We all know that sinking feeling, when that twinge of pain has stayed with us a little longer than we thought it would. When we are starting to consider that a call to the doctor might be more needed than just a trip to Meijer. When you know you probably shouldn’t push through the pain this time.
This is unfortunately what happened to our wonderful amateur rider Matt, he graciously agreed to let us follow his training for his second Iceman race. After some pain in his ankle he went into the doctor and on his order Matt will not be racing in this year’s Iceman but hopes to be back with us next year.
I am sure two questions come to mind… first what happens to his race registration? And is anyone taking his place? Those are both great questions I am glad you asked.
If you find yourself in a similar situation to Matt, and cannot race in this year’s Iceman even though you have already signed up, you can do exactly what Matt did. Transfer out of the race, you can do that right from your registration on the website. There is a list of excited people who are waiting to transfer into your spot so don’t wait if you know you can’t race! Also transfers close October 11th so make sure you transfer out soon, to get your money back. You will receive your registration fee back minus $20 which is donated to youth cycling teams.
There will be someone taking Matt’s place, so you still have a virtual training buddy! Let me introduce…
Garrett Boyd, when he is not training for his next event you will find him at his day job as a Pharmacy buyer for Munson Medical Center. Not new to mountain biking but to mountain bike racing so break him in easy, but he should be able to hold his own! He has decided to take on the Iceman Cometh Challenge after completing the Ironman Traverse City, and he was looking for his next challenge. He is looking forward to getting out of his element and spending more time out in the woods as that is one of his favorite parts of mountain biking. He is training 4-5 times a week to try to accomplish his under 2.5 hour goal for the Iceman Cometh Challenge. Follow Garrett on Facebook or Instagram at gboyd03 to see how his training is going and pick up some extra tips! Good Luck Garrett!
Last year, Geoff Kabush won the 29th edition of the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. This was no surprise. The kind of bike he won it on did, however, raise some eyebrows.
Riding the Iceman on drops bars isn’t new; we’ve seen plenty of riders brave the course on cyclocross and gravel bikes over the years, with varying degrees of success. For racers with plenty of experience on skinny tires and the handling skills to throw themselves through sandpits and come out the other side upright, it can actually be an advantage to have bigger gears and a more aerodynamic position on the bike.
New kinds of bikes are making drop bars more and more realistic for races like Iceman. With tire clearance for 650b wheels and 2.25” tires, they’re essentially putting mountain bike wheels on gravel or road bikes. Our course doesn’t offer rocky, rough terrain that demands suspension, and if you can do a dozen push-ups, you’re probably strong enough to meet the rigors of splashing down a few tree roots, even if your teeth chatter.
We’ve already heard a ton of people talking about riding drop bars this year, and Kabush’s win last year is definitely a big factor behind the renewed interest. It’s something I’ve done plenty of times on Out’n’Backs and, I’ll admit, I loved having the big gears and smaller tires barrelling down Sand Lakes Road en route to the start in Kalkaska.
My very first Iceman I decided to race the Pro wave, mostly due to spending a good fifteen hours the day before manning our booth at the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo all Friday. Pros have the luxury of sleeping in a bit! I lined up dead last, hoping to stay out of the way. I was the only rider on a cyclocross bike; next to me, coincidentally, was the first rider to ever to do the Pro race on a fat bike. Less than five miles in, I hit a root so hard that it bent by rim and the brake pad (and these were cantilever, remember those?) got stuck against under the rim. After a few minutes I got the wheel rolling, although the brake was ruined. At the very least, I was moving, but spent the rest of the day battling that fat bike not to get last.
Since then, I’ve done the course on everything from 35mm cyclocross tires to thick, meaty 2.25” Thunderburts with drop bars, very similar to Kabush’s winning set-up. It is so fast on the open sections of the course, and if you have the right gearing, you won’t suffer at all on the climbs or descents. Where drop bars hurt you is when you don’t get to decide where to ride. Riding in a big bunch or group means you’re constantly switching lines, whether by design or at the mercy of a fellow rider. It’s in those moments where having a rigid bike makes you pay more; the speed-robbing root, bouncing through loose sand or along a deep rut. Suspension is really forgiveness, and with drop bars and your weight over the front of the bike, you pay for every single mistake.
Can you race Iceman on drop bars? Totally. First, fit the biggest tires you can into your bike; most traditional cyclocross bikes can fit a maximum tire width between 38 and 43mm. Some can fit a 650c wheel with 27.5” mountain bike tires; that’s the way to go if you can! Get out as often as you can and work on your handling skills, and give the course plenty of recon rides to know where you want to be in each section. Additionally, ride the wrong lines, too, so you’re ready to recover from bobbles on race day. Can you win Iceman on drop bars? Well, are you Geoff Kabush?
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!
Wes Sovis has been on every end of Iceman. From a Wave Two start to the Pro race, from being one of the most impressive rides of 2018 to walking out of the woods and climbing into a car at Dockery in 2014, Wes seems to experience the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge in extremes.
While plenty of riders have ridden more editions of the race, few have tackled as many from as many angles. From the front of the pack to suffering and seeing dozens of riders go by, he’s gained a bit of perspective. Ahead of next month’s wave assignments, his tip for the race is especially prescient.
I’d tell people is to not sweat your Wave or even your start during the race. There are 30 miles to show your stuff – wherever you finish, that’s where exactly you deserved to be. My best Iceman of all time was when I started in Wave 2. Even in Wave 3, I got to the finish line with absolutely nothing in the tank. Just ride your race and don’t get caught up in the craziness at the start. All those people who shoot ahead in the first two miles? If you ride your race correctly, you’ll see them again before the finish.
