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Don’t Fear the Iceman (Just be Prepared)

The Iceman Cometh Challenge in Michigan is a crap shoot when it comes to the weather. The race sells out every year anyway. Photo courtesy of Iceman Cometh Challenge
The Iceman Cometh Challenge in Michigan is a crap shoot when it comes to the weather. The race sells out every year anyway. Photo courtesy of Iceman Cometh Challenge

JUST IN: JHK and Dunlap win in warm conditions.

Michigan. November. Mountain bike racing. What the hell I am I thinking?

Actually, I wasn’t doing the thinking. My little sojourn north to cover the 20th anniversary of the Iceman Cometh Challenge this weekend in Traverse City was assigned to me in absentia by the VeloNews crew.

While nobody will cop to it, good money says the conversation in the editorial meeting (likely on a sunny 70-degree day in Boulder) went something like: “Bate is the FNG (Friggin’ New Guy), let’s send him to Northern Michigan at the onset of winter to cover the Iceman.”

“Oh wait, let’s have him race it, too…”

The latter could have been my fool-hearted idea once I was informed about the “trip.” Foolish considering that since my kid was born I haven’t really rolled anything but local races involving the usual suspects. The Iceman boasts a top pro field and some 4,000 age-groupers and the boy is going on five years old.

Suffice to say, Saturday’s romp on the 27-mile, point-to-point course will be, um, interesting.

Suppose you could also say it’s time for me to step out of my normal California trail-riding comfort zone. But Michigan? November? Mountain bike racing? That sounds like stepping into the uncomfortable zone. Hell, the damn race is called the Iceman Cometh. Gee, maybe I’ll squeeze in a little ice fishing when I’m up there.

But how bad can it really get? Will racers be sporting Sorels with SPDs? Fur-lined helmets? Whatever the conditions, the weather doesn’t keep the race from rolling. It sold out weeks ago.

“It will be best to prepare for any kind of weather,” Steve Brown, the man behind the Iceman, told me a while back. “It could be 25 with some snow, or 40 and sunny. If it’s warm — relatively— everybody calls it the ‘Niceman.’ Thirty-four and rain is the combination that still makes me nervous, but we have not experienced that yet.”

With that in mind — hoping for the best yet planning for the worst — I turned to Cache Mundy and Tony Torrance at Pearl Izumi to, well, prepare me for the worst. As it turns out, the cycling gods blessed my query as Torrance knows a thing or two about cold-weather riding and foul-weather gear. First off, he’s from Michigan and knows the Iceman well.

“The race is super fun and probably faster than any other mountain bike race that I’ve ever done,” Torrance said. “It’s more like the intensity of a crit than anything else.”

Second, Torrance is the guy who constructed that Pearl Izumi Barrier shoe that fits so comfortably around your dogs. Earlier this week, however, he was skeptical about the need for PI’s burly winter shoe.

“The weather report for Traverse City is 55 and sunny,” he said. “So much for the ‘Iceman.’”

Nonetheless, Torrance suggested taking the Barrier shoe along: It is Michigan after all.

As of Friday, that forecast is holding out for Saturday, with temps looking to be in the mid-50s.

Despite the relative balm, it well could be the “box of chocolates” weather vagaries — and the hefty $31,000 purse — that make the Iceman such a popular race. Here are a few examples of “you never know what you’re going to get” when it comes to the event:

2003: 25 degrees, heavy snow in Kalkaska, while there was only a light dusting of snow at the finish line. Once on the racecourse, most riders fell at least five or six time apiece due to the slippery conditions.

2000: 50 degrees and clear blue skies

1995: Wicked snowstorm hits Michigan… Roads are covered with ice. Many competitors have car accidents on their way to Traverse City and to Kalkaska Saturday morning. Race day continued cold and snowy (six inches). There’s so much snow on the course that passing is impossible.

OK, you get the picture. Stay tuned to see what kind of chocolate the Iceman — or “Niceman” — actually serves up on Saturday. Whatever it is, I hope I don’t choke on it.

Jamie Bate is the editor of Singletrack.com. He can be reached at jbate@competitorgroup.com

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