Wait… The Iceman is When?!

October 30th, 2019 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  Terry Ritter

In my almost 20 years of coaching I’ve had a few athletes that signed on to just do a short training plan for the Iceman. Many of these athletes were experiencing their first edition of this race, or one of their first few, and so I made sure I covered all the bases. This meant bike prep, maintenance, nutrition, and other points that could help improve their chances of success. For the ’19 season I have two athletes tying on an Iceman number plate for the first time, and I’m pulling out all my old information to help them prepare in hopes they enjoy this unique event. Here’s some of the important stuff if you need to quickly get things together to optimize your chances.

Proper Bike Set-Up

A number of aspects related to modern bicycle set up rely on volumes of air. Most fork designs that are in the mid-level and above price range have an air chamber for the supporting spring. Rear shocks are likely similar. And, of course, all bicycle tires will be relying on ambient gases as their means of pneumonic support. The tuning of these components depends on the pressure of the air inside, which is usually changed by a rider adding or releasing air. However, major temperature changes will change pressure as described by Charlie’s Law (chemistry alert!). A given pressure will lose about 1 psi for every 10 degree loss of temperature. This doesn’t seem like much, but if you inflate your tires to that perfect 24 psi in your hotel room, they could well be at 20 psi or less at the start of the race. Your fork and shock will be less stiff as well. Solve this problem by letting the bike sit out in the elements and then doing your air adjustments just before starting your warm up. Bonus Point: Don’t forget your shock pump!

Get the Nutrition and Hydration Right

For many racers that have been racing Sport or Beginner all season, the Iceman will be the longest event of the year. Even for a number of Expert level MTBers, if conditions are poor, they could be looking at the same situation. This year’s 30 mile course will add time to everyone as well. For most, what is needed hydration and nutrition wise is uncharted territory. My suggestion is to do a good breakfast a little earlier than normal, that has fewer carbohydrates and more fat and protein. This will allow you a steady energy source for longer. From there, 2 bottles should get most racers through 3 hours with the temps we are likely to race in, especially if you sip a different bottle during warm up (grab a fresh one before heading to the start line). Bring the energy packets of choice (gels, bars), and start supplementing around the 90 min mark. If a 3 hour or more event is expected, you should repeat this every 45 mins or so. A few important points are to never try something new the day of the race, drink early, and be sure to bring just a little extra for bars or gels. And, if it is going to be below freezing for most of the race, an insulated bottle could be a wise choice. Bonus Point: If you plan to eat a gel or bar during the race, don’t mix the energy drink as concentrated to prevent GI distress.

Iceman Maintenance

Nothing is more disappointing then to have your training, race strategy, and nutrition nailed for the big day, then have your bike let you down. Though this can happen no matter what, I have seen certain patterns after 20 plus events, many centered around drivetrain issues. The bike is running and shifting well during pleasant weather from a drivetrain that’s been on the bike all season. Then, race day comes and it’s muddy or sandy and wet. The chain and other parts get covered, and the bike starts skipping, shifting poorly, or chain sucking. Your chain could well be stretched and things aren’t mating well as the conditions turned. Or, you changed the chain after it had stretched a bit too far. Regardless, I have found a good way to avoid this is to either keep my chain changed earlier, or to swap out my big ring, chain, and cassette a few weeks before the Iceman (I usually get a year out of stuff), and so it’s fresh in case the conditions are bad, and that gives me a fresh drivetrain before the start of the next season. Another area of concern is getting an appropriate chain lube for conditions (so NOT using the drier, warmer weather wax based stuff you used all summer). People also will not lube their cables, or use a heavier lube/grease that’s fine in warmer weather, but gums up the cable, and so the shifting, when it gets at or below freezing. A thinner lube works well in both applications (I like wet lubes for chains and T-9 for cables this time of year). A few drops on the pedals won’t hurt, either. Don’t forget to put a little fresh sealant in your tires if that’s your set up. It might be a good idea to get your brake pad wear checked. You can burn through 3 months of dry riding in 30 miles of poor conditions. Bonus Point: Make sure you’re clutched derailleur is turned on if you run a 1x system.

