As we head into the big week here in Northern Michigan, we chatted with a few of our staff about their first Iceman races.
It's an event that is probably taken too seriously, with too much gravity, too much emphasis for local athletes. If any race deserves such credence, however, it must be the biggest one day mountain bike race in North America. You don't need to do anything except witness the spectacle to see why weddings, vacations, surgeries and funerals tend not to fall on the first Saturday in November, unless the first Saturday or Sunday is the first.
For as many miles, races and experiences Cody, JW and Jason Lowetz have on the bike, they actually have relatively few Iceman races under their belts. JW's first Iceman was in 2006, one of the first years the race format moved to age groups. "We got put in Wave One, but the youth wave was right ahead of us. We went by all these kids all at once, flying. I only remember parts of it, but I thought it was cool that Nate (St. Onge), Jimmy McKenna and I all finished within seconds of each other."
Each of our three share one thing in common; none remember their placing their first time in the race. JW knows he was "well down there" on the results sheet, but he'd certainly moved up from there. He's a consistent Wave One starter and an age group contender. This year, he's back in Wave One and looking for a good result in one of the strongest fields to date.
Lowetz's debut came in the Pro race, on a cyclocross bike, the year before Einstein Cycles even started. "People were looking at me like, here's this guy on a goofy bike with tattoos and he thinks he's going to win the Iceman. They missed it a little, I didn't think I was going to win," he remembered. Like JW, Lowetz didn't set the world on fire the first year, but was equally impressed with the sheer size of the event. "It was way bigger than I thought it would be, even when Whittaker told me about it. It's hard to think about four or five thousand people on bikes, let alone all racing on the same course over the same morning."
Lowetz's clearest memory was the cruelty of a Iceman tradition. "The finish went right into Timber Ridge, I saw all the people and heard the cheering and saw the big finish banner, but then the trail curled around and suddenly it was all behind me; they brought you to the end and then make you leave! I thought I was done but I was had five or ten minutes left, and I was shot."
Cody's first Iceman was in 2012, one of the nicest years on record. "I was in the Pro race, started at 2:30, it was sixty some degrees and sunny, and I remember thinking, 'I don't see what the big deal is, this is beautiful!'" Registered in the Pro race and starting a few rows back from Lowetz, and a few more rows back from reigning national champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, past winner Brian Matter, and a slew of top riders, it was a rude awakening into the true top end of the sport. "I held on along the pavement and a rider crashed first on the gravel; it was JHK with his derailleur in his spokes. Then, we hit actual dirt and there was another pile-up; I flew over a pile of a dozen riders, only to stand up and see the top 20 guys sprinting away. I blew up trying to chase that second group. I was on my cyclocross bike, and I could see riders flying a way up the trail. The Pro women passed me by Dockery and Heather Irmiger said something like, 'Don't give up!' and I immediately thought, 'Man, there must not be ANYONE behind me!'"
Somehow, there was...one. Cody's first Iceman saw him second from last, made even worse with a mechanical that put him well off the pace. But, as always, the experience is more important than the result. "I remember riding up Icebreaker, and all the local people were still there waiting to see me and cheer me on. The winners were done, changed, warm and drinking beer. I think the awards were even over. But there's Susan Vigland and Tim Bottrell going, 'Go Cody! I know that guy! I know that guy!'. It's still my best Iceman memory."
Here's to another year of great memories, great racing, and great times at the Iceman Cometh!