Iceman Cometh comeback: Race returns to northern Michigan after COVID-19 nixed 2020 event | Sports

TRAVERSE CITY – Saturday is a kind of family gathering.

Although not all of the thousands who gather in Kalkaska and Traverse City for the 32nd Iceman Cometh Challenge are blood relatives, they have one thing in common – a love of mountain biking.

The annual race, which stretches from Kalkaska Airport to Timber Ridge Resort, fell victim to the same fate this year as many other annual events in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Iceman organizers to do the almost last year Closing 50-kilometer cycling glove that leaves northern Michigan on the first Saturday in November, much emptier than many are used to.

But the Iceman Cometh has returned for 2021, and the spirit of friendship and camaraderie that comes with it is back in the crisp fall air too.

“We’re just lucky everyone’s back,” said Iceman Race Director Cody Sovis. “It’s the racing drivers who enable us to be here and keep us alive. We really hope to have a great event to thank all of the people who were especially generous last year in bringing us this year. “

The seats were taken and the 2020 race entry fees paid in March last year when the pandemic was in the early stages of its impending surge. Many of the drivers have either postponed their registration fee until this year or donated the money to help keep the race afloat financially.

Kat Paye is the executive director of the National Cherry Festival, which oversees the Iceman as well as several other local events such as the New Year’s Eve ball fall in downtown Traverse City and the Leapin ‘Leprechaun 5K race. None of these events took place until Cherry Fest returned in a COVID-altered fashion last summer.

Funding all of these events was definitely a concern. Paye said the organization relies on donations, COVID-19 aid programs like loans to protect paychecks, and grants for economic development.

“I just started sleeping again,” joked Paye.

Paye has to go to bed early on Friday if she wants to get some sleep before race day. She plans to be at the start at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for the 9 a.m. races, when wave after wave of 100 cyclists ride through dirt roads, two-lane ruts, deserted tracks, the Pere Marquette State Forest and the VASA ski slope.

Paye said nearly 5,000 racers are registered for Saturday, which will consist of multiple races.

The traditional iceman starts at 9 a.m. at the airport. The Slush Cup, a “more relaxed option” for beginners that stretches 8 miles, starts at the same time, but begins in Timber Ridge with the first “slushie,” which is expected to cross the finish line at 10am for the first Iceman contestants are expected to arrive only half an hour later at 10:30 a.m.

The Junior Iceman is scheduled to kick off at noon, and the PRO race starts at 2:30 p.m. – both at Kalkaska Airport. The final race, the Sno-Cone, is for children aged 10 and under and starts at 3 p.m. on Timber Ridge.

“Saturday is all about our drivers,” said Paye. “You were itching to get out of here.”

Ty Schmidt definitely has it.

Schmidt is known among the northern Michigan’s cycling community for having founded Norte – an organization that focuses on building youth cycling. Schmidt has ridden in every iceman since he and his family moved to Traverse City in 2006.

“That’s tradition,” said Schmidt. “If you mountain bike in Traverse City and don’t do Iceman, you’re doing it wrong.

Schmidt admitted that he is no longer as young and vigorous as he used to be, but is always looking forward to the fight for the Iceman course.

“It keeps me in the woods. It keeps me honest. It always drives me to train, ”he said. “I’ll do it as long as I can.”

The weather forecast for Saturday looks good – highs in the mid-50s and mostly sunny skies. A kinder, gentler mother nature would be a blessing for Schmidt and the other racing drivers.

“I had mudmans and rainmans and snowmans and icemans,” said Schmidt. “I am 45 years old now. I’m looking forward to a Niceman. “

The 2019 Iceman was tough for many cyclists. The 32-mile course was one of the longest ever and the weather was brutal. Sovis said they are trying to do the exact opposite in 2021.

One of the biggest changes in the course will be shortly after the riders cross Williamsburg Road and hit “the Rock”. Instead of turning left, the racers turn right and head south, making for a flatter route than the ascents and descents in the north. This year’s race is almost 30 miles with 1,200 vertical meters.

“We’ll have a lot of people out there pointing and screaming,” said Sovis, suppressing any notion of racers in the wrong direction.

Not only that, Sovis also said people have been practicing driving on the track since it was completed in August.

“There are basically car pools from Grand Rapids and Southeast Michigan to pull up the course,” he said. “The people who take it seriously probably have a good idea of ​​this curve and each other and rock and root along the way.”

Less hills mean more pressure to make a move earlier in the race, Sovis said.

“It could be a more aggressive race because in the end you don’t have the decisive climbs to hang your hat on,” said Sovis.

The final 10 kilometers include the VASA climb and return from Madeline’s Trail, all of which lead to the iconic Icebreaker.

Schmidt can hardly wait.

The start is chaotic and stressful, the first 20 minutes are full throttle, he said. But at the finish and at the party after the race, the culture of cycling shines.

“Everything revolves around friendship,” said Schmidt. “It’s fantastic to get up Icebreaker and into Timber Ridge while the crowd is cheering. It’s a celebration of all that is great about mountain biking in northern Michigan. “

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