The Iceman Cometh has been attracting thousands of MTB racers from across North America and the world since 1990. The race’s prestige and a considerable prize purse has attracted some of the sports finest over the years including notable winners such as Tinker Juarez, Geoff Kabush and Alison Dunlap. The race takes over 5000 riders on a predominantly flat 47km from a Northern Michigan town surrounded by oil fields named Kalkaska to the popular lakeside town of Traverse City. With a mix of dirt road, XC ski trail and some singletrack the racing is always FAST. The course does not really pose a big challenge technically or physically for a regular MTB rider and does not cover any particuarly scenic terrain like some other one day MTB events. So what makes ‘The Iceman’ so special. I took a deeper dive into ‘Icemania’ this year which would be my 2nd year competing at Iceman and 3rd year reporting on the event.
Point to Point Format
The Iceman starts in one town and finishes in another. This is becoming more rare in MTB racing events, it poses numerous logistical challenges for both organisers and participants. It does however possess some form of mystique as it addresses the raw purpose/ soul of cycling which is after all a form of transport to get a human being from point A to point B. For some reason I find this appealing as do others I have spoken with about this event and others. The draw of an event that takes you from one location to another is real.
There is no denying that The Iceman has one of the most vibrant finish line scenes of any MTB race in the USA nay, the world! By the time the professional race rolls in there are literally thousands of people lining the closing kilometres of the track whom are well internally lubricated by the produce of the events naming rights sponsors (Bells Beer). It was the aim of some in the pro race to merely make it to the finish whilst the crowd was still there on the famous ‘Icebreaker’ climb 1km from the finish. Riding the wave of enthusiasm of deafening cheers from the crowd is something special and gives a definite albeit temporary performance lift. This is an experience usually reserved for Olympian/ World cup MTB racers but at The Iceman it can be experienced by many of the competitors. It reminded me of racing the USA road bike crit series a decade or so ago where the crowds were similarly enthusiastic and passionate.
Camaraderie/ Story Telling
If you are a MTB racer in the USA there is a good chance you have had an ‘Iceman experience’ or are not far from someone who has. The race elicits lifelong memories and subsequent stories, often such stories pertain to the inclement weather conditions that usually accompany this race. Being the final race of the year for a racer from nearly anywhere in the USA/ Europe it indeed entrenches memories in the racers mind.
A group effort
Many Iceman competitors travel from other parts of the USA Mid West whom travel often in a group with other like minded folk and make a weekend of the race in Traverse City, Michigan. The nature of the course means many mates choose to ride together rather than aspire to drop one another. With no significant elevation gain or loss it is possible to keep a moderate pace with friends without separation.
This factor is more pertinent for those at the pointy end of proceedings but the race has often been one of the most lucrative 90minutes a MTB racer can spend on his/her machine. The Iceman notably now pays identical prize money to the men’s and women’s fields justifiably. The race has attracted some big naming rights sponsors over the years notably Trek, Subaru and now Bells Brewery. The total prize purse of $70 000 is spread predominantly in the pro men and women. With each pro winner taking home $6000.
The Iceman race is just 1 of 3 well oiled events happening on race day. For those with kids or not so keen MTB athletes in the family there is the shorter ‘Slush Cup’ race covering a 15km loop near to the finish area. For those with budding future Icemen/women there is the ‘Sno Cone’ a 2km blast around the finish area for youngsters on all kinds of kids bikes/ balance bikes.
For any rider, The Iceman is definitely a worthwhile pursuit and one to put on the MTB bucket list. A race that is achievable for nearly any MTB rider but also one of the hardest bikes races to win. Book a trip to Traverse City, Michigan for the first Saturday in November!