The 2014 Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series is underway, and the favorites proved their place atop the podium.

In better-than-anticipated temperatures and on rolling course that demanded an all-rounder to power it home, 2014 is off like a shot. Favorites Jorden Wakeley  (616 Fabrications) and Danielle Musto (Salsa and a bunch of people) confirmed their place at the top of the fat bike game by taking big victories in the first race of the NMFBS Series.

All categories took off together, with over 70 riders on the line to take on the 3.75 mile course. With Beginners doing just one circuit, there were still over 60 rider trying to get in as many laps in two hours as possible.

From the gun, two big favorites showed they were on obviously different days. Jorden Wakeley went to the front and prized out a good gap, padded initially by crashes. Sean Kickbush, a late entry from Einstein Racing, tore off in pursuit alone. The group behind looked to Craig Webb (Hagerty). the other big favorite, to take off as well, but he didn’t respond. Jason Lowetz recovered from a fall and took advantage of a tight singletrack section to breakaway, just out of reach of his teammate up the road. Still, no reaction from Webb.

It fell to Ken Blakey-Shell to be the workhorse. Saddled with Webb and Einstein Racing’s Cody Sovis, he was between a rock and a hard place. Sovis sat up and refused to contribute to chasing down his employer (probably a smart career move), while Webb looked resigned to racing for fourth place. Webb, less than 24 hours removed from a big cross-country ski race at Hanson Hills, relied on his wiles to eek out a great result on a day where he didn’t have his usual spark.

With Blakey-Shell burying himself to make up ground on Lowetz, Sovis sat in and was happy to have first Chris Kushman, then Nate St. Onge join to give Einstein three racers in the chasing pack of five. While Sovis was trying to telegraph a complicated, ornate plan, St. Onge went full-German (Nicht kleckern, klotzen! “Don’t dance, smash!”) on the situation. He went to the front and broke the group to pieces, with Blakey-Shell only just missing the move and the rest of the group shattered behind.

The Women’s race was shaping up nice for Musto, who seized a sizable lead from the gun, ducking through the field, staying out of trouble and putting in almost OCD-uniform lap times in spite of a quickly deteriorating course. She had over three minutes one lap in, and behind, the action was heating up.

Jill Martindale was second after one, but the Minnesotan, Chelsea Strate (Einstein Racing), snatched her up and stole a march in second place that looked safe until the last few miles. Strate, the 2013 NMFBS Points winner, raced a farewell salute to the crowd that ultimately came up a few minutes and a few degrees short. In the cold she melted, ceding second place to a charging and alarmingly short Martindale. Strate’s Einstein teammate, Arianne Whittaker, took fourth, with Hagerty’s Michele Howard rounding out the top five.

Wakeley won comfortably, with Kickbush and Lowetz at least matching his feat of riding the entire race alone, albeit a ways behind. Nate St. Onge impressed with fourth place, and Chris Kushman took fifth to give Einstein Racing four racers in the top five and six in the top ten. Webb was sixth, just holding off a late charge from Blakey-Shell and the blistering Evan Simula, who was making up ground in bunches.

In the new Master’s category, Einstein got their win through Beth Collins, who staved off Dawn Cluchey and Sandy Duley. In the Men’s Master’s race, the towering Greek god that is David Hintz took the victory, with Randy Novak second and Thomas Klaver a solid third.

F ull race results are here, courtesy of Endurance Evolution.

Expect to see a lot of these faces and more at Farmer’s Fat Bike Race next weekend, the final tune-up ahead of the big goal of the season, Noque Snow Bike World Championship.