It's almost here. This Saturday marks the historic 25th Iceman Cometh Challenge. It's the biggest mountain bike race in North America and finishes just a few miles from Einstein Cycles. The race has become essentially a holy day for area cyclists. They come out from all skill levels to make the annual trek from Kalkaska to Traverse City, winding through forests, logging roads, singletrack and finishing on the Vasa before spilling into Timber Ridge.
This year's course is much like last year's, but will some necessary changes due to some massive logging operations near Dockery Road. The logging activity that is on the course looks to be mostly finished, although the logging road was marred by some serious trenches as the result of the logging equipment. Unfortunately, this is not rideable at any thing like race pace, but riders have been able to limp through it in practice runs. The good news is that the road could easily be graded and smoothed out with just a bit of effort.
The re-route here adds a thrilling descent, but one substantial climb adds over 100 feet of elevation with two distinct pitches over roughly a quarter of a mile. This comes just as the race hits the 10 mile mark, and could be another serious selection point.
Another addition comes just past Broomhead Road. The singletrack speed trap that brings riders off a two-track and back into the woods is a bit longer, curling backwards and bringing riders into a valley further north than in previous editions of the race. It could be a great chance for riders with some descending prowess to close ground before the course opens up into a fast drag race onto the Vasa 25km.
It's actually just a little over a mile that the race's newest change shows its face. Added just a week ago, race organizers are bringing in a whole new approach to the Wall bypass, now staying south of the Wall and taking riders left into an old section of singletrack. The section is short, but that late in the race, tired legs could open up massive gaps. The trail opens up into wide, passable logging road with some elevation (just under 100 feet) before heading back onto the Vasa proper right at the very base of the Wall itself.
The finishing loop is almost exactly reverse of last year, right down to the dual approach of the shipping container fly-over. It also means racers get a classic run up Ice Breaker into Timber Ridge, where they get their yearly toast of rousing applause and adrenaline.
The weather looks chilly, with a high of 37 degrees expected by the latter parts of the day, but temperatures near the freezing mark for the first waves of the day. It should be a pretty dramatic morning, with a layer of frost covering massive stretches of the course for the first racers to roll past.