Especially with the course changes in the final four or five miles, there’s plenty of wide trail and elevation to sort things out before you get to Timber Ridge. Pacing yourself for the first 15 miles pays off in a big way in the final 15; ask yourself how hard you’re working, but more importantly, ask why. Did you just sprint up the hill and get five seconds ahead of a group that’s been trading pulls for a few miles? What was the point? I try to think of it as a time trial; it’s like spreading peanut butter on toast. You want it to spread evenly and not run out before you get to the other end of the slice.
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.
There is a factor, an intimidation factor, for new riders when it comes to the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. Maybe it is because the word challenge is in the title, or maybe it is the fact that a 30-mile mountain bike race through the Northern Michigan woods in the late fall is just down right crazy sounding!?!
Regardless, of why there is a little mystery or intimidation around this incredible athletic event, we want those who are entering for the first time, with little experience, or looking at trying to challenge themselves in the future to know that they absolutely can do it.
That is why, we have recruited a rider who has done only one Iceman Cometh Challenge before, and is in the beginning stages of riding to let us all join his journey as he trains for the Iceman 30! This gala as Steve “Iceman” Brown calls it, is the perfect year to have new people join us and see what this challenge is all about.
We will be following Matt Haase as he trains for his second Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge, on his social media accounts as well as all the Iceman social media accounts. Our awesome race director Cody Sovis will be giving him training tips and even take him on a training ride or two to prep for the race!
Let me introduce you to our guinea pig *ahem* I mean our newish Iceman rider. Matt Haase is a 31-year-old corporate pilot from Traverse City Michigan. Since learning to ride bikes at the age of 5, Matt has enjoyed biking and exploring mountain biking. While he has been riding on those two wheels for a while – 31 minus 5, well you can do the math, he would still classify himself an intermediate beginner as he says, “I still don’t know what I don’t know.” But through this process he will have some mountain biking education and you learn a thing or two along his journey as well.
In his adult years, he has grown to enjoy the social side of mountain biking a lot, meeting people on and off the trails but values the fitness aspect as well which will be part of pushing himself during training. He is trying to get training in about 3 days a week which as he puts it is a jump from his zero days a week now. I think we can all feel that at one point or another!
I asked Matt what is light at the end of the tunnel is, or what is he looking for most at the end of the race, “The Bell’s Beer” spoken like a true Iceman rider. Help us cheer Matt on in his training and his ride as his goal is to finish the race in under 2 hours and 30 minutes! Hopefully joining in on Matt’s journey can help motivate you to push through on your journey as well.
To follow Matt and his training follow Iceman accounts:
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?
Sold out! The Bell’s Beer Iceman Cometh Challenge is full, but if you’re as determined as this little guy, don’t worry. Transfers are live and already processing. Head to the site, hit the Register tab and find Transfers. Once completed, you’ll be added to the queue of folks looking to get in. As riders transfer out, you’ll get in on a first-come, first-serve basis.
We’re under 200 spots to go, and we’ve got a challenge for you.
Steve “Iceman” Brown has been trying to get in plenty of miles before we get really, really busy this fall. With registration taking off, we were talking about just how long it’ll take until the long race is sold out. So, in true Iceman Cometh Challenge fashion, we’re having a race.
As of today, Iceman has 186 miles for the month of August, and there are now 167 spots remaining for the 28-mile race. So, will Iceman get to 200 before the race gets to zero?
It won’t if Steve gives the new course a look! We spent the weekend putting in a big effort to take a closer look at a few changes at the start and final five miles of the race. Nothing is set in stone yet, but we’ve got a few wrinkles in place and a few favorite sections coming back in honor of the 30th edition of the race.
All in all, the course is in great shape, although it’s at peak sand due to a very dry August. Things will firm up plenty after Labor Day, and we’re working with our pals at Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to do just a bit of trimming to keep the face-slappers at bay. The only spot to watch for is located in the Water Bottle Hill Bypass at roughly mile mark 9.7 from Kalkaska. There are two extremely big trees down that’ll need chainsaws and some very strong human to shift out of the way.
Watch for more course updates AND to see if we can beat Steve to across the 200 mark! Let’s hope he doesn’t do his course inspection today!
Growing up in Michigan, I always heard stories about the Iceman Cometh. The race made it into everyday conversation all the way south to Pinckney, the small town that I lived in. That wasn’t to big of a surprise though; was home to the only 4-time winner, Brian Matter! All throughout high school, I wanted to go but never could because the cross country state championships always fell on the EXACT same day! I loved competing in those state championships, but deep down I was a bit jealous of everyone who got to go Up North and compete in Traverse City.
Since my first Iceman experience in 2013, I have been completely hooked. From the buzz of everyone getting excited to race, questioning what the weather will be like, buying new tires and gloves last minute, to the different people you meet from all across the nation…it allows anyone, of any age or level to get out and enjoy a beautiful race. It’s our Super Bowl, our biggest holiday. Iceman is special. Iceman is unique.
I have been racing professionally for the last six years around the world on the road and am now moving towards a career in the dirt. I know that my love for mountain biking began by racing from Kalkaska to Traverse City in the cold, the rain, and even in the snow. I know I’ll be out there again this November, and every November for years to come. It’s the one race I won’t miss ever again!
Alexey Vermuelen is a former WorldTour professional cyclist. He’s now a professional mountain biker for Bianchi-Q+M Cycling and is based in Southeast Michigan. He’s a regular at the biggest mountain bike races in the United States and finished second overall at Iceman in 2018. We asked Alexey to share what the race means to him, and why he keeps coming back. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.