With no Johanna Schmidt or Mackenzie Woodring, the race is wide open at Mt. Holiday this weekend.
Mud, Sweat and Beers is back and bigger than ever, quite literally. The race filled up quick and left even local riders scrambling for transfers, as everyone wants in on one of the best races of the year.
The late winter and, frankly, totally crap spring pushed the course to the 11th hour, with pockets of ice eight inches deep just a week out from race day. Luckily, 70 degree days and thunderstorms went a long ways toward making the course open, fast and fun, as it has been in all of the race’s past editions.
Many of the familiar names will be on hand, but the absence of multi-winner Johanna Schmidt (Einstein Racing) leaves a big opportunity on the table for the other contenders. Einstein will send fat bike champion and gravel road specialist Chelsea Strate to the Pro category, where she’ll be making just the third mountain bike start of her career. Strate swept the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series this winter and had solid rides at Barry-Roubaix and the Lowell 50 before undergoing an intense training block as she builds for the West Michigan Stage Race.
Hagerty Racing has always taken MSB seriously, and has always been kept off the top step of the podium in the Women’s race. This year, Top Banana Competition leader Lauri Brockmiller enters not only as the favorite after an impressive Lowell 50, but also the top option among four Hagerty women ready to go for the win. She’ll be flanked by Susan Vigland, who has enjoyed Brockmiller’s support for the past few years on the road. The two are both capable of winning, and it will be interesting to see how the pair handle riding as equal threats to the win. Melissa Ryba and 2012 state road race champion Bridgit Widrig will also start, giving Hagerty a plethera of options when the gun goes.
Kati Krikke will fly solo for Freewheeler, and may try to enlist Strate as teammate for a day. The two looked equal when they last rode together at Inside Out Cross, with Strate racing A and Krikke in the B category.
The Men’s race, too, has a lot of candidates for the overall, including last year’s winner, Jorden Wakeley. Wakeley’s recent, surprise move to 616 Fabrications certainly raised eyebrows, but he’s got down to business with wins at Rust Shaker and Pontiac last weekend. North Country Cycle Sport/Derailed’s John Cowan offered up the most resistance Saturday in Harrison en route to second place, and he’ll be joined by teammate Chad Wells in Traverse City as the pair look to dethrone a flying Wakeley.
Einstein Racing’s next option will be Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy. With Wakeley gone, Kennedy is the new top dog for the Men in Black, and he’s very quietly been right up there all of last season. He’ll enjoy support from Chris Kushman and Ron Sanborn, both of whom are enjoying productive springs while training for bigger races down the road.
BISSELL’s will put Derek Graham and Alex Vanias on the line, and the duo should be the biggest threats to Wakeley. Vanias will be coming off a tough block of racing at the Joe Martin Stage race, but should be in fine form. Graham recently took a solid seventh place at Queen’s Day Criterium, and has figured in the finale of nearly every race in the state this spring. Moving from Einstein, Wakeley gave up teammates, and perhaps the only way to beat him is with numbers. BISSELL has successfully tossed riders up the trail against the likes of Wakeley, Cowan and Wells before, and won’t hesitate to send Vanias, a stellar time trialer, into the void right from the gun on Saturday.
Here are the very Bold Predictions for tomorrow’s big race:
Women’s Elite Race
1. Lauri Brockmiller
2. Susan Vigland
3. Melissa Ryba
4. Kati Krikke
5. Bridgit Widrig
Men’s Elite Race
1. Jorden Wakeley
2. Alex Vanias
3. Derek Graham
4. Ryan Kennedy
5. John Cowan
Check back Saturday evening for the race recap, photos, and general fun.