The weather held, but only a few riders’ legs survived nearly 4,000 feet elevation for the first-ever MMM Gravel Grinder.
Talk in the week heading into the Gravel Grinder focused on two things: an Iceman-quality start list for the Men’s race and the promise of rain, 40 degree weather and 20 miles per hour winds. Nearly all of those things came to fruition on Saturday with a wide-open, cruel race in Boyne City.
The skies held throughout the day, aside from some bouts of lazy drizzle out on the course. On the line, it was a star-studded first three rows that included former Iceman winners Brian Matter and Tristan Schouten, along with a dozen possible winners. The women’s race was in the same wave, with Susan Vigland, Kim Thomas, and Kaitlyn Patterson as the whispered favorites.
The pavement roll out broke into two miles of glorified two track dotted with mud puddles and potholes and served as an early shakeout before the first two ascents of the morning. All of the big names and the hopefuls were present and correct on the far side of the trench, where Wes Sovis went off the front to burn off calories from a pizza the night before and ensure mention in this publication. He dangled bravely before being caught, only to go again in hopes of hitting the first climb with a slight buffer.
It was Jorden Wakeley and Mike Simonson near the front of affairs at the bottom of Mount Bodewei, with no one willing to set the pace so early. Behind, a field of roughly 60 were still in contact but riders were being tailed off as each foot of elevation ticked off. Schouten took the first KOM with Wakeley second and Matter third.
The big selection was just over the horizon. No one was committed again, with one move being chased back and heads on the swivel with a lead back of 25 rolling to the foot of Mount Diablo. Alex Vanias, enjoying the smooth, comfortable ride of a full suspension bike, went off the front and settled into time trial mode a half mile before the gradient began to wind up. It was the perfect target for a hungry pack of favorites, and as the road curled up endlessly, riders seemed to be tipped back and off the edge of the world, losing time in chunks as the lead group dwindled and broke.
Schouten, Matten and Vanias scored on Mount Diablo as the lead group split over the top with eight or so riders in each group. The NCCS duo of Wells and Cowan were amongst the chasers just a handful of seconds behind an impressive ride from Wakeley, Tom Burke, and Jason Young that saw them keeping pace with the very best. Burke was always looking smart, but a flat tire on the next descent ended his chances on the day.
That lead group of eight had already shredded the field behind, but over the next 15 miles, a chase group eventually formed that included the two riders from the RBS squad in Greg Kuhn and Jason Buccellato, as well as Dan Korienek, Dan “Yes, THAT Dan Jansen” Jansen, Cody Sovis and the unbelievably strong Matt Acker. After chasing back into the group all by his lonesom, Acker seized the reins and drove the pace, rallying late to spark an efficient chase of the leaders, albeit a dozen miles or so too late.
Matter and Schouten put the hammer down to outpace a flying Vanias and resurgent Wakeley. Matter also added the KOM title, with Schouten in second place there as well ahead of, you guessed it, Vanias and Wakeley, proving the point that going fast uphills is usually a good thing.
The women’s race turned out to be another import win, with Kae Takeshita coming all the way from Illinois to beat Kaitlyn Patterson by just over a minute for the women’s title. Patterson at least takes the QOM victory by just two points over Takeshita. Patricia DeVost came up just a second short behind Patterson and settles for third place and a great podium finish. Susan Vigland came in fourth with Keri Pewielski rounding out a very tough top five.
Full results are available here, including results for the 45 and 20 mile races.
If you’d like to see what you have to do to get 3rd, check out Alex Vanias’ insane Strava file here.