The 2021 Bell's Iceman Cometh Challenge Course
That brings us back to the topic at hand. 2019 saw one of the toughest editions of the race yet, with more elevation than any previous course and, at 32 miles, one of the longest Iceman races ever. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Some people loved it until they hit the twin peaks of Headwaters, then they hated it. Of course, we also had some abysmal weather to deal with, which led to a record-level of rider evacs.
That was 2019. This is 2021. One of our main priorities is to keep this race fresh and different every single time we send you from K-Town to TC. This year’s course is almost a polar opposite of 2019, and we’ll preface it with this: if this year’s course doesn’t suit your “characteristics”, don’t worry. Next year probably will. Or the next year. Or the next year. Real racers race whatever course is put in front of them with the understanding that everyone is facing the same challenges.
We are back at the Kalkaska Airport this year and we’ll be making the most of the able runway the Village of Kalkaska provides us. We’ll be sending riders off a bit more directly this year, with a bit less “hemming-and-hawing”, as some would describe it. As always, it’s a drag race to get to the woods, with riders staying on the two-track this year all the way to where we re-join the course near JZ’s Party Zone.
There are still plenty of places to pass and make up ground as riders hit Smith Lake Road and the long two-track that eventually brings riders to Dockery.
Dockery to Williamsburg
Ain’t much changed here, the only big alteration from 2019 is that we’re going down the old Water Bottle Hill and staying off the newer bypass singletrack. The goal here is to avoid too much singletrack at this point in the race; according to our math and spreadsheets, the biggest percentage of one wave catching the wave ahead of It (not the first riders, mind you, but the bulk of riders) happens between 37 minutes and 45 minutes. That’s right here for a lot of riders, so keeping it as open as possible is the best way to reduce back-ups that create more back-ups in Make It Stick.
Once across Dockery, Make It Stick is the most selective climb of the race; whoever you’re with over the top is likely who you’ll race with along Sand Lakes Road and all the way to the Vasa.
That comes quickly after crossing Broomhead and hitting the longest section of singletrack of the race. Even for faster riders, it’s nearly 10 minutes of singletrack; if there’s a point in the race to really position for, this is it.
The Vasa and the Finish
After crossing Williamsburg Road, it’s just a few miles to the Vasa. Folks, we’re going left. We were going to go left at the Rock last year, but, pandemic. This is a huge change in the race because it takes away the ripple of climbs preceding the Boonenberg and the Boonenberg itself, a climb that has been used by many a rider in every wave to make their move.
Instead, it’s a flat, fast drag race toward Timber Ridge that is largely downhill until we take a right at the 25K/Special K split. That’s a long, gradual climb to the 10K, followed by another series of long, gradual power climbs the next 25K/10K split. You might immediately spot that there’s no Anita Hill this year. Why? We’ve done it every year. Let’s do something different.
There are still plenty of places to make a move for the Pros, and in a lot of ways, it will make the final 10km of the race even sharper. The non-stop rolling, punchy climbs from the Vasa CC Climb, plus the return of Madeleine’s Trail, all lead into Icebreaker.
We will have to take a closer look at the Timber Ridge finish as we get closer because Gordon has been spending a lot of time playing in the dirt at the camp. You’ll see his handiwork this fall!
Overall, this is a course for bears. One rider that comes to mind is Dan Korienek. It’s about power and the brutish application of strength not just for a few punchy moments but for long stretches. The course is under 30 miles again, with 1,200 feet of climbing, give or take a few to the GPS gods. It will also make for possibly bigger groups of riders than years past, which, should make it more fun; you can ride alone any day, but Iceman should be about racing whether it’s for first or not-last.
Finally, I think this also makes for a more tactical race, but not a negative one. Riders in the hunt for wins across the waves will need to balance their contribution to the group and be aggressive earlier in the race than in previous editions of the race. Leave it late, and it could be a crowded bunch you’re trying to get rid of.
You can nab the file and get it downloaded to your GPS