Gear Up For the Iceman Cometh Challenge
For mountain bike enthusiasts, the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge is a chance to prove just how hard-core you are.
Event Director, Steve Brown, said it takes guts and commitment to sign up for the early November race, which takes riders on a gnarly 30-mile course, oftentimes accentuated with snow, ice, and rain. Riders will take to the trails this Saturday, starting in downtown Kalkaska and making their way to the finish at Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort on the eastern edge of Traverse City. They’ll cover paved roads, dirt roads, two tracks, abandoned railroad beds, and parts of the Vasa Nordic ski trail.
“I think to me it boils down to, you’re pitting yourself against mother nature and this time of year the weather is pretty unpredictable,” he said.
As of this writing, temps for this Saturday’s race are expected to be in the mid to upper 30s with a rain and snow mix in Kalkaska and Traverse City.
The full race begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday. This is also the start time for the Meijer Slush Cup, which offers riders an eight-mile loop version of the event that starts at Timber Ridge and follows the Vasa 10K ski trail. Both races sold out in about four hours when registration opened in March, Brown said.
On Friday, the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo will take place at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Blue Care Network is an Iceman sponsor and will take part in the expo on Friday. Several BCN employees are also part of a team of racers who will be participating on Saturday.
After the full race and the Slush Cup on Saturday, the Meijer Sno-Cone provides a fun way for kids to check out the sport of mountain biking through three short races for riders 12 and under . Kids can still sign up for the Sno-Cone. Participants receive a medal, number plate, and stickers. The kids’ races begin at 3 p.m. and Brown said the event is great for spectators and participants.
“It really exposes youngsters to riding their bike and the freedom you can experience when you’re out there playing in the woods,” he said.
The Iceman Cometh Challenge started in 1990. Thirty-five local riders paid $5 to ride the course. Brown said that was really more of an experiment to see if the trail system could accommodate a ride from Kalkaska to Traverse City. It did and riders loved it.
In its 25th year, the race has gone international, with 5,500 riders registered to participate from all over the country and from as far away as Australia. About 30 riders are legitimate pro racers, Brown said.
Training for the full race is a challenge that many riders have accepted. Completing the race gives riders bragging rights and is a great way to end the season. Brown said the training for riders, which has likely involved many early-morning or after-work spin classes or riding through the woods with a light to accommodate for less daylight, takes a lot of effort.
“It’s harder to even train for Iceman because o f the shortened days,” he said.
Still, when the course is snowy, he said it can be a “magical winter wonderland.”
“It’s just something really fun when it snows,” Brown said.
Participants can celebrate a successful ride with a Bell’s Sunset on the Season After Party at the West Bay Beach Holiday Inn in Traverse City, scheduled for 9 p.m. on Saturday. Brown said serious mountain bikers are there to compete, but also enjoy each other’s company and the camaraderie of a shared love of the sport.
“Everybody’s ready to kick back and let loose a little bit and relax after concentrating on their performance during the race,” Brown said.
Photo credit: kylethomas.ca