What a fun trip back home to Michigan to see family, friends and race Iceman. Iceman is the only race that I have done all three seasons of my career. When I first tried racing in 2021, this was my first MTB race that I did on a friend’s borrowed bike (thanks Peter!). Historically, the race is mostly 2 track, open gravel roads and the course generally favors power over skill. These percentages are pure estimates/guesses so don’t quote me on this, but I would argue that most years the course is about 20-30% single track and this year it was more like 70%. I was pretty sad when I heard this, because let’s be honest, I’m not much of a mountain biker. But I have come a long way compared to 2021, so I decided to go up to TC a few days earlier than planned and session some of the single track to get more familiar. I think this really helped me - trail familiarity will always be beneficial in a MTB race!
The race was pretty full gas and hot from the start. I tried to drive the pace very early given all the early single track and importance of entering those sections near the front. Historically, I tend to avoid entering anything technical near the front because I know it will frustrate the other riders or slow things up. But I’ve worked to get more assertive and my goal was to race more assertive vs passive. I didn’t always execute this, but I had some solid improvements in this area. I also tend to get bothered by verbal tactics, but I have finally learned to view those as useless noise. Racing is interesting and I think I’m finally learning what to care about and what to not care about while racing. I don’t get it right every time, but I am learning. There are certain riders who make you feel good when you race and certain riders who don’t. But that’s bike racing and the dynamic within a peloton adds to the dynamic of a race. I can only share my personal experience and how the race makes me feel. I can only speak to that and share my story to help others understand how to manage stressors in their race and to show it’s possible to process and improve no matter where you are in your career.
I think I am probably targeted as a rider that most racers do NOT want to be behind entering anything technical. I mean if I actually knew how to race mountain bikes, I would definitely not want to be behind me in a race either. It’s not rocket science, it’s smart. Historically, I think when riders would wedge in ahead of me, I would be more passive and let them in. After all, I don’t want to hold them up. However, Iceman I had moments where I protected my line and it was a step in the right direction. The race was physical and aggressive. We had bars bumping and bodies contacting each other. Normally that stresses me out, but this was the first time it was actually kind of fun. I saw that defending my line worked and I saw a new way to race that I hadn’t executed before. Historically, I power my way to the front or power my way to results but there is a smarter and more tactical way to race that just takes experience. You can’t fake or force that.
Entering the longer section of single track after Broomhead Rd, Ruth entered first then I entered second. I probably would have been third wheel to enter, but Haley hesitated/missed the turn so I was able to sneak in before the rest of the group. I knew right away this would be a test of my skill and mental growth as a racer. In a section prior to this one, I entered before Ruth in the single track and she kept me calm and reminded me to be smooth and was calm and encouraging. I love racing with Ruth. I felt I rode better having her in my ear. But this next section, as I watched Ruth ride away from me (and the rest of the group behind me) I started to hear and feel the frustration. Haley is historically very verbal in a race, so for the next long section that’s what filled my ears. Thankfully, I blocked most of it out and still held my position and ensured she couldn’t pass me in any of the short sections that you had opportunities to pass. I held myself to my goal and did the best I could for myself at that moment. It’s not like I wanted to let a gap open or intentionally slow things down, I was doing the best I could. Sure, I need skill improvement and I have a plan to work on that, but at the end of the day it’s bike racing and we all have a lot invested in this. I recognize these things take time to develop, respect isn’t given out freely at this level. I share this because racing can feel ruthless and if I’m honest, it is ruthless a lot of the time. At the end of the day, it’s still just riding bikes through the backwoods somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
After this long single track section, most of the race after this was then controlled by Haley. She’d block anyone that tried to pass her or just work to stay at the front to control the pace. It seemed to waste a lot of effort on her end especially in some of the more open sections in Vasa where a rotating paceline would have been smarter for all of us. But we let her, or rather recognized it wasn’t worth the extra effort to fight for that control or to sit on the front the entire day. I wasn’t surprised to see Deanna and Erin take first and second given the energy they had saved throughout the day. They raced really smart. But in talking with Erin at the afterparty, we talked about how it really could have been any of our races. All 5 of us were strong, smart and rode well. Things were tight into that finish section, and it was tactical the entire day.
So I ended up 4th on the day and I was really proud of that. Sure we as racers always want to do better or at times not winning somehow feels like a failure. But the reality is, I rode really well and I also learned a lot. I learned a lot about how I race, how I want to race and things to improve on both mentally and tactically. It’s been a really fun year gathering all this data and information. I feel like I finally have the resources to now put those lessons to work this off season and I’m really excited about that!
For anyone reading this, I really want to emphasize how special Iceman is. This race will always have a special place in my heart. You cannot even begin to understand the hype and vibes of that finish. It truly is unparalleled. Thank you to anyone who was out there cheering for us and to so many people who came up to me before, after, at the expo, etc. We give up a lot of things to race at this level and the community at these events really helps remind me of “the why” for my racing. Sure, winning feels great, but being a good person and a part of this community really is special. I’m really thankful for that. See you next year Iceman!!!! :)
Photo Credit: Brian Barto