It’s the final stage of the biggest mid-week, free race with results and points in Northern Michigan.
Ty Schmidt holds a slender lead heading into the overly dramatic finale on Stage Four, with the ultimate showdown coming nearly a full month since hostilities first opened in late June. The Tour in France is over and the king is crowned, but there’s still so much left to decide in Traverse City.
The yellow jersey of Ty Schmidt is just one second clear of Hagerty’s Craig Webb, who is surrounded on all sides by a flotilla of Einstein Racing pink jerseys. Chris Kushman moved up to third place and closed a lot of ground to come within 31 seconds of Webb, with Pete Skellenger still in with a shot at a podium finish should Kushman falter in the final day of racing. Nate St. Onge, Ryan Kushman and Jason Whittaker are out of podium contention, but stage honors could be up for grabs if the Tour’s last day goes anything like the Giro.
Last month, Giro leader Bennett Paul rode challenger Scott Luca to a standstill, literally, as the pair attacked, paused, slowed to side-by-side trackstands and beat each other’s brains out over the last 12 miles of racing. Third place finisher Cody Sovis joined the fray, with the trio riding within touch nearly the entire ride while others went on to storm to a stage win. Cody took back a few seconds from Ben Paul on the day, and a nice chunk of time from Luca, but ultimately was stuck in third while Paul soaked up the glory as he rolled safely to the split rail fence.
Current conditions on the VASA, however, are very different and will greatly affect the day’s outcome. Especially for the Mountains Competition, the sand pit heading onto the CC Climb could prove a serious barrier. For Ty Schmidt to keep that title as well, he’ll need to be well positioned as the race pours over the two-track, while his teammate and second place KOM rider Chris Kushman should be able to repeat his gap-and-recover technique of Stage 3 to take more points. Points for the KOM will be only to the top five for Stage 4, with 10, 7, 4, 2, 1 on offer. Schmidt will need to score to hold the jersey, but he’s done so on every stage thus far.
The Points jersey is also tight, and Pete Skellenger will be under pressure to move to the front in order to keep the green jersey. If Schmidt and Webb are watching each other, it may well fall to Skellenger to set the pace and hope to pull a late surge for a few valuable seconds over the Power Section. Like Schmidt, he’ll need to pull a few points to keep his jersey, but with the GC men all looking for time, it may well be a chess match.
Craig Webb will have the Best Old Rider jersey if he finishes the stage, with teammate Dave Bucholtz firmly ensconced in second place, though a fair ways back on time. Rob Goepfrich, however, will be a celebrated figure if he can hold on for an impressive third place in the competition. Gary Chastain has also proven himself a model of relentlessness over the past month and should look for a proud fourth when all is said and done.
For the last stage of the Competition, there will be no time bonuses on offer, with the GC riders battling for straight time on the line. That one second margin will have to be crossed by Webb alone, and he’s been a resilient and resourceful rider over the past three stages. It may come down to the Einstein Armada’s Ryan Kennedy and Chris Kushman to drive the pace and hope to put Webb under pressure. If Kushman or Pete Skellenger can get up the trail, armed with the engine of Kennedy for company, Webb will be forced to chase with the ever-dangerous Schmidt latched onto his wheel. With the race close, it will be interesting to see if Kennedy gets the green light to go for the stage win solo, leaving the GC contenders to sort out the overall by themselves.
Some wildcards for the stage include Jason Whittaker, who’ll be aboard his Beargrease once again after nearing his personal best SOL time ever in the past few weeks, a record he set this spring on his fat bike. Conditions aren’t encouraging, but that makes the wide tires even more dangerous as potential stage winners. Look for great results from Nate St. Onge, Bennett Paul and Dave Walston, as well as Eric Pollard aboard the 29+ Surly Krampus for the second time now. The dark horse of the day is Jason Lowetz, who has been riding his bike regularly and has vowed to become a force in the elite selections of the race. After missing Stage 3, he’s no threat overall but a danger man for the stage, which may give him a bit more leash than other riders. If he makes the elite group over the first two climbs, he should challenge Ryan Kennedy for the win, provided Webb, Schmidt and Kushman are slowed by careful calculation.
Stage 4 starts from Einstein Cycles tonight at 6.30 with a neutral ride to the VASA 25km by 6.45pm. kolo t.c. will have full results and a recap as soon as possible.