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Horgan-Kobelski aims to defend Iceman Cometh title

Jeremiah Bishop topped the men's podium at the 2008 Iceman Cometh.

Jeremiah Bishop topped the men's podium at the 2008 Iceman Cometh. (Image credit: Christine Czarnecki)

The 21st annual Iceman Cometh Challenge, a 27-mile point-to-point mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City, Michigan, will happen on Saturday, November 6. Some top road and mountain bike pros are among the more than 4,000 racers expected at the start.

Run in every condition from warm and sunny to cold and snowy, the Iceman Cometh is the traditional American mountain bike season-ending race. Some snow is in the forecast as a possibility for Friday, the day before the event, which means racers could see their first snowy course in five years.

"Right now, according to the weatherman, we're supposed to get one to three inches of snow on Friday, and then it's supposed to clear up on Friday night, right before the race," said Promoter Steve Brown to Cyclingnews. "Partly cloudy, sunny and 40 (degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday should make it really fast."

This year's race will feature a showdown between elite mountain bikers and road racers. Who will have the advantage? "Some of it depends on the weather. If it is snowy, I'd give the edge to a mountain biker, especially if it's a little sketchy or slippery," said Brown. "The course isn't that technical, but there are a few spots where the mountain bike experience will be an advantage."

The favorites on the men's side are defending champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and his wingmen Sam Schultz and Russell Finsterwald. Kenda is bringing Andy Schultz and Colin Cares and Specialized is sending Todd Wells while 2008 race winner Jeremiah Bishop and another past winner Brian Matter will also be on hand. On the roadie side, Bissell is bringing 10 of their guys and Kenda is likely to send a few, too.

"Mark Bissell, president of the company, has been riding the Iceman for many years now, and all of his guys want to do it," said Brown.

BMC will also be represented with Brent Bookwalter, Cole House and Larry Warbasse. Bookwalter established himself early cycling by racing mountain bikes while 21-year-old Warbasse is a Traverse City native.

More important than whether a racer is a road or mountain biker is with whom he or she is riding. "Teamwork absolutely plays a role in this race," said Brown. "Last year was decided with teamwork. JHK and Sam (Schultz) were the first two in the last singletrack, and Sam let a gap open up. Brian (Matter) was behind them and had nowhere to go. It will be a tactical race. They'll turn on the afterburners from the gun to get rid of the detritus."

The women's elite field will be smaller than usual - with about 20 racers instead of the usual 30. Last year's winner, former World Champion Alison Dunlap is busy starting a family and will not be racing. That leaves Heather Irmiger and Sue Stevens among the likely top finishers. They have previously battled each other for podium spots.

Both the pro men and the women will be competing for US$10,000 each in prizes - the purses are equal. The winners will walk home with $3500.

With 4,000 racers in the Iceman and 315 in the eight-mile Slush Cup plus 380 kids signed up for the Snow Cone race, it can get a little congested out on course. To alleviate some of that organizers are starting racers in waves based on previous race times.

"One of the biggest things we've done for the amateurs is to seat them by previous times rather than beginner, sport, expert or categories," said Brown. "When you go to a running marathon, they don't seat by beginner, sport, expert. We found people riding expert that didn't belong there and same with the sports. Now the 85 fastest amateurs, no mater of bike, age, category or gender, get to go first." Any newbies in their first year of racing will have to start in unseated waves based on their age until they establish a time that can be used in seating for future events.

The Iceman Cometh course consists of paved roads, dirt roads, two tracks, abandoned railroad beds, and the world-famous VASA cross-country ski trail.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.