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In Northern Michigan, at least, there’s one race that truly marks the start of mountain biking. Mud, Sweat and Beers kicks things off on one of the biggest stages, and there are some hard-fought victories to be won or lost on the Vasa and in the shadows of Mt. Holiday’s lift lines.

As always, the race promises some of the deepest fields across age groups, and perhaps none so tough as the Pro/Elite categories. While both the men and women’s fields are under a dozen riders, you won’t find a weak spot amongst them, and the racing is sure to be close from first spot through last.

The favorites have to be past winners Jorden Wakeley and Lauri Brockmiller, and both with enter with strong teammates at an event that can often require a touch of support. Scott Quiring is back at the top of his gang and will ride for his eponymous outfit, with Wakeley the leader. The duo went one-two at the Rust Shaker last weekend in Harrison.

Bridgit Widrig fields not just Susan Vigland, who is coming off a winter where she topped the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series, but with the dynamo Laura Webb as well. Brockmiller will by flying solo for the first time and will look to blow things up before numbers offer any advantage, with Hagerty looking to be ever present on the front. Brockmiller will look to count on Beth Craven as the other local hero, with new transplant Kaitlyn Patterson sure to be in the mix for Team OAM. Jane Van Hof is the Grand Rapids home.

Numbers, at least, won’t be an issue for Einstein Racing. It’s a point of pride that the Traverse City outfit fields riders in the Pro/Elite class in some of the state’s biggest races, and this one is always circled. In fact, they field a third of the Elite race’s total riders. It’ll be all eyes on last year’s third place finisher Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy, who could also win racers free coffee at the Ec Coffee Bar with a victory on Saturday. He’ll be counting on Luke Tjosvold, who was fourth at Rust Shaker, with Cody and Wes Sovis sitting in reserve. Wes could be a race day decision to make a start. T

Chad Wells is back at MSB for North Country Cycle Sport, as is M-22’s Sean Kickbush. “The Banana Man” is a certain podium contender and is already in great form this spring. On a similar level is Alex Vanias who, with Shawn Davison, brings a new depth the men’s race, with a half dozen potential winners taking the start. Tom Scott rounds out one of those threats to overall contention.

The course is largely unchanged aside from a few short additions and subtractions of singletrack, but the look is all together different. This year, the course will be run the opposite direction, putting racers onto the Vasa and running it backwards. The local Speed of Light diehards will be satisfied, and the last stretch of Vasa will give riders dark, scary Iceman flashbacks, as it is run in this direction as well. If nothing else, the change in direction lets riders get a taste of the SOL course, a ride and competition that start May 7 at 6.30pm.

After a wet and cold race in 2014, Saturday has a meteoric high of 69 degrees forecasted, with a race temperature likely inching into the high 40s by 9am. The trail itself is mostly clear and fast, with the early season stretches of sand still a month or two away from reaching Saarlock Pit levels.

Watch for a Mud, Sweat and Beers race recap Saturday evening, and remember to stop at Einstein Cycles after the race with your bib number for $1 drip coffee. It’s a pretty tremendous value.