Tool Bag

With the Iceman being a point-to-point race, self-support is a bit more important. Even if your result is going to be negatively impacted with a breakdown and you want to give up, it’s often difficult to get to a location that has people. Best to fix what you can and ride it home. Most common tool bag contents would fix most problems. These include a tube, CO2 inflators, tire levers if your tires need them, and a multi-tool. What will end a day poorly is if you can’t manage a broken chain. This is best done with a master link and chain tool in the bag. Bonus Point: Look through your bag to be sure it’s equipped with what you need… and make sure you know how to use everything.

Dress for Success

A common picture from the Iceman is seeing the new riders hopelessly overdressed. This is totally understandable as it might well be chilly before the start, and we all get stuck standing around for a while. But, one must resist the temptation to pile on the outerwear in these situations. You should be a little chilly standing there, as you’ll start heating up once the racing is underway. One trick is to have someone that can take a coat while you are in the staging area. Another good idea is to have the ability to open zippers or remove layered clothing (thinking windproof vest and arm warmers here). Best to have had a chance to test out some of the clothing before you race. This is not always possible, especially with the nice fall we’ve had in Michigan. Regardless, give yourself time to take a few things off after warming up. Don’t forget to look at the forecast. If it’s looking like rain and you’re going to be out there a while, it might be a good idea to pack a jacket. Bonus Point: If you are using chemical warmers, many need some access to air to work.

Scout the Course and Plan Appropriately

This year’s edition had a lot of racers pre-riding the course weeks before. Most of this was likely due to pleasant fall weather we enjoyed. Another fact might well be all the changes incorporated into this season’s route. Regardless, it’s good to know what you’re in for on your way to Traverse City. But the most critical areas are the start and finish. The later can be tackled on the Friday pre-ride, as they will have a small loop set up that riders can do a few times. This is good to get a grasp of where you’ll need to get ahead of riders that you might be racing to the line. For the start, knowing how the course will potentially bottle neck can help determine where a little more effort should be used. New this year is the start from the airport. This will meander around for a significant bit before crossing the paved two lane and heading down a dirt road. This road was in the early editions of the Iceman, and was always a cluster due to large deposits of sand. If you have a chance, be near the front of your class when this area comes up. The later waves will struggle to check it out before the race as there will be waves and waves of riders. But, any knowledge ahead of time could prevent a catastrophe. Bonus Point: You can’t win the race at the start, but you can certainly lose it.

Resting and Race Day Warm Up

There are two major things that can impact a race negatively, but are common mistakes. The first I have seen over the years is people riding too much leading up to the Iceman. They want to get as much riding in, either due to a late start to event training , or just not understanding the power of rest. They will post hard or long riding hours the week preceding, then rest a day or two with little to no training. Unfortunately, anything we physically do to improve conditioning won’t materialize for 7-10 days at the minimum. For this reason, your hard training should end earlier and you should taper into the race. This means reducing your efforts about 30% each of the two weeks leading up to the first weekend in November. However, if you haven’t done that to this point, understand you can’t carry fatigue into the race and perform your best. With less than one week left, get some shorter, intense rides in and rest a lot more. Don’t be completely off the bike, but make sure you have good legs the day we pin the numbers on. Also, I see people afraid to get out in the cold the morning of Iceman, and so they stick around in their vehicles and fall behind, rushing to get a warm up in and get to their wave early enough to position well. When the gun goes off you want to be the best you can be, rested, warmed up, and ready to go. Bonus Point: It’s a common practice to take two days before the race completely off, then do a short ride on Friday that has a few hard, short efforts.

With days before the big race, some of this advice might be too late. But, even if one little parcel of knowledge helps your event go better it will be well worth the read. And, you’ll be all the more prepared for your next Iceman Cometh!


Iceman Reflux

October 23rd, 2019 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  Terry Ritter

Somewhere along the way I became an elder statesmen in the racing scene. Though I can’t pinpoint when this exactly was, I know it’s happened every season when the Iceman rolls around. There’s a chat with a new or novice racer and I reminisce regarding all the changes I remember over the years in the great November race. Though I’m sure others (though not many) can tell me some interesting changes, my quarter century of Iceman participation leaves me with a few things many people who identify with this event probably don’t know.

