In simply dumb conditions and with steely resolve, Jorden Wakeley and April Morgan nabbed their World Champion’s stripes in historic fashion.
It was a race that, perhaps, should never have happened. -1 degrees at the start line with a wind chill of 27 degrees made the day, in a word, dangerous. With skiers earlier in the morning being stopped for frost bite and quitting, the fat bike race took the start line in full knowledge that to race was a risk to personal health, a risk race organization apparently deemed necessary.
Start they did, however, and into a 25mph headwind for the opening salvos of the 50km race. As expected, Wakeley stormed to an early lead, with Matt Acker the closest after both had gone through the County Road 510 check point six minutes apart. Behind, Sean Kickbush was a little over a minute ahead of teammate Jason Lowetz, and both were storming away from a chase group that included Craig Webb, Evan Simula and Dan Jansen. That trio might have formed a mighty chase group, but the wind, the weather and the riders couldn’t make much progress.
Steve Bartzen, Ryan Kennedy, Nate Versluis, Jason Whittaker and others were scattered about the trail behind, and with nothing to chase on the horizon, the top six places solidified in the first two hours of racing. In the midst, however, was April Morgan. Second place last year and entering with something to prove, she took hold of the race and found herself two minutes up on defending World Champion Danielle Musto at the CR510 time check. Those two were in a battle, and though it was roughly ten minutes back, Arianne Whittaker and Musto’s teammate, Jill Martindale, were separated by the same time in their own battle for third place.
The rest of the riders were riding for survival, almost literally. A number of riders quit at the first aid station, while others were forced from the race due to frost bite. The temperature actually got colder toward the finish, and the course’s lake crossings brought some riders to a near standstill.
At the second time check, Wakeley’s gaps were almost the exact same back to Acker, Kickbush and Lowetz, with the Jansen/Webb group losing a bit of ground. With mostly downhill and a tailwind to the line, however, it would have taken a complete implosion to get caught, and Wakeley rode a very smart final half of the course. It got close, however, with Wakeley taking the win just two minutes ahead of Acker, who closed roughly five minutes in the last forty minutes of racing. Acker’s second is a huge result for Freewheeler, as was Sean Kickbush’s third place for Einstein Racing. Last year’s bronze medal finisher, Jason Lowetz, gave Einstein Racing two riders in the top five.
April Morgan pulled out a few more minutes on Musto before hitting the line, with Musto smirking into second place in time to watch the most exciting duel of the day. After ceding almost all of her two minute advantage, Arianne Whittaker barely held on for third place well within site of a charging Jill Martindale. Whittaker’s Einstein teammate Chelsea Strate slotted home fifth on the day, giving two riders in the top five of both races.
Wakeley’s win wraps up the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, while Musto’s second essentially does the same for her. For April Morgan, it’s a big result that gives her momentum for the rest of the series, which now turns its attention to races in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Major propers to everyone who:
1. Braved the drive to get there
2. Started the race
3. Handed up food and water (Lean Mean Mama Jean in particular)
4. Made it to an aid station
5. Got pulled
Word on the street is that the party is at The Vierling tonight. Those reports have not been substantiated yet, however.
Results are below.