ICEMAN Mt Bike Race | 2017

The ICEMAN Mt Bike race is the season ending race for Mt Bikers.  This year marked its 28th running – for those who are interested you can read a history of the ICEMAN Race here: ICEMAN History Lesson.

This was my second ICEMAN and I hope to continue racing the event in the years ahead.  Currently, there are 5,500 registered riders in the ICEMAN with about 4,500 actually making it to the race (give or take a few hundred each year).  Because of the number of participants in the race the organizers have created a series of waves to start the cyclist according to their skill/speed.  With last year’s race being my first I got placed into a later wave because there was no data to determine how “good” I was.  After last year’s race I moved up to wave 15 from 32.  With the move up to wave 15 I was able to race with athletes closer to my skill level.

The Race

The ICEMAN starts at 9am (wave 1) in Kalkaska with waves going off every 3 min from there.  It was a cold start to the race this year with a dusting of snow on the ground and start time temps around 30 degrees.  Because this is a point-to-point race (beginning in Kalkaska and ending at Timber Ridge in Traverse City) I needed to get a ride out to kalkaska for the race start.  Jen dropped me off at McDonalds in Kalkaska where I met up with Matt; one of my fellow racers, to grab a cup of coffee before the race.  Matt was going off in wave 7 so he left McDonald’s around 9am and then I followed around 9:15.  It’s only a 2 mile ride over to the start line so this is just enough time for us to get the legs warmed up before we race.


I’m a big believer in having the right nutrition and hydration set before the race.  I try (as best as possible) to hydrate my body the 48 hours leading up to the race.  Therefore, during the race I only need a 20oz water bottle and even then for a 30 mile race in the cold I don’t need that much.  In fact, after the race I had only gone through 10oz of water.  I used to be one of those guys who had a huge backpack (70-100oz) of water strapped to my back during a race.  Then after watching several pro races (and I am no pro) and reading about hydration I realized that you CANNOT HYDRATE during a race.  So I started riding with less water and it’s really worked out.  I actually feel better having less water and I am lighter without the backpack filled with water strapped to my back.  Now, if it is summer and I am going for more of an endurance ride (i.e. 40+ miles I will bring additional water with me).

As for the fuel part of my race I like to eat 2-3 hours before the race.  This was a morning race so I woke up at 6am, had a big bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and some coffee.  That’s it pre-race; but during the race I will use Cliff-shots and Hammer Gels.  To be honest, I only use the Cliff-shots because they are very handy.  I really like my Hammer Gels during a race (or even an endurance ride).


My wave started around 9:40am this year.  I got to the starting area with about 5min. to spare (I really didn’t want to get there too early because of the low temps, nerves and big crowd).  I had a chance to spot a few people I knew in the waves ahead of me and behind me – there was no one I knew in my wave – we chatted a bit and then it was time to move up to the starting line.  There were about 110 riders in my wave and I was content to start right in the middle of the pack.

With the ICEMAN being such a large race (5000+ racers), I felt I could stay with the pack early on then move up once we hit wider sections of trail.  Right at the start several guys passed me and I stayed close to the wheel in front of me.  For the first 3 miles the race follows a few two-tracks and some single track that are very sandy.  Even with the wet conditions there were spots that had plenty of sand for everybody.  I had pre-ridden the course enough to know where I wanted to be when we got to the sand traps and I was very happy when I didn’t have to get off my bike to get through the sand as I passed the same guys who had passed me at the start.

During the ICEMAN race you see all kinds of participants; I saw guys who were wearing jeans, costumes, thought they were God’s gift to racing, the over-prepared cyclist, under-prepared cyclist and on and on… One guy even had his GPS set to turn-by-turn navigation with the volume turned all the way up.  I got a big kick out of that as his GPS kept calling out the next directions or “re-calculating”.

Being in Wave 15 allowed me to not be so aggressive at the start of the race because I was with a lot of riders near my own skill and endurance level.  So, I just stayed on the wheel of the person in front of me for the first 10 miles or so and passed lots of riders on the hill climbs or immediately after the climbs when they were gassed.  I tried to keep that strategy till I got to Williamsburg road (about the half-way point) and that’s when I really want to turn it up.  I tried to pick some faster riders to follow at this point because now we are coming to the VASA segment of the course which I am very familiar with.  I have been riding the VASA for several years now and I know where I can hammer down and where I can take some time to recover.  During last year’s ICEMAN I ended up bonking (i.e. running out of gas) at the end of the race because I went to hard at the beginning.  With this year’s strategy and a faster wave I approached the VASA with plenty of energy; and what’s more, I started to catch up to riders in the earlier waves (I started to pass riders from wave 14, 13 and 12).

Halfway through the VASA segment is where the real climbing begins; the Wall-reroute, the Boonenberg, Anita’s Hill, VASA CC Climb, The Icebreaker and Mount Gary.  These are a series of climbs that really start to wear you out as you approach the finish area of Timber Ridge.

The Finish

Each year it is somewhat of a mystery on how exactly the race will approach Timber Ridge and how it will weave its way through the campground; and this year was no exception.  After climbing Mount Gary the course takes you back toward the campground on the VASA pathway.  We descend the Wood-Chip Hill, turn left into the campground and make our final climb up the Ice Breaker (not to be confused with the Icebreak – that’s a different hill we climbed a few miles back). Once in the Campground proper we weave through various campsites and through the trails that surround the property.  In all, it adds about a mile to the course.  At this point in the race there is typically no passing because you are in a fenced-in area protecting the cyclist from the crowds.  There is one last section you can pass and that is the final straight-away before the finish line.  I had a friend in an early wave than me who got knocked out of the race before the final straight-away.  Some crazy cyclist (who would never be on the podium) decided to make a move in the shoot before the straight-away.  Their handlebars got tangled up and the ensuing crash left my friend with a concussion and a (DNF) for the ICEMAN.  That really stinks – to be taken out of the race by a crazy just a few feet from the finish.

Anyway, I crossed the finish line at 2 hours 18min.  In my opinion that is a very good time for the race in my age group and wave.  I place 30th in my age group out of 111 and 1209th out of 4405.  Even better, I finished 9th in my wave.  So I’ll take that – I’m very proud of the race and I had a lot of fun competing with the other cyclist.  I was able to finish before any of the rain started, and with rain in the forecast I decided to get home and warm up.

I cannot wait till next year.  In a future post I will write about my “off-season” training plans and what races I plan to compete in for 2018.

Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them – please post a comment below.

2 thoughts on “ICEMAN Mt Bike Race | 2017

  1. As 2017 was my first year racing, I really appreciated learning from you and using your advice to get faster! I’m looking forward to riding together more next year.

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