Iceman -- The Weather Takes Center StageA lot of pixels have been committed to Iceman 2014. The conditions were epic. Bikes, roads, and riders were eaten by Michigan sand, mud, rain, sleet and snow. There are many great writeups describing just how crazy the whole thing was. The folks at Pinkbike posted one here. Einstein Cycles has one here. And of course there's the Iceman website itself.
Since all that has been written, I'll just assume you know about the rain, sleet, mud, sand, mud, more sand and mud. I'll say this about the conditions. They ate my brake pads.
|Iceman ate my brakes. And I gave more money to Joey|
For me, Iceman is a bonus Chritsmas and Thanskgiving. I counted Iceman race numbers the other day. 14. I had no idea I had done that many, but evidently I have. My best friends are there every year. Some I have known since I was 12. Some I know only because of the race. All have shared the best parts of my life with me, and I'll be back as long as Steve keeps running the race.
A long year of racing for me, and a long year of too much work stress. 2 hundred-milers, 2 50+, 1 40, and a few 30s...Leadville, Barnburner, The Whiskey, Tahoe Trail...and this is the race I was looking forward to the most. There was only one year I needed Iceman and the extended family and friends it brings more than this one...but man I needed it this year.
This year we had Dave, Conrad and Scott. Cliff did not make it, but I am sure he will be back one of these years. The party has just gotten too good. Also met knew friends Joel, Mary, and the Klaus. Plus a gang of kids, one of which won this slush cup! Iceman did not disappoint.
onto the race...
Iceman has 3500+ riders. On a 30 mile course. With a lot of singletrack. Several years ago (like 15) Steve Brown and the team at Iceman decided to go with a wave start. Several ideas have been iterated, and most made sense. Waves by age group, waves by class (sport/beginner/expert), and of late, waves based previous year's results. There are a few other races that use this method, and it makes sense. Last few years I stated in my appointed wave, passed a whole bunch of people, got passed a little bit, had a few singeltrack bottlenecks, and life was good.
This year, Steve decided to use previous year's performance (mine was not 1/2 bad) and factored in the amount of riding you had done on Strava. Because I live in the mountains (well, bigger mountains than exist in Michigan) and I did a few insane things this year in Colorado, California, and Northern Arizona, I ended up with massive points on the Iceman training rankings.
The Iceman computer spit out Wave 2 for me. That's in the first 200 riders.
That's completely insane.
Iceman is a crazy fast course for 30 miles. Cyclocross-like in it's demands for sprinter's speed between short climbs and twisty singletrack. Iceman is the one place I know that I use the hills to recover from the all-out bursts on the flat straight sections. There are no significant extended climbs, and the descents are mostly technical things with lots of turns.
Basically, a recipe for me not going very fast compared to everyone else. I'm a long-distance endurance guy. Big climbs, 4+ hours in the saddle...and I'm sitting in wave 2.
I was nervous. Excited, yes. But nervous about trying to keep up with a bunch of guys who were riding their home trails. Conrad and Dave (wave 7 and 11 respectively) deserved Wave 2. I was not sure I did, but I was going to try and prove that I belonged.
So I lined up with the Wave 2 gang. All full team and shop kit. While I was not sporting any colors (need to work in that Mr. Joey and Mr Kaolin...one of you guys is willing to let me fly the shop colors, even if they are moving slow), I was at least dressed appropriately. Lightweight goretex jacket, shants (some call them knickers), long finger gloves, and cycling cap under helmet. A few rain capes around, but no one in ski gear or inappropriately over-dressed. Lots of 1x11 drivetrains, lots of big chainrings. This group was built to go hard and go fast.
For all that serious seriousness around, this being Iceman the mood was light, fist bumps at the start, and lots of chatter about the season to date. I got a few skeptical looks (I always do), but the race completion resume earned me a few nods of appreciation. The first wave went off and the countdown was on for wave 2.
3 minutes later, we're counting down from 10...and we're off!
With an amped up, super-competitive group of racers gunning to see how many of the wave-1 guys they could catch, it may have been smart to hang at the back and catch a few wheels as we rode through Kalkaska en route to the first stretch of 2-track.
But I was not out for a Saturday ride in the rain. This was a race. I had a chance to stay on some wheels and maybe, just maybe stay in front of Conrad and Dave.
So I hammered off the line, went to the far right side of the road, and grabbed the wheels. I figured I would stay out of the fray in the slippery paved corner we all hit at 20+mph, and avoid being bottlenecked into the first stretch of singlegtrack.
As we came to the first corner I stole a look at the Garmin. 28mph. HO-LY CRAP. We were absolutely flying. Made it though the corner just fine when a guy decided to pull a PRO move and pass OUTSIDE my line. I was already riding the white line on the right side of the pavement, so he went PRO, and bumped me with his shoulder and thigh as he went by.
By some miracle I did not freak out, and just kept going. I had visions of hitting the pavement in a twisted pile of carbon, bodies, and aluminum, but somehow, i stayed upright and cursed instead.