There Used to Be a More Traditional Race Format

For a number of years Iceman was organized like most traditional races. There were ubiquitous categories like Beginner, Sport, and Expert, with age groups aligning with the age groupings based off the long defunct NORBA standard. This meant each of these categories had five year age divisions up to and over 50 years old. It made for smaller fields, but you also knew who you were racing against when the gun went off, which was the norm. It was certainly a different way to race head-to-head versus today’s individual time trial method, where your time is then compared to others regardless of your starting wave. Obviously, you could almost pick what class you wanted, and that did group riders of dissimilar abilities, Today’s waving placement method, though frustrating for some, works more effectively to eliminate this disparity.

The Pro’s Started the Race First

It’s probably been well over a dozen years, but the race was more traditional in other ways as well. Primarily, the Pro fields, both men’s and women’s, started in their own waves, but were the first to go off. This created a lot more buzz at the start, and also insured they had the “clean” lines. But it was recognized that many of the Iceman racers were also fans, and they never got a chance to see the pros race, and specifically to finish. The solution was to have the pros go off in the afternoon, after most of the fields had finished and had time to clean up and get a little into their celebratory mode. I was racing the Pro class when we first did the later start. Having done only morning send offs to that point, it was really strange to stand there trying to amp up to compete and there was hardly anyone in the parking lot, and next to no buzz at the start. I distinctly remember being able to hear others around me breathing it was so quiet just seconds before the start. And though I went through a lot of that race competing with just a handful of riders, it was really cool to get closer to the finish and see all the people, then to get to Timber Ridge and have so many cheering. That made it worth it!

The Start and Finish Have Changed Over the Years

Back when the Iceman was a fledgling event the finish was at Holiday Hills ski resort, home of the start and finish of the now popular Mud Sweat and Beers MTB race. Since I started race this event in 1996, the start has been at the Kalkaska High School, downtown Kalkaska, and soon to be the Kalkaska Airport (this year). I can remember my first finish in 1996 being out in a field off the VASA Bunker Hill trailhead. No festivities, banners, or food trucks (or bathrooms, even). Before long the race established Timber Ridge Camp Ground as the finish line and it has grown to be a cool hang out as the years have passed.

Awards Banquette

For a number of years the race had an awards banquette in the evening, usually at the Grand Traverse Resort. With most of the racers finished by noon-2 PM, there was a good 4-5 hours before the awards were to be given out. This allowed a nap, something to eat, and hooking up with friends before heading over to the festivities. I had fond memories of one of my friends who worked for the promoter and lived locally doing an early afternoon spread where a number of the invited pros would come to hang out, eat, and maybe start the beer drinking early. It was a small setting, and people got to talk to each other. For a span of a few years the Iceman was sponsored by Gary Fisher and they used to send a large amount of their national MTB team to the race. I have a neat photo of myself and a young Ryder Hesjedal, many years before he switched to road and won the Giro d’italia.

National Pros Competing

One of the cool things about the Iceman, and cycling in general, is how approachable the top competitors are around the event. The expo the day before wasn’t always what it is today, but often you’d be able to talk to a few of the racers you just see in magazines. But the fact is, though we enjoy a pretty solid pro field in recent years, the Iceman was usually a locals or regional event. One or two good riders would show up that made a living racing a bike, but it wasn’t unheard of for someone you know to break the top 10 in the men’s class or top 5 in the women. Some years the winner would not have been recognized outside of the state. For one of the years Ryder came (and the pros started first in the morning) I remember passing him and another pro about 7 miles from the finish. They were just out enjoying the ride after a long season. To the benefit of the spectators, this hasn’t been the case for a while. Now you are sure to recognize most of the top riders as national competitors, some who have come to compete a few times. And, they know they have to take it seriously because there’s quality riders behind them. Good payouts, great accommodations, the lure of competing in a race they have heard about for years is likely strong drivers to toe the line.

