Over the years, the Iceman Cometh has steadily drawn more and more talent to the trails of Northern Michigan. While a certain seven time Tour de
France champion brought a lot of media attention to the Leadville 100, the Iceman has humbly attracted some of the best racers from both the US and internationally. Way back in 2000, the race drew mountain biking legend Tinker Juarez, and ever since, the best of the best have graced the start line in Kalkaska and fueled the after party in Traverse City. In 2011, fans will be treated to another showdown between some of the biggest names in the sport.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek), Jeremiah Bishop (Canondale), Mike Simonson (Trek 29er Crew) and the other annual favorites were shocked last year when Brian Matter (GearGrinder) attacked a few miles from the finish. Some of the fastest men on fat tires watched as the Wisconsin-native took off. The big names looked at each other, trying to urge someone to give chase. When they finally did turn on the afterburners, it was too late. Brian Matter soloed to the finish, so thoroughly covered in mud that he was only recognizable by his beard. In 2011, the favorites will not let Matter, who had won the race twice before but never against such a talented field.
Present last year but with even more promise and potential in 2011 is Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek), who may be able to take advantage of teammate JHK to ride a tactical race. That could also benefit Eric Young (BISSELL), who took the Pro Criterium Championship this past summer. Young has the fitness and the firepower, but can he handle the sand and possibly snow?
Iceman Cometh director, Steve Brown, dropped a bombshell when he announced the Fluckinger Brothers (TREK World Racing) would ride the 2011 edition. At the World Championships this past September, Lucas Fluckinger was fifth and played a huge role for Switzerland in trying to stop the eventual winner Jaroslav Kulhavy. Luk had a flat tire and lost nearly a minute halfway through the race before rallying back to the chase group. His younger
brother, Mattias, placed 13th in his first Elite World Championship, an amazing accomplishment and a hint of what is to come for the younger Fluckinger. Both are on great form, but have never ridden in the deep sand and snow the Iceman Cometh is famous for.
The Iceman might be the race most consistently decided by weather. Northern Michigan weather can change in a second, and the amount of precipitation on the ground the week before the race influences whether the trail is smooth and fast, or an unforgiving quagmire of slick mud and thick, grimy sand. While it’s still a few days off, initial weather reports hint that it will be a pleasant, sunny fall day for the race. However, that can change at any time. Look for first-time racer Troy Wells (Clif Bar) to be in prime form and play the role of dark horse among the favorites, who might not watch the newbie as close as they may mark the likes of Schultz, Matter, and Horgan-Kobelski. In bad conditions, any sort of gap might be extremely hard to cover.
Perhaps the biggest news of the 2011 Iceman Cometh is the arrival of the race’s first reigning World Champion, Catherine Pendrel (LUNA Pro Team). Back in September, Pendrel took her first World Championship in Italy, and will wear the rainbow jersey for the first time in competition this coming Saturday. 2010 winner Amanda Carey (Kenda) returns facing some of the fastest women from around the country. Some of the best talent, however, will have been racing in Northern Michigan for nearly a month before the Iceman finally kicks off. Sue Stephens (Quiring Cycles) has been going full-speed since storming to her win at the Crybaby Classic on October 1st, then put on a display at Peak2Peak October 15th. At the Iceman, she will relive her battle from that race against both Mackenzie Woodring (Team PriorityHealth) and Johanna Schmidt (Einstein Racing), who pushed her to third on the podium in a fast and tactical fight for the win. They’ll also have to contend with Kelli Emmett (Giant Factory Off-Road), who has won the Iceman no less than five times and will be on top form when she toes the line in Kalkaska. Last year, former singlespeed World Champion Heather Irmiger had a mechanical early in the race and didn’t get to finish. She’ll be extra motivated to put in a strong showing for the fans.
With good weather conditions tentatively expected and an extremely strong field, it may come down to numbers. Trek-Subaru and Trek World Racing will both have two riders in the front of the Men’ race, and will also bear the burden of chasing early attacks. If the weather turns out favorable, expect a bunch finish. Less than a mile from the finish there is a nasty, small climb before the VASA trail chokes down into a narrow section of fencing and barriers. The winner will have to be in one of the top three positions to sprint at the finish without being blocked. For the Men’s race, I’ll take Lucas Fluckinger for the win, followed by Sam Schultz in second and Troy Wells in third.
For the women, Catherine Pendrel will have a rainbow-colored target on her back. If she has the form she held at the World Championships, however, that target is going to shrink into the horizon as she rides away from the field. Look for Pendrel on the top spot at Timber Ridge, followed by Amanda Carey and Mackenzie Woodring.
*Featured photo showcases Brian Matter, Gary Fisher and Amanda Carey celebrating during the 2010 Iceman. Photo courtesy of Iceman Cometh Challenge.