It’s been one of the most talked about races of the season, and it’s only its first edition. The Arcadia Grit and Gravel is just days away and the tension for the inaugural event is as thick as that bacon that is cut extra thick. So, it’s a lot of tension.

Arcadia offers up a fine mix of singletrack, road and gravel for racers to tackle, with a handful of spiking climbs on the docket, as well as some seriously tough sections of each to challenge all the specialists.

Right off the bat, cyclocross bikes were tapped as the ideal mode of transportation for the race. Race organizers nixed the idea, saying CX bikes wouldn’t be allowed. After some deliberation and conversation, CX bikes have been okayed, bringing back a dilemma for riders with both options. The four miles of pavement and roughly twelve miles of gravel roads seem tailor made for a CX set up for speed. Even the two-track sections are firm enough to take on with skinnier tires, but a number of racers weren’t sold after pre-riding the course. Epic Happens Team Boss Matt Hodges thought the CX riders would have trouble in spots.

The single track portions add up to about six or seven miles, short in distance next to the twenty or so on gravel or pavement, but there is an awful lot of time on those trails for CX riders limping around corners. The statistics from CX bikes at Mud, Sweat and Beers isn’t too encouraging, either. By a very unofficial count, 2 out of 3 CXers didn’t finish. In fact, 2 out of 3 made hospital visits. (Way to heal up, John and Ryan).

The showdown in the Men’s Pro class may boil down to just how decisive Einstein Racing phenom (yes, phenom) Jorden Wakeley’s inevitable attack is. He’s most at home on the single track, but his outstanding showing at Barry-Roubaix proved he is a masher strong enough to make moves on the open road, as well. Wakeley will also have the added firepower of Einstein team boss Jason Lowetz, a huge help in both speed and tactics as Wakeley faces off against the fastest man of 2012, Mike Anderson. Anderson’s Barry-Roubaix win is a solid indication of his prowess on gravel, plus he nudged out Wakeley by four tenths of a second at the Rust Shaker a few weeks later. Anderson also leads the all-important Top Banana Competition, a coveted title that will be put aside this weekend in place of the West Branch Road Race.  Michael Simonson will be there as another threat, riding somewhat under the radar next to the streaking Anderson/Wakeley showdown. City Bike Shop’s Jeff Craven will look to avenge a disappointing showing at MSB, where he was caught projectile vomiting just a few miles into the race and forced to head home. Craven puts the ‘smash’ in ‘masher’ (he even adds the ‘s’) and the course profile definitely suits his style of crushing the pedals.

The Women’s Pro race looks to be an almost certain duel between Hagerty Cycling’s Melissa Fritz and Quiring Cycles’ Sue Stephens. The only two entrants in the class, they’ll have no one to keep them from a 1-2 finish, though who takes the top steep may not be determined until the screaming descent to the line. The last two miles are all downhill, making it very difficult to close any distance between groups and gaps created on the road or single track preceding it. Ali Bridson looks to be the only women on a single speed, so if you notice anyone riding along with a picnic basket whilst smiling a lot, it probably is Bridson making her merry way to victory.

For the data-hungry, here’s a fairly, probably, surely accurate pre-ride of the course by GTMTBA’s Dave Walston from Epic Happen Race Team’s recon this past Tuesday.

kolo t.c. predicts wonderful weather and a win from Jorden Wakeley. The added miles of Cohutta and MSB, plus the added muscle and tactical prowess of Lowetz may just be enough to beat Anderson, Simonson and Craven, though I’d add Shawn Davison as a dark horse capable of sneaking away.

The Women’s race is a flip of a coin, so after doing that, I’ll take Sue Stephens. Quiring has very hip new purple jerseys, too, so that makes her even faster. And my Lead Pipe Lock pick is Alison Bridson. Don’t every say kolo t.c. plays it safe.

Check back for a race recap Saturday evening.