Indeed, with over 2,000 feet of elevation on the docket for Saturday, it’s a race of attrition at the State Hospital.
The Village at the Commons is, by all accounts, the perfect hideaway for locals and tourists. Away from the hustle and bustle and flat billed caps of Downtown Traverse City, the sheer volume of charm and knick-knacks on the grounds of the former State Hospital is stunning. Equally so, most would argue, is the view from the top of the climb. One of the higher points in Grand Traverse County and surely one of the sharpest, the Fire Road Climb brings riders up over 300 feet from the start/finish point on Red Drive. What will happen in between is anyone’s guess.
As has been the theme this spring, the Elite fields are small but tough. All signs point to Alex Vanias to continue his run of form that saw him second at Mud, Sweat and Beers and all three Speed of Light Giro stages since the first ride of the year. The course suits his ability to hold a relentless pace and climb with ease. His rival will be Sean Kickbush, who will be back to CtV with a score to settle after crashing out in 2014. The disappoint was palpable for the M-22 rider, and he’ll be entering after overcoming a cold that affected his Arcadia Grit and Gravel, as well as a crash suffered while previewing the course last week.
Behind the two big favorites are John Leach and Ross Williams. Leach put in a strong Iceman Cometh last fall and enters with great fitness, as does Ross Williams. The pair have been making the criterium circuit on the road and should have the top end speed to challenge for all six laps of Saturday’s race. Cody Sovis rounds out the field after sixth at AGG and eighth at MSB. The cyclