Five-time winner Kelli Emmett will be one of several past winners in Traverse City, Michigan, this weekend for the 20th annual Iceman Cometh. If anyone knows what to expect in the race its Emmett. She's raced nine previous editions, and is looking forward to another.
"I know that Outdoor Magazine listed the Iceman on their list of 'Things To Do Before You Die'. And I really believe anyone can do this race. My whole family comes out, and it's wonderful. My mom can do this race, and this year my cousins will be out racing. The crowd and the spectators and the atmosphere are all so great."
Last year's women's winner Amanda Carey is also returning. "Iceman was the most fun I had racing all last year," said Carey. "It's the way mountain bike racing should be, and the support of the fans at the end makes it very special for the pros. Unless you race World Cups or cyclo-cross, most of us are used to being cheered on by a handful of people, most of whom we know."
"My race in 2008 was my first Iceman, in addition to being my first Iceman win," said Carey. "I had never participated in a Midwest race before.
Carey is taking nothing for granted when it comes to defending her title. "Every woman out there is a challenge. No one, not even me, expected that I would win last year."
Other top female contenders include former World Champion Alison Dunlap and current marathon and cross country national champion Heather Irmiger.
"I love the Iceman Cometh because of the 'What's up with that' element!" said Irmiger, who grew up in Michigan, and now lives in Colorado. "November is an interesting time for a mountain bike race - you never know what the weather will be like, how hard people have been training, or who exactly will show up. I keep coming back because I love not knowing what to expect - even from myself. Every Iceman is different, and I love the prospect of duking it out with people I would have never expected to be racing hard against this time of year."
Local favorite Jenna Rinehart has already won the Ore to Shore and Chequamegon 40 this season, and will start the race as the first woman to have a shot at the coveted Triple Crown of point-to-point Midwest races.
"Winning the Triple Crown is definitely in the back of my mind," said Rinehart. "I have never raced the Iceman so I'm not sure what to expect. It will be tough and I'll need a little luck on my side but I think I have a good shot at the win."
Whomever wins will take home a trophy made of ice. "I wish I could have kept mine forever but I don't think it would have survived the flight home," said Carey, thinking of her win 12 months ago. "I also didn't have the freezer space. It was quite big."
Though the race does happen sometimes in very epic cold and snowy conditions, it's looking like the 2009 Iceman will be run in warm and dry conditions.
"Typically, the more heinous the conditions, the better I do," said Carey. "I was hoping for wet, cold and miserable but a nice sunny day sounds pretty darn good, too."
Carey said the course will favor someone with a lot of power. "It is such a fast racecourse with lots of power sucking sand. Last year, I actually found the opening pace too slow. But, the only advice I had gotten about Iceman was to ride it like a road race, so I sat in as long as I could stand it to conserve energy." Patience is a strategy that many of the favorites will deploy. It's often not until near the end of the race that the group of favorites blows apart.
The men's field will be just as impressive. Local hero, 2009 WORS Overall Champ and hometown favorite Brian Matter is looking for his third Triple Crown win in the midst of a successful UCI cyclo-cross season. Ready to give him a run for his money are National Champion Jeremy Horgan Kobelski and Subaru / Gary Fisher teammate Sam Schultz as well as past winners Michael Simonsen from Michigan and Tristan Schouten from Wisconsin.
Many of the racers will be on 29er hardtails, including Dunlap, Irmiger, Todd Wells, Schultz and Horgan Kobelski. Rinehart and Emmett will duke it out on 26-inch full suspension models, and Schouten will take to the trail on a hardtail 26-inch wheeled bike.
"To be honest, I can't think of a better course for a 29er," said Emmett. However, as she doesn't have her hands on the new Giant 29er yet, she will again race her Anthem full suspension. "It has four inches of travel, so I can really bomb the downhills. The bike is fast, and fun, and lets me pedal through the corners."
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