Mike Simonson and Kelli Emmett won the 17th Annual Iceman Cometh race near Travers City, Michigan. Both won in a similar style--solo and off the front. This year 2,800 racers tackled the course at this popular, season-ending race. Unlike many other years, racers enjoyed near-perfect course conditions over the 28.5 mile point to point route.
Race director Steve Brown said, "We had a very wet October. Since we live on a big sand dune, the water packed the course down really well and made it fast. This was as good as it can get in Michigan." Amateur racers started early in the morning and faced below-freezing temperatures, but the day stayed clear except for occasional light snow and rain showers. Pro racers started later in the day, in a second wave, but they still competed in temperatures just above freezing.
Kelli Emmett (Ford) convincingly won the women's race by nearly eight minutes. "I felt really good. It's the strongest I've ever felt at an Iceman. I went right from the gun." This was the fourth time Emmett won the race out of more than a half dozen appearances. "I'm from Michigan, and it's a race I've always done, usually with my dad. Unfortunately, he was very sick this year, so he couldn't do it." Emmett kept her dad in mind as she raced to victory in front of friends and family.
Left on her own for the duration of the race, Emmett says she kept motivated by racing with the men. "I raced with the guys for most of the race. They encouraged me and pushed me."
Emmett finished ahead of second-place Sara Kylander-Johnson (Trek/VW). Johnson suffered from end-of-season burnout as she tackled her second-ever Iceman. "I felt sluggish. I didn't have a good race. Then I lost my contact about 10 miles into the race. I contemplated quitting because the race is so sandy, you need to be able to see well to pick your lines. But I didn't want to quit." Poor vision notwithstanding, Kylander-Johnson rode most of her race alone. "It was a time trial."
The men's race started fast and furious. Mike Simonson said, "I took off right from the start and got a 20 foot gap. I punched it a few more times, but both Brian and Tristan followed me. Going into the singletrack, Brian hit his pedal on a tree or something, so my gap opened up." Simonson extended it ultimately to about a minute.
He sustained the gap throughout the race, but he said, "I couldn't see second place and didn't know how far back he was until we both finished." This was his first victory after competing in the race for seven consecutive years. What did he do differently this year? "I raced a different bike. I went with a 29'er."
Cyclingnews' James Huang, who also competed in the race, noticed the prevalence of 29'ers at this year's race. "It was the perfect course for them. It was pretty flat, mostly doubletrack, with some singletrack mixed in."
Starting the pros later in the day, after amateurs had a chance to finish their races and clean-up, meant the elite men and women were greeted at the finish by large crowds. Johnson said, "I'd estimate there were 4,000 spectators at the finish." So many racers and spectators suggest mountain bike racing is alive and well in the mid-west.