When Sean, Danny, and Jay headed to Pennsylvania, they thought they’d be avoiding bad weather forecasted in Michigan. They were wrong. Dead wrong.
Well, not dead, but with a sky grey, cold, and spitting snowflakes down on Williamsport, you could forgive the guys for thinking they’d come a long way for a taste of something they could have just as well experienced at home. The drive to PA did offer some novel climbing that’s a bit lacking in Ann Arbor; with over 7,000 feet of elevation gained, Iron Cross was big on big climbs. Really big.
Toss in plenty of loose, steep, rocky descents and you’ve got a great challenge for any rider and any bike. After a massive effort from Sean to get up the road, it took a full 40 miles for the chasing group to pull him back in. That opening two-thirds of the race saw the peloton explode, with Jay losing tough and captaining his own chase group a bit further back. Danny was firmly ensconced in the chase group, and in true teammate fashion, Sean led it out to the line. Danny cap up just short, taking second overall with Sean holding on for third, and also picking up what he termed as the ‘mildly offensive’ title of “Master’s winner”. Old age happens to everyone, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed Sean down one bit.
The numbers give a hint of the effort; just shy of four hours and 7,096 feet of elevation gained, according to Danny’s Garmin. That’s a tall ask of any rider, especially this late in the season. Still, it’s ideal preparation and ideally timed ahead of the Iceman Cometh Challenge that will cap of the year for most of the squad.
While certainly not expecting it, our other two riders in action over the weekend, Scotty Albaugh and Cody Sovis, got their Iceman preparation in under conditions worse than typically experienced on any given November day. A night-long steady drizzle turned into a morning blizzard on Saturday, with a 20 mph wind off Lake Michigan turning the Peak2Peak race venue, the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, into something like a scene out of January! As the morning Sport and Beginner racers finished, visibility was so bad that the race announcer couldn’t see riders until they were literally on the line 20 feet ahead of him.
By the time the Pro race was due to line-up, word of the dreadful conditions had spread. Hundreds of riders simply didn’t show up, and dozens of others abandoned the registration tables in the Lodge in favor of the bar showing the Michigan vs Michigan State game. Those folks had a stellar view of the huddled riders slowly queueing up under the chairlift and start banner. Normally, the race takes sixty or seventy yards to fit rider a dozen wide; this year, all of the Elite and Expert races, both men and women, fit rather neatly in the start chute.
Scotty had an incredible start, and as the race hit the first singletrack, the lead group came apart at the seams. Riding in thick, slick, black mud, even the best bike handlers were floundering. Huge gaps started to open, and by the time they hit the wide open two-tracks and headed back toward the ski hill for the first trip to the top, a group of five were clear, with Scotty safely in touch.
Alexey Vermeulen tore the lead group to pieces on the climb, with the race turned into a series of individual or two-man time trials. Cody was working well with Joel Polinsky, looking to catch another pair of riders just a few seconds ahead, when his first flat tire of the year knocked him out of the race. With a torn bead, a tube covered in mud and snow, and a long stop to try and fix it, he eventually bagged it, a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a strong ride.
Scotty was having no issues, however, and he continued his chase for a podium for two more laps, each punctuated with a scamper to the top of Crystal Mountain. He battled hard all day, but finally settled for a hard-fought and well-earned fifth place in what was a stacked field made even more treacherous by its condensed size; over half of the registered Elite riders didn’t even start!
We’ll have plenty of fitness, then, as we head into the final MGRS of 2018, the Lowell 50 on Saturday, October 27. It’ll feature the return of Mike Simonster to action, with Jay, Sean, and possibly Al back at Fallasburg Park and looking to cap off the gravel campaign in style.
Big thanks to Seth from Sweet Bikes for capturing some of the magic at Iron Cross!