With the change of colors and the growing buzz of the Iceman Cometh building slowly to a frenzy, Michigan’s top Elite men and women are heading to beautiful northern Michigan for the Peak2Peak Mountain Bike Classic this Saturday, October 15th. Now in its sixth year, the Peak2Peak has become a fixture for Michigan mountain bike racing and a serious notch in any Elite racer’s belt. The colors, the weather, the timing before the Iceman, and the title sponsor, Right Brain Brewery, all combine to make this one fun race.
Beautiful Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa creates the perfect setting for a mid-October mountain bike race, but a lot of factors draw the top riders to
Thompsonville each fall. For Johanna Schmidt (Einstein Racing), it’s a little bit of everything. “It’s great training for Iceman, an awesome local race, top notch competitors, a super fun course, usually perfect weather and a great party after.”
The course itself is fast and flat for the majority of each eleven mile lap, mostly on wide trails, golf cart paths or crossing sections of dirt roads near the Betsie River. “It’s a road race for the first five or six miles, and you’ve got to hold to the wheel ahead of you,” said Wes Sovis (TOLaw), riding Expert this year after finishing sixth in Sport at Peak2Peak last season. The riders eventually hit singletrack and wind down nearly to the river before a short climb back up and to the rear of the Crystal Mountain ski area.
The real hurdle of the race is the Crystal Climb, a 300 foot ascent up the backside of the ski hill. It averages 7.1%, with sections well over 10%. The surface is mostly rough grass, sand and gravel, and riders have to pick smart lines to avoid getting trapped in the rough parts as other racers jockey for position. The current record time on the climb is Ken Blakey-Shell at 5:51, an impressive figure but one that will probably fall this weekend.
The Women’s Elite race has a huge favorite, but with it comes the massive target on her back. Sue Stephens (Bell’s Brewery) is coming off a huge win at the Crybaby Classic two weeks ago, and won the 2010 Peak2Peak. She is on stellar form and will be looking to get out, get alone and ride away from the other ladies, chiefly her closest competitor, Johanna Schmidt. Schmidt finished second to Stephens recently at Crybaby and at Peak2Peak last year. Johanna says Stephens is “definitely” the favorite. Schmidt even recruited new Einstein teammate, Mackenzie Woodring, as extra firepower, hoping to 1-2 Sue on the fast portions of the course and to keep the defending champ under pressure. Another favorite is Susan Vigland (Hagerty), who had a mechanical at the Crybaby Classic and will be extra motivated at Peak2Peak to test her form before the Iceman.
The Elite Men’s race is as wide open as it gets. In 2010, Mike Anderson (TREK/SRAM) edged out Derek Graham (BISSELL) by just two seconds, with
Michael Simonson (Gary Fischer 29er) taking third. Expect those riders to be battling again in 2011, but with some new faces near the front. They will also have to contend with a young new duo coming off impressive displays this year. Alex Vanias (PriorityHealth) took third at the Crybaby Classic, just ahead of Derek Graham, in spite of some shifting issues throughout the race. Jorden Wakeley didn’t have any issues, and he still didn’t shift; he rode his singlespeed bike in the Elite race. Even with one gear, he still held onto Anderson’s wheel to take second. A Wakeley with a full compliment of gears should be something exciting to see, and the other Elite riders will have to keep a careful eye on him.
Two riders to watch for along with the favorites are Ty Schmidt (Einstein Racing) and Jeff Craven (City Bike Shop), both Traverse City residents riding for local bike shops. Ty took seventh at the Crybaby Classic, just a short ways behind Craven in fifth. Expect big things from the two local heroes out on course.
There is still time to register in all categories, and be sure to make the scenic trip out to Crystal Mountain to watch one of the area’s most exciting races. Don’t forget, there is a generous after party featuring Right Brain Brewery’s finest beer!
*Main photo is of expert racer Mike Okma as he hits the descent in the 2010 Peak2Peak race.