A race with two favorites offered some surprises, thrills, the obligatory spills, but with the predicted faces atop the podium.

The Cinco de May edition of Mud, Sweat and Beers kicked off under cloudy skies and decidedly bright spirits this morning. Everyone in the state not racing at the Giro this year took headed to beautiful Mt. Holiday in Traverse City to kick off the race season with a revamped course and hot rivalries.

After a week of extreme secrecy and rampant speculation, the riders finally found out the true race course. Einstein Racing, Hagerty Cycling, City Bike Shop and a host of other top squads were pleasantly surprised to find the MSB course chock full of singe track. A year after some grumbling about the lack of technical sections, the race organizers created a few new sections and included old ones to weave on and off the VASA portions, which, compared to the virgin trails, were veritable highways. A year after a CX won at Mud, Sweat and Beers, only a handful of CX bikes survived the course. Einstein Racing’s John Leach took a spill, as did Ryan Bolin of Hell Yes!. Both received medical attention, but will probably be okay, because they are both pretty tough hombres. The new course received rave reviews, though signage problems plagued the later waves. More than a few signs and ribbons were either knocked down or blown away. The Men’s SS race was scratched when a down sign let a number of the leaders miss a turn, sending them the wrong way and costing them high placings. Einstein’s Jon Dub-Nine, along with Jacob Marshall and Doug Engler, missed the turn and lost a podiam spot as a result.

At the start of the Expert wave, Jorden Wakeley, John Cowan and Chad Wells received a hero’s welcome, with nearly 80 other riders lined up on their heels after the call-up. Wakeley was flanked by a strong Einstein squadron, including Ron Sanborn, Ryan Kennedy, Ty Schmidt, Jason Whittaker and Chris Kushman. The Men in Black took  the gun and flocked to the front, with Wakeley, Sanborn and Schmidt positively flying away. Behind, the Hagerty Cycling contingent settled in for the chase, spearheaded by Mike Okma. Hagerty also made it’s formal debut of the Hagerty-TOLaw U-25 team, which had three entrants on the day, including Yours Truly. The program, started this winter, now has collected decent results at Barry-Roubaix, St. Fatty’s, and the Ann Arbor Crit series, but the big test was the home race. Yours Truly slotted in 6th, after trying to help Okma on the flats and just generally bonking after 16 miles. Wes Sovis is still building for his summer season, taking 8th place. However, he won the coveted Coolest, Most Visible Shoes Award with his highlighter-yellow, Paola Pezzo-inspired Northwaves.

Wakeley absolutely pounded away on the front, getting a gap early and staying away. Reports form the trail had him at about two minutes ahead after around 12 miles, and he ended up coming in four minutes ahead of second place. For Wakeley, the triumph comes after an outstanding 12 place finish in last week’s Cohutta 100. Even with more training in his legs this week, Jorden had the fitness not only to get away but to put some serious time into the rest of the field. He had a four minute gap at the end of the day, a rather convincing victory over a seriously tough field. John Cowan of North Country Cycle Sport came in second, followed by Logan Taylor and Cheyenne Smith a further five minutes back. Hagerty’s Mike Okma came in fifth in the very, competitive 20-29 age group.

Jorden’s teammates in the 30-39 group fared nearly as well. Chad Wells was one of the closest challengers to Wakeley’s 1:16:19 with a solid 1:22:40 to take the win, but Einstein clumped Ty Schmidt, Ron Sanborn and Ryan Kennedy into slots 2, 3, and 4, plus 6th and 7th with Chris Kushman and Jason Whittaker.

The Men’s Expert 40-49 was a battle to the very end. A four man group formed and held together throughout, pitting Hagerty’s Tim Jenema and Mark Spore against one another. Two of the best bike handlers in the woods, TJ and Mark traded blows while Scott Diment and Tom White poked and prodded in an effort to get away. Heading into the neighborhood section, the group began to cat and mouse, only turning the screws again as they descended like men half their age (just kidding, guys) down to the final kick up to the peak of Mt. Holiday, only to spill down to the line separated by just eight seconds.

The Women’s Expert race was built up in the various press outlets, and the pressure mounted on Einstein’s Johanna Schmidt to deliver the results. Johanna got an early gap coming off the top of Heartbreak Hill, but never quite pulled away completely. Susan Vigland, the powerhouse of Hagerty Cycling, gave chase for the entire 20 miles. She ended up just under a minute short, with Johanna turning in a stellar 1:29:48. The ever-consistent Julie Whalen popped in third ahead of Bridgett Widrig, Laura Webb, Rachel Decker and Lauri Brockmiller. Johanna’s reign at Mud, Sweat and Beers will last another twelve months while she turns her attentions to more targets in 2012, armed with a recovering Mackenzie Woodring as a super-teammate.

Full Results are up via Race Servies here.

Here’s the Strava information from Yours Truly, good enough for a 6th Expert 20-29. Check it out. 

Here’s the full gallery from the race, courtesy of the Official Girlfriend of kolo t.c..