8 November 2012  |  Race Reports

The Iceman Cometh

For the past few years, I’d be mid-way through my ‘cross season and I’d read about this mountain bike race in Michigan. In November. Supposedly thousands of people raced it, and many of those thousands braved the cold to hang out and watch the Pros finish. And there was a huge prize purse. And that prize purse was equal for men and women.

And I would be sad.

Because, even though it was cyclocross season, secretly I wanted to be racing my mountain bike too! So this year I decided to check it out for myself. When I sent Waldek an email saying, “I’m thinking of racing Iceman this year.” He didn’t say something like, “are you sure that’s not too much racing?” or “isn’t there a ‘cross race that weekend?” No, he said, “good, I was thinking about racing it too.” So that settled it.

We arrived in Traverse City to cold, damp, windy weather which was a bit of a shock to the system- it had been in the 60s at home in Colorado. The next day Waldek, India (my good friend from Ketchum who had made the trip back to her hometown to race her first Iceman) and I headed out to do a little recon on the course. Waldek had raced Iceman the year before, and he mentioned that it would be important to know the last few miles of the race. The course is pretty flat and very fast, so the race tends to stay together, and sprint finishes are common. The course was a mix of sandy, fast, rolling singletrack and doubletrack. It was really fun. I love riding my bike fast, and that course was FAST. You know, leave-it-in-the-big-ring, pedal-your-ass-off kind of fast. It’s pretty much the opposite of the world-cup style racing we do all summer.

My good friend India, who also raced her first Iceman this year

Unlike the amateur racers who have to start at 9am, the pros get to sleep in and don’t start racing until 2:30pm. So, I sat in our condo and got everything ready for the race as the snow fell outside. Battery-heated gloves? Check. Booties? Check. Bike? Check. Helmet and shoes? Check and check. Are you SURE you have the heated gloves? Double check.

As I waited for Waldek to get back from his race, I watched an episode of National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” and realized I don’t have nearly enough food, guns or ammo stockpiled in case of disaster. Note to self- take care of that when I get home…

Waldek came back and reported that despite the snow, the course was super fast and in great condition. His words of advice were- “make sure you save something for the last half of the race.” The first half of the course was much flatter, and it got hillier and hillier the closer you got to the finish. Again, the hills weren’t long, but there were lots of them.

The race started with about a mile of pavement before hitting some sandy doubletrack. I went to the front- I wanted to be either first or second into the singletrack. Everyone was content to just sit in behind me, so I rode at the front for the first 20 minutes or so. After a while I realized that it was going to be a tactical race. I sat up a little, and everyone sat up behind me. I looked back, and there were about 8 riders in the group. Finally, Chloe came around me and rode on the front for a few minutes. Then Emily spent a few minutes on the front. At this point, we were starting to catch the back of the Pro/Cat 1 men’s field. I was getting a little antsy- I wanted to ride hard, but when I upped the pace everyone just stuck on my wheel, and I didn’t want to waste too much energy while everyone else was conserving. The problem was, when someone else rode in front the pace eased up, and I wanted to shed as many other racers as possible. So, I went back to the front and rode steady for a while longer, and that pared the group down to 4.

After a long time at the front, I sat up and finally someone came around. I had no idea who she was, but she took a strong pull and I jumped on her wheel. We were getting close to halfway, and I was still antsy, but I was trying to be patient. (See? This is why I don’t road race- not smart enough to figure all this stuff out during a race). I went back to the front for awhile, and we rode through the feed zone which meant we were halfway to the finish. It was hard to tell how fresh everyone else was because I was spending a lot of time at the front. I didn’t want to ride at the back, because there was enough singletrack that I didn’t want to get stuck behind someone if there was an attack.

In this shot, I am clearly feeding off the icy stare of the guy in the brown sweatshirt.

I went back and forth about staying on the front or making someone else pull for awhile. I knew I had to be smart. Finally, on one of the flat road sections I sat up and pulled over to the side, but no one came around. I slowed down, and still, no one. “Seriously, you guys? You can’t take a little pull?” Finally Heather came to the front. She wasn’t exactly drilling it, but at least I didn’t have to be at the front the WHOLE time. I told myself I would wait until at least 10k to go before I made an attack. At about 9k to go, as we were coming into one of the steep rollers, Heather shifted down into her little ring, and I knew that was my chance. I stood up and attacked. When I looked back at the top of the hill I had a few seconds gap, so I put my head down and drilled it.

As I got closer and closer to the finish, I started to be able to hear the crowds. Roaring! The last 1k of the course snaked back and forth through and campground and there were tons of people lining the course. It was amazing! After an hour and half of riding out in the woods with no one around, to ride through the throngs of people was awesome. People leaned into the course, cheering. Wow. I got chills. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile plastered across my face- I mean, how could you not be grinning when that many people are cheering for you? The Iceman finish-line crowd was definitely one of the top 3 crowds at any races I’ve ever done. Thanks everyone who braved the chilly temps to come out and cheer us on, it was much appreciated!!

This guy did more than his fair share of cheering- many thanks.

On the podium, I was rewarded with a 9 liter bottle of Bell’s beer. I could barely lift it! (Seriously, it was kind of embarrassing…) I also received the coveted “ice trophy” which is literally a huge trophy carved out of ice. It was HEAVY, and cold, and slippery. Luckily I was provided with special “trophy-holding” gloves. Again, my upper-body strength was put to the test as I hoisted the ice-trophy up over my head (well, not quite over). Then I had to drink some delicious Bell’s beer out of said trophy (it’s tradition, and I don’t mess with tradition). After the podium, I considered drinking all 9 liters of beer myself but thought it might be bad form not to share, so I shared with all the folks who came out to watch the race. By that time, the cold had sunk in, my lips were blue and Waldek ordered me to stop talking and get in the car.

The podium- that ice trophy was heavier than it looks…really.

Sampling the goods.

Share, and share alike.

Later, after a delicious dinner with India and her brother, we headed to the State Street Bar and Grill for the after party. I had forgotten my ice trophy at the venue (a MAJOR faux-pas), but luckily some volunteers had brought it to the bar for me (thanks guys). Sam Shultz (winner of the men’s race) had his trophy too, so we HAD to drink a beer out of our trophies (again, tradition). It was a great party, and it was fun to chat with other racers and spectators, get heckled and just enjoy an all-around awesome after-party.

I’m already excited about next year’s Iceman. And I’ll be doing a little more upper-body work in preparation.


Do you have a question you're dying to have answered about racing, training or food and cooking? Send it to me and I'll try to answer it on my blog.