Former National Champions, World Cup regulars and legens of the past. Here are five Pros to watch for this Saturday. 

The Iceman is a big deal. So much so that Pros hop off their comfortable off-season couches to fly to Traverse City to ride in cold, sand and possibly snow for it. After a long season made a month or two longer by early season Olympic preparation, it’s a testament to the size and scale of the event that riders like JHK, Emily Batty and the like are coming from all over the country to our humble neck of the woods to race bicycles.

While we’ll give local riders their proper due in a separate post, here are some big names returning to the Iceman, and a few making their first appearances, at the biggest one-day mountain bike race in the country. They’re from all over, at all stages of their careers, but they’ll all line up with a shot at the win.

Eddie O’Dea, Topeak Ergon. Riding in possibly the coolest mountain bike uniforms in the world, Topeak-Ergon boasts one of the deepest endurance and ultra-marathon teams on the planet. Their support has stretched from Europe into the US, where O’Dea has set up shop. He’s completed over a dozen 24 Hour races in his career and finished 7th the 2011 NUE Series after placing in the top 10 in every race he finished. O’Dea’s background does take root in cross country races, though the 29 mile route this year may just be too short to take full advantage of his ridiculous endurance background.

Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Subaru-TREK. The laid-back, easy-going JHK has become a fixture around the Iceman over the past few years, along with his wife, Heather Irmiger, the 2011 Women’s winner. For JHK, it’s been especially long year after making the first two World Cup stops in an effort to make the short list for Olympic selection. He didn’t get to London, but he’s been to Olympics before and is ready to cap off a solid season with an Iceman win. The 10-time US Champion has a great history at the race and is always a fixture in the closing miles. JHK has been involved in some amazing battles here, most notably in 2010 behind as he chased alongside Todd Wells and others to bring back a raging Brian Matter.

Troy Wells, CLIF Bar. A former U-23 cyclocross national champion has long been adjusting to mountain bike races, and the Iceman will again be one of them in 2012. One of the hippest dudes on the CX circuit, Wells started out on BMX bikes before making the shift over to mountain bikes. Though cyclocross is his true love, he’s been an influential figure at the Iceman, including last year as a part of the lead group for much of the race. If conditions are fast, he has the ability to put in dangerous moves from distance and hold on…he’s a former team time trial collegiate national champion, too.

Russell Finsterwald, Subaru-TREK. The young gun had a career year in 2012, becoming the U-23 National Champion. Perhaps even more impressive was his 22nd place finish at Houffalize against the best Europe had to offer. He’s been a solid contributor on the national circuit, including a short track win at Bonelli Park. Along with JHK, he’ll have a tactical advantage in the lead group and the green light to hit it whenever he’s got the legs. He’ll be especially dangerous in some of the new singletrack; his World Cups successes have all come on technical courses.

Stephen Ettinger, BMC Racing. The 2011 U-23 National Champion will be making his first appearance at the Iceman, and he’s not coming all the way to Kalkaska for nothing. A rider quickly moving up the ranks both in the US and in Europe, Ettinger was named the 2011 USA Cycling Athlete of the Year after a solid season in both the Elite and U-23 ranks. Ettinger is always dangerous, and always bold. His willingness to attack early and stay on the gas, which he proved at the Pan American games, could mean he’s the rider to make the race.