The two favorites won, but a tough race brought out the very best in every competitor at Michigan’s newest classic.
Conquer the Village was always going to go to the climbers, and Jorden Wakeley is certainly one, in spite of his size. The Giant of Grayling won by a minute over late entrant Derek Graham. The two riders were the strength of the race and dueled hard most of the morning.
The weather was almost perfect by the time the gun went off. Chilly but drenched in sun, the Pro and Expert fields took to the line first for the blistering sprint along Red Drive to get to the climb. Mechanical troubles put Wakeley out the back off the line, with the field seemingly content to sit on Graham’s wheel until they were off the pavement. Hagerty sent Cody Sovis to the front to try to line it out to the base of the climb, trying to set up their climber, Brian Hofstra. Wakeley rejoined quickly, setting up a showdown right off the bat.
Lauri Brockmiller ran away with the women’s Pro race, putting over five minutes into teammate Rachel Decker in second place. The Hagerty duo had their hands full with Einstein Racing’s Chelsea Strate pushing Decker all the way to the line. Strate, on a cyclocross bike, was solid on the flats and climbs, with Decker pressing ahead on the tricky, curling descent to from the Fire Road Climb.
The Men’s race split up quickly as it spilled onto the foot of the climb. Wakeley, Graham, John Leach, Craig Webb and Steve Andriese were pressing the issue on the front, with riders riding in small bunches behind. Hofstra did well to mark the birthday gent Ron Sanborn, and pull away in the process. Hofstra ran away with the Expert 19-29 race, with John Leach shining in his Expert mountain bike debut. Leach ended up a safe and impressive second place on the day.
Wakeley gapped Graham and rode off to a big win that signals his best Top Banana Competition haul in some time. Brockmiller pulled top points as well, though Strate is looking to keep pace and the three points certainly will help her cause.
The much anticipated Fire Road Climb lived up to the hype and broke the race apart in all of the day’s events. The Sport race was reportedly ripped to shreds the first trip up, with Hagerty-TOLaw U-25’s Sean Brownell covering a two minute time deficit to the field ahead of him in just one lap. The young guns rode through most of the old boys, with Ian Durand, Nathaniel Saldanha and Andrew Dyke putting on quite the show in the Sport 15-19 class.
Jorden Wakeley set a new record on the climb 4:03, a minute faster than John Leach’s previous mark. Graham was right alongside, with Craig Webb posting 4:16 on the ascent.
A special nod goes out to Johanna Schmidt. She’s doing fine. She’ll be back to kick all your asses in 6 weeks. God Bless The Queen Mum.