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’s September and we haven’t had any need to dig out the shoe covers yet! Rest assured, the chill will descend on the Midwest soon, and you can expect to spend an extra ten minutes digging through bins and closets for your warmers, booties, covers, and coats. That first ride in the cold, in a misty rain, with squealing brakes and a generous deposit of sand coated on your chain; it’s a sign of the season.
Just as important, and perhaps just as exciting, are two crucial dates for our races. First, transfers close on October 11. We really appreciate everyone who has transferred out so far, and we encourage you to do so if you aren’t going to make it. That $20 fee goes to support Norte Youth Cycling and the Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs, two really cool programs that get kids on bikes. Additionally, you’re making a spot for another rider to race Iceman. For riders who have done this dance a time or two, it may not seem as big of a deal, but cast your mind back to your first timing lining up in Kalkaska; you won’t ever forget it.
The second date is October 18, which is the latest date we hope to have wave assignments ready. Riders tend to think of wave assignments as a sort of Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat; everybody wants to be in Gryffindor, everyone thinks they should be in Gryffindor, and a wave that isn’t to your liking is like getting Hufflepuff. (Sorry, Hufflepuff). If you don’t get this metaphor, ask your kids.
First off, we hope you know that we spend a lot of time trying to get these wave assignments right. Over the years, we’ve adopted two formulas to put people where they should be, both from a competitive standpoint and from a safety stand point. Having riders of vastly different abilities and speeds on the same square foot of trail is the riskiest business, and it isn’t fun for either party.
It all starts with the following:
Rider with past results:
Average overall place for up to the last 5 years, then doubling your best place of those results. Then those results are ranked and split up into the waves. The first 4 waves have 150 riders per wave, then the remaining waves have 80 per wave to allow room to manually move or place riders as needed.
Riders without past results, but with Strava data:
Strava riders are ranked by their total activity scores for the year. They are then placed by rank after the past results rider waves.
Using your five-year average helps us remove your worst results, whether it be a bad day, a bad mechanical, or season where you just didn’t get to train to your normal standards. We double your best result so that it makes the most of your very best day.
For riders without a result or Strava data, we have a number of waves dedicated to specific age groups based on average and best finish times.
The best way to influence your starting position is to race Iceman, but it isn’t the only way. There is certainly some element of ‘pay your dues’ to the system, but we take a lot of pride in working with races to look at their Training Score and helping them find a wave they will have a great experience being in.
The other question we get a lot is how the Training Score is determined. Trust us, this took a ton of thought, trial and error, and tweaks to get right. The formula is as follows:
( Distance (Miles) + Total Elevation (Feet) + Moving Time (Minutes) ) / 20
A lot of riders say that you can skew the score by riding far, or climbing a lot, or riding a long time; the reality is that if you’re going big in any one of those categories, it’ll pay off. It’s not perfect, but it’s the same for everyone, and that makes it pretty darn fair. My tip? I took a look at my normal training ride and found it to have a Score of 80; that’s 90 minutes of riding, with 1,474 feet of climbing, and 30.8 miles. That’s a pretty doable ride for anyone, and if you need to knock off a little climbing, it won’t kill the score. Hopefully, that gives you some perspective on where your training is.
As we ease into wave assignments, we’ve got a few things that will help make it go smooth. If you ride for a team or club, consider compiling all of your wave requests into a single email so we can process them all at once and do so with a few less emails to chase. Second, include a link to your Training Activity page so we can look at it without searching. Finally, relax. We’re going to do our best for you, and no matter what wave you end up in, you can still have a great race and a really good time. The course is fast, open, and challenging; we feel confident that by the time you hit Timber Ridge, you’ll be tired and ahead of every single rider you deserve to be ahead of.
Questions? Let us know via email IcemanInfo@iceman.com and remember, we won’t be able to change your wave assignment until after they’re assigned. Until then, get training…and maybe take a second to look for your knee warmers right now!
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?
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!
May is prime time to rack up some miles, and the Ice Society sure got out and rode!
Our integrated Ice Society training leaderboard is a cool way to see how your training measures up to other Iceman racers around the state and around the world. All you need to do is link up your Strava account with your Iceman account and you’ll start showing up on the list. It’s always interesting to watch as training ramps up with the improving weather, and May saw a big jump in activities!
Paul Dodd was the lone rider to break the 4,000 point mark, with Markus Stumpp and our own race director Cody Sovis making up the top three. Those points are calculated based on miles, ride time, elevation gain, and effort level, offering up a pretty neat way to quantify riding of all kinds.
Two Iceman winners made the top ten, with Brian Matter at 3,028 points. Chloe Woodruff slid in the top ten, but did it was one very important distinction; some of her points came from a UCI Mountain Bike Short Track World Cup victory at Nove Mesto! She paired with Kate Courtney to give the US women three World Cup wins to kick off the season, the first victories in twenty years for American women. That’s a milestone for sure; we’re trying to figure out how to double the points from that ride!
To see the whole leaderboard, and see how you stack up in your age group or race category, just head to the Training Activity leaderboard and dive into the data!