The first group on the railtrail in Paris

The 2014 season kicks off with Barry-Roubaix, and aside from a solid cast of contenders, the weather is just as unpredictable. 

It looks to be a muddy slog of a race Saturday when 3,000 cyclists start the Michigan race calendar in style. Hastings, Michigan, spends at least one day of the year as the center of attention for bikers, and this year, it’s never received more weather updates. A long winter has left much of the course under snow and ice, and with temperatures leading in above freezing, there could be mile after mile of clay-based mud.

Bike selection could prove crucial, but there are a number of riders that will contend no matter what. It’s a big testament to the race that 2013 winner Justin Lindine is again on the import, looking to defend his title of last season against roughly 220 other men in the 62 Mile Open. He’ll be the wheel to watch, and if there’s anyone with the legs, they’ll be hoping to keep him from riding off alone to the win.

If there’s a team capable of keeping up in a break, it has to be Bissell. They’ll start Nate Williams and Jordan Diekema, but without the depth to which they’re accustomed, those two will have to be smart about what moves they follow. WAS Labs collected the remnants of the Einstein Racing galacticos movement last year, with Tom Burke and Jason Young moving over to join Adam York. They also start Shawn Adams, Michael Chapman,  and Aaron Cruishank, giving them perhaps the deepest squad. Einstein Racing has dialed back its ambitions in Hastings, sending their top duo of Jason Lowetz and Mickey Humpula to Lowell two weeks later, leaving just Cody Sovis and Eric Pollard in the 62 mile race.

RBS enters with a deep team as well, including Ron Catlin, Greg Kuhn, Kelly Sugg and James Buccalleto. Catlin and Kuhn were impressive at Barry-Roubaix last year, and capped off great gravel performances at Lowell last fall as well. They look to be around level pegging with a deep Leadout team that includes perennial favorite Dan Korienek, armed with Geoff Kuyper as lieutenant. Freewheeler treats this as a bit of a home race, and they’ll offer up Dan McGraw and Jurrien Davison as their supporting cast on Saturday, with Matt Acker a big contender.

The in-state riders are deep, but the Chicago contingent is impressive as well. The trademark suits of Tuxedo Thunder are always near the front, and some of the coolest guys to ride along with. Aside from Chicago, the thunder also comes in ‘thigh’ form. Marcus Bush will fly the flag of Minneapolis, as well as Foundry, and should almost certainly be in the thick of things as the miles tick off.

If 2013 was the year of the big squads, this is the year driven more by smaller, smarter racing which could see a lot of looking around if no one is committed. Mike Simonson is certainly a rider who can make the most of any situation. The King of Gravel is a big race favorite, as is his former teammate, Jorden Wakeley. No rider is capable of sitting on the front here, but don’t expect too slow a pace, or too large a field sweeping into Hastings for the finish. The course and conditions should be more than enough to sort out who should be there and who should not.

Barry-Roubaix Week continues tomorrow with the big guns of the Women’s 62 Open.