Both Brian Matter (Geargrinder / Trek) and Amanda Carey (Kenda / Felt) are planning to return to Traverse City, Michigan, next Saturday to defend their 2010 Iceman Cometh Titles. Matter will be aiming for his fourth title after previously also winning in 2004 and 2007 while Carey will be going for number three - she also won in 2008.
It won't be an easy fight, though, as the field of pros is stacked with top talent, including other past winners. New for 2011, the elite prize purse has been bumped up by $10,000. The top man and woman each take home $5,000.
Racers will compete in a 29.5-mile point-to-point mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City. The event is held annually on the first Saturday of November (except for years when the first Saturday is Nov. 1). The 22nd edition of the race will offer over $54,000 in cash prizes.
Carey's biggest challenge may come from world champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who will make her first US appearance in the rainbow stripes since winning Worlds in September in Switzerland. Pendrel is an Iceman (or should we say "Icewoman"?) newbie.
After some time away from the race, past winner Kelli Emmett (Giant) will be back in action. Emmett has won the race an impressive five times in past years. Other national-level pros to watch include Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Trek), Judy Freeman (Kenda/Felt) and Chloe Woodruff. But don't count out Susan Stephens from Ontario, who races in the region and has previously finished second while locals will be cheering for McKenzie Woodring from nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Defending champion Matter will again be going for the unofficial triple crown of the midwest after also winning the Ore to Shore in Marquette and the Chequamegon 40 this fall.
Trek will not be short on talent as the Swiss Flückiger brothers Lukas and Matthias (both Trek World Racing) are flying across the pond to race the Iceman. The top-level World Cup talent won't know the course from past experience, but they obviously know how to race fast.
The men's race will also include teammates Jeremy Horgan Kobelski, Sam Schultz and Russell Finsterwald of Subaru-Trek while Cole House will represent a local Grand Rapids bike builder. Matter's training buddy Tristan Schouten, Travis Woodruff, Troy Wells (Clif Bar) and Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt) will also be there.
In keeping with recent tradition, a few roadies will take to the start, including Bissell riders Eric Young and Andrew Dahlheim.
Of course, don't count out past winners Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) and Mike Simonson. The latter is back in action after a serious crash left him hospitalized after the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in early September.
"While the pro men's race is likely to start with 100 racers, most will get spit out during the first half of the race," said Iceman Cometh Promoter Steve Brown to Cyclingnews.
"I think that team tactics will play a role in how the race develops. The race usually whittles down to a group of 10-12 guys within three to five miles to go. It depends who makes those selections as to who will be able to work together as a team."
"The women are a lot more spread out usually. They don't have the numbers that the men's race does," said Brown.
The course is generally flat but does contain many rollers. "It's flatter than what most of these top folks are used to," said Brown. "It's hard, but it's not crazy hard. The faster you go, the harder it gets."
The owner at Timber Ridge resort, where we finish is held, is predicting 38-degree temperatures with a rain and snow mix. "That's the kind of weather that makes me way nervous," said Brown. "We've avoided that for 20 years, so I'm hoping it dries out or gets colder and it snows."
The conditions often vary widely between the morning waves and the afternoon waves. Last year, it was 20 degrees and cold in the morning with two to four inches of snow on parts of the trail. As the day warmed up, the snow started to melt and the pros ended up quite muddy.
The point-to-point event consists primarily of dirt tracks, doubletracks (the majority), abandoned railbeds, and the world famous Vasta ski trail. It crosses only one paved road - Williamsburg Road at mile 16 as it winds through the Pere Marquette State Forest in northern lower Michigan.
4,800 racers are expected to take to the starting line in what may be the most popular mountain bike event in the United States. In 2010, 4,766 athletes from 38 states and Ontario participated. The Meijer Slush Cup offers beginners a half frozen version while The Meijer Sno-Cone is a race for those 12 & under.