Haley an extra big cheer as she charges up Icebreaker – maybe for the dream scenario of a debut win!
She may be from Cadillac, but we’ve been calling her a local hero for years. Kaitlyn Patterson was a late entry to the race, but the perennial podium finisher is back! She’s not just here for the beer, either. She put in a dominant performance at Peak2Peak two weeks ago, and she’s seen everything Iceman can offer in terms of competition, course, and weather.
The Dark Horses
Keep an eye on Leia Schneeberger from Wisconsin. She put on a show at this year’s Peak to Peak, coming in second place behind a dominant Kaitlyn Patterson and ahead of a bevy of exceptionally strong riders. She’s had some great races at Iceman in the past, but Leia looks to be on a whole new level entirely this season.
Maddy Frank is the pride of Grand Rapids, MI and she’s coming back to Michigan for a run at the biggest race in the Midwest. A student athlete at Lindenwood University, Frank has had a fantastic season of training and racing at the highest level in the collegiate ranks. Can she parlay that additional experience into a top five in 2019?
Susan Vigland is as fast as ever, and this could be the year that she pulls off a huge win for all of Traverse City. She’s cracked the top in this race before, and she only needs a few things to go her way to take a big step up to the top of the podium.
Vigland will have her equally strong teammate, Bridgett Widrig, available to play the role of foil, or win in her own right. Widrig has been training exceptionally hard and has the Iceman course dialed in perhaps better than anyone else in the state. Few riders in the Women’s Pro field will have the benefit of having a teammate in the mix, so this is an advantage the Hagerty women will be sure to exploit.
The Pro field also welcomes Shannon Kochis to the mix for 2019. Kochis, having podiumed in her age group in every previous edition of Iceman, she’s looking to test herself against the very fastest riders in the event. That’s what Iceman is all about; setting ambitious goals, testing yourself, and seeing where you end up. We love to see people stepping up to the big dance, Shannon!
The Pro Women leave Kalkaska at 2:33 pm, so be sure to make some noise for them as the come in just behind the Pro Men. You can view the complete entry list for the 2019 Pro women here, and check out the results of the Pro women race from 2018 here.
Canadian and drop-bar enthusiast, Geoff Kabush, returns to defend his Iceman Cometh in 2019, but a glance at the start list will tell you Kabush won’t have the race entirely his way this weekend. A deep and talented roster of riders will toe the line to see if they can dethrone Kabush as Iceman champ on a course that is uniquely climb-heavy towards our home base at Timber Ridge. An elite posse of professionals, a motley crew of locals, and thirty miles of northern Michigan hero dirt will ensure the 30th anniversary of the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge will be one of the most exciting editions yet!
Can anyone beat Geoff Kabush? He’s on pace to win three Icemans on the trot, an exceptionally rare feat in the thirty-year history of the race. If anyone is going to unseat Kabush, we reckon it might be one of these guys.
Watching the finale last year, Alexey Vermeulen cut a determined figure in solitary pursuit of eventual winner, Kabush. Coming into the line completely spent, but just a handful of seconds behind a repeat champion, Alexey was always going to come back this year for another chance to take home the win. A former WorldTour pro, he has the talent. After another season of mountain biking under his belt, 2019 might just be the year that Alexey wins his first Iceman Cometh.
Former National Champion, Payson McElveen, will bring his mustache and good attitude back to the start line in Kalkaska for another run at the Iceman title. McElveen has come oh-so-close to victory at this race before, back in 2017, with a 2nd place behind (you guessed it) Geoff Kabush.
If Kabush is unable to defend his title, Peter Disera sure wouldn’t mind keeping the title in Canadian hands. Disera has had an incredible year on the World Cup circuit, including a mind-blowing sixth place in Les Gets, France. His first crack at Iceman came in 2018, where he impressed on his debut with a fourth place.