Wheels made the dirt in what Strava tells me was record time. For the first 2 miles of the course, I averaged 23mph. On a mountain bike, in the rain. Damn.
The next 5 miles or so of the course are sandy and gritty. Within about 10 minutes, everything was grinding. All moving parts on the bike were covered in sand, mud, and grit. Brake rotors were rubbing, chain was grinding even the brake levers and shift levers made noise every time I touched them.
About 20 minutes in front-ring shifting became a complete crap-shoot. I was concerned that something was wrong with the bike, so despite feeling pretty good, I stopped (which allowed the entire wave to pass) and checked out the bike. As everyone was passing, I realized ALL the bikes sounded like that, so it was time to rocket on.
As we passed the first aid station near Dockery road, the ride transformed from a romp through the wet woods to a slog through some serious mucky muck. Singletrack sections were greasy slimy mess, road sections had trenches of water, and the logging road sections were just plain impassable.
I slogged up the hills, held on for dear life and muscled my way around the corners on the downhills, and basically worked for every single meter. I did spend some time in the draft, but I have lost my mudder skills, and fell behind on any slick section. I couldn't really see out of my glasses, and the garmin was constantly caked in a layer of mud.
I knew I was losing time as my average speed kept dropping. I was hoping to maintain 12-13 mph, but was kind of wallowing in the 9-10mph range. I would tell myself to HTFU, add a few gears, stand up and gain some speed only to have the wheels slip out on the next singltrack, or take the wrong line around a mud pit and end up 1/2 way to the hubs in muck with a foot down.
About 2 miles past the Williamsburg road aid station I missed the line entirely on a downhill singletrack section and ended up in the woods with my bars in a tree. The right thing to do would have been to slam a GU, run back up to the trail, and rocket on. Instead I futzed with my bike for a few minutes before I finally got going. I didn't know it at the time, but that's when I stopped racing, and shifted to riding.
Times were out the window. I was sitting around 9.5mph, and staring at a 3hr+. Really, I was hoping for sub-2. Not today.
Mt Gary and the Finish
The Vasa singletrack means you are close to the end of Iceman. Except for the paved start this is the fastest part of the course. Sweeping turns, wide trails, and a sweet flow that means it's time for the big ring and laying it all out there. Anita's hill is completed, and all that stands between you, the finish, and a pints of Bell's beer is Mt Gary.
Mt Gary is not marked anywhere. It's only about 50 ft of elevation gain, but at Mile 28 on the Iceman course after nearly 3 hours in the cold, mud, muck, and sand, it's a doozy. Mt Gary has an awesome feature. The fans at the top. Yvonne, Abby (11), Zoe (8), and Olivia (10), the Klaus and Joel were all hanging at the top of the climb. I was told my high-5 and smile were the most forced they have been in years, but indeed I was having fun. I big ringed that sucker, and headed into the last 2 miles of twisty, muddy singletrack.
Those last 2 miles were tough. I was hell bent on a sub-3, and the corners were seriously greasy. I managed to make it through upright, through the tunnel, ground up the icebreaker, through the fly-under and into the finish straight.
The race announcer let everyone know that "Rohit from Scottsdale" must be really cold (he was right). I did manage a 2-arm salute across the line, and somehow managed 2:55, and stayed a few minutes in front of Conrad. He beat my total time by 15 minutes...but small victories. Of course he had hit a tree and busted his rear brake lever part way through the race, but I'll still take it.
Another Iceman in the books. Lots of stories in the changing tent of broken or frozen bikes, guys taken headers in the mud, and people abandoning at Williamsburg road. I ended up top 1/3 overall and in the age group. I'll take it.
|Conrad looking Serious|
Cheering and Pushing
A magic part of Iceman is the pros racing AFTER the rest of us. After gathering up Conrad, Dave and Scott (who managed to break 2 derailleur hangers(!) and DNFd), and Marie (who kicked butt in 3:30!) we got ourselves supplied and headed for the top of Mt Gary. The Gary gang was in full glory...Dave, Yvonne, Joel, Marie, Chris, and J-. Myself, Conrad, and Scott as honorary participants. There was a bonfire, posters, and beverages.
|ROLL THAT FATTY|
We kept anticipating the pros coming in...it was getting dark, and they are usually done in 1:30 or so. As the clock got closer to 2 hours from their start, we knew this was truly an epic day at Iceman.
Then we heard it...the lead moto of the pro race. We lined up, cowbells and beverages in hand and screamed for Brian, Jeremiah, Georgia, Emily and Kelli. We begged every girl to chick the guys in front of them, and offered beers for wheelies once the leaders had gone by. We handed up more than a few beers.
As darkness fell, I'm pretty sure we gave the guy and girl in DFL the encouragement they needed to make it across the line. We then retreated to the warmth of Dave's abode, drained the beer, bourbon, and tequila, boxed the bikes while more beer was procured, then retired to spinning tunes in the shop.
why? Because Iceman.
See you all in 2015.