Champions in Our Backyard

A bonus tidbit, but the Iceman has had a number of world champions compete over the years. Cecila Potts won the 1997 Junior World Championships in MTB and holds four winner’s trophies from Iceman. Art Flemming won multiple national championships for his age group and is the 1996 world champion for the 50-59 year old class. A few years back the great Ned Overend, 6 time national champion and 1990 world champion did his first Iceman. TC local Larry Warbasse, long before he was a national road champion and Pro Tour rider, competed in numerous events. Local John Mesco was a junior national champion in downhill. The present men’s 2x Iceman Cometh champion Jeff Kabush holds 15 Canadian national championships and a World Cup win. Alison Dunlop, the 2009 Iceman winner, was also multi-national champion and world champion in 2001. The late Steve Tilford raced for years as a national pro and won a number of age group world championships. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and his wife Heather Irmiger have both won national championships and competed and won our great race. I’m missing a few, and haven’t even mentioned the interesting racers many would recognize (Gary Fisher, anyone?), but the point is the race has had its share of accomplished participants in all fields cycling.

The Iceman Cometh has really evolved over the years, from a small group of friends to a spectacle that people put on their cycling bucket list. Along the way it has found a way to become better while still holding that same spirit of fun that is mountain biking and racing. I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed so much of it and am still around to share. Happy Birthday, Iceman! Here’s to 30 more years.


Ins and Outs of Mountain Bike Time Trialing

October 15th, 2019 by JoAnn Cranson

By Jared Dunham

When you think of time trial racing, mountain bikes don’t usually come to mind, but occasionally you can get a race that combines the two. Time trials are the testing of the athlete against the clock, not other competitors. In a time trial race participants are sent off onto the race course one at a time with small gaps between each other. Each racer is timed individually and whoever finishes with the fastest time is the winner. While at there core, Road and Mountain Bike time trails follow the same formula, there are some differences compared to the MTB version.

The mountain bike time trials I’ve raced at are: Yankee Springs TT, Custer’s Last Stand, Luton Park TT, and M66 TT. These time trial races typically are on shorter distance courses (totaling 6 to 16 miles) and more about an all-out sprint than a long-distance ride. The races I’ve done had laps that are 6 to 8 miles with Beginner/Sport doing one lap and Expert/Elite completing two. Generally, the gap between racers seems to be 30 seconds across the board. These 30 seconds don’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, however they can make a real difference if competition is tight or if the trail is particularly technical.

Benefits

A major benefit to racing in this style is having the ability to host a race on trails that wouldn’t be able to handle a racing event otherwise. Some trails simply don’t have the room or positioning to host a mass start, or the path is too tight for racers to be jostling for placement on. Essentially the time trial can eliminate issues with racers trying to pass each other and going over the handlebars because the trail isn’t wide enough to ride side by side on. In my opinion, this makes it a safer race: everybody might still sprint to the finish line but at least there won’t be groups wrecking because of one misplaced pedal stroke!

Pacing

Pacing for these events is a little different from your typical mountain bike race. Not only is the race shorter but you can’t be sure how far ahead or behind you really are from everyone else, so the only thing you can do is leave it all out there! Since these races feature trails that are more technical or tight, naturally there are parts of the course where you won’t be able to put the pedal to the metal and must focus on simply navigating the trail. When I race these events, I’m putting in hard efforts for most of the race and am able to rest to some degree in the more technical sections.

Other Tips

Apart from all this I highly recommend doing a recon of the race course a few days before or a warm-up lap on it the day of. On these types of races you can typically get the edge by knowing it a little better. There will always be someone out there that is as familiar with the trail system as they are with the back of their hand so it’s important to do all you can do to tip the odds slightly in your favor. If you believe that your race will take less than 90 minutes, then you might consider staying hydrated and not taking any fluids with you while racing. I find that at these races I don’t have time to take in hydration or gels because of how short and intense they are. Every time trial I brought a water bottle, I barely used it so that water bottle could only be added weight. Also, I won’t bring tools out with me for these races. It’s more weight and the margin for error is so small that if you get a flat there’s no way you’re going to get a decent finish time when compared to the rest of the field. Lastly, for these races generally those who register the earliest get the best starting positions in the race so in this case the early bird could get the win!

If you’re interested in other endurance based mountain biking disciplines then consider looking up some Short Track, Marathon, or Ultra Endurance events, but these are a discussion for another day. Personally, I still prefer the traditional style of XC races with short, multiple laps and technical courses. But I think that a Time Trial race can add a special kind of flair to an otherwise normal race.

 



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