Russell Finsterwald is back again for the race, and we love having this guy in our Pro Men field. His fearless, attacking racing style has made him a fan-favorite and everyone would love to see him take a well-earned maiden Iceman win.
With his last win coming in 2014, Brian Matter is just plain due for a victory at Iceman. He knows this race like the back of his hand, and he only needs to read the race correctly in order to put himself in with a shot at winning. It’s a recipe he’s gotten right on more than a few occasions, and everyone at the finish line would love to see a true Iceman legend take another victory.
A late addition to the race, Ted King flies the flag for Cannondale and maple syrup enthusiasts everywhere. The former WorldTour rider for Cervelo Test Team and Cannondale has been ‘retired’ for a few seasons now, but that’s simple meant he’s been traveling the country to crush skulls at gravel events both big and small. With race cancellations due to the Getty fires in Los Angeles, he’s swapping dry heat for cold, soggy fun for the first time.
The Dark Horses
Matt Acker’s Beard is better known for 24-rides than short sprints like Iceman, but don’t count him out. The nastier conditions are, the better we like Acker’s odds for pulling one over on the favorites to take a W.
Cole House rode a gravel bike at Peak to Peak two weeks back; perhaps a sneak peek at his steed of choice for Saturday? In any case, the perennial top ten finisher is someone to watch on Saturday.
Nick Zambeck enters the Pro race with zero pressure and flying under the radar. A season of road racing has given him some off the charts fitness, and paired with his bike handling skills, he has the ability to hang with just about anyone. If Zambeck can get to the front group by Sand Lakes Road, he’s golden. For him it’ll be about managing his efforts of the last climbs and giving himself a chance to spring a surprise after Wood Chip.
Jeff Owens is 135 pounds of positive energy and Traverse City’s nicest refrigerator salesman. Jeff whips up on us all summer long without so much as breaking a sweat, and his smile never fades, even if you’re going all-out trying to drop him. It’s infuriating! But he’s just so nice. It sure is great of all you fast guys to come up to TC to make Owens push himself. For once.
When it comes to crunch time at Iceman, Jordan Wakeley always seems to be there. He’s been on the wrong side of the deciding split on a few occasions, but if he makes the front group on the right side of Williamsburg road in 2019, even the biggest names will have their hands full trying to beat the Tower of Power from Grayling.
Jamison Sheppard was a DNF last year, but this guy is the real deal. He’s a rider without a weak spot, equally comfortable on climbs, in singletrack, and blasting through two track sections. He’s due to raise more than a few eyebrows in 2019.
The Young Guns
We have to give a shoutout to a host of young guys taking on the Pro category. Keegan Korienek was a jaw-dropping 26th in his Pro Men debut in 2018, and we can’t wait to see what he can do this year after another season of riding and racing in his legs.
Hagerty’s duo of Garrett Jenema and Max Meyer have shown themselves to have talent and work ethic in equal measure, which is the ideal recipe for brewing up fast cyclists. These guys will undoubtedly test their more experienced counterparts come race day and for the next thirty years of Iceman to come.
Braiden Voss is another incredible young talent from Suttons Bay, MI, who is coming home from school to show everyone his stuff. He’s developed from a raw talent into a race-savvy competitor, and he’ll be in with a shout if he can get to the front before the fireworks begin.
Almost a decade ago, we met this short, round kid from Cadillac and got him to race for the bike shop Cody worked at. This kid is now way taller and way, way faster than us. Tim Coffey is now a collegiate stud at Brevard, and he’s taking another shot at impressing his local fans with some Iceman glory. Papa Coffey must be so proud of this kid’s dedication to his sport and to school.
Due to the exceptional class of riders this race attracts, this preview gets more and more difficult to write each year. If we missed a rider who you think will hoist the big bottle of Bell’s at Timber, be sure to tell us in the comments.
The Pro Men take off from Kalkaska at 2:30pm. Get ready to yell your heads off for them along the course and at Timber Ridge in particular. Check out the complete start list here. Decide for yourself who to watch out for by taking a look at the 2018 results.
Growing up, my dad would always leave my brother and I on the start line with two pieces of advice. As we fiddled with our gloves and gave our tires a final pinch, he’d slap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, remember; it’s a race. But don’t take any chances”. Being punk kids, we’d nod and sort of shoo him away, rippling with pre-race nerves and a teenager’s embarrassment of having our dad hanging around on the start line.
Now, in my old age, I get what we he meant. This isn’t a spin in the County; this is the biggest race of the year for thousands of riders, and if you’re lining up, you’re there to try. Try to win, try to place, try to finish, try to have fun. The goals might be different, but there’s an effort that goes into getting from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and you owe it to everyone else on the course to respect that. There’s nothing for you to do but empty the tank and see what happens.
Of course, that sort of respect pairs with some basic etiquette that most mountain bikers are all too happy to practice. Cycling is a sport that lives and breathes because of countless unwritten rules and learn nuances. There are things you do, and there are plenty of things you don’t. It’s now, just as the jitters start to multiple and the nerves tighten up that it’s worth taking a deep breath and a step back to remember a few of those more concrete practices that are going to keep this race fun for everybody.
On Your Left. With 5,000 people in the woods, we can promise you two things. First, you’re going to pass a few people. Second, a few people are going to pass you. Knowing that, make an effort to overtake slower riders carefully and respectfully, and help those passing you by moving over whenever and wherever the course allows. Announce your approach, verbally indicate which side you’d like to pass on, and wait for the slower rider to verbally call you through. If you’re in a bunch, communicate how many riders might be passing with you. If everyone talks, stays calm, and does their level best to cooperate, then both the faster and slower riders are going to have a faster time in the long run. Do you know the best $8 you can spend this week at your local bike shop? It’s $8 on a nice, loud bell. Seriously.
Walk It Out (or Over). Some of the hills out there are brutal. Loose sand, big bunches, and the grind of a tough day in the saddle can turn these short, sharp inclines into formidable ascents. If you do need to walk, it’s cool. Once you’ve got your feet on the ground, make an effort to move as far to one side of the trail as you can to allow other riders with momentum to keep riding. Most walkers tend to move to the right, but use your best judgement about where to go to keep both yourself and other athletes safe.
Play Fair. We’ve got 55 waves slated for Saturday, and you’ve found a happy home in one of them. Start in that wave; as you know, starting early will get you DQ’d. Starting in a later wave is still not great as your time starts when your wave does. We understand things happen just know that you timing starts when your wave crosses the start line not your bike. Additionally, don’t try to line up in an earlier wave and then linger in the chute, assuring yourself a front row spot. There was a rash of this in 2018, and I’ve been deputized to put an end to it. If you’re caught, you won’t just get held back for your wave, you’ll be held back with me listening to stories about how fast I used to be. That’s a miserable way to spend a morning, just ask Steve Brown. Remember, riding with someone else’s number plate puts our medical and search and rescue team in a bad position. Doing so gets you banned for life, so don’t even try it.
Drop Out, Shout Out. Look, sometimes it just isn’t your day. If you do drop out of the race for a non-medical emergency, let us know. There’s a phone number on the back of your number plate to communicate your DNF. We can help you get to the finish by car, or you can make your way to the nearest aid station for extraction. You may have to wait a little while, but there will be snacks and a blanket for you, so it isn’t all bad.
Perspective. Look, we all want to do well, but remember why we’re all out here. For 99% of us, this is a hobby. That first place check spends quick, but how you act, how you treat your fellow racers, and how you represent your family, club, and community doesn’t go away. I couldn’t tell you what place I finished in a particular year, but I will never forget how I raced and the friends I spent an hour and forty minutes in the wood with. For the next year, you’ll remember what and how it all happened, not the digits on the results sheet.
Have fun, go fast, and most important of all, look out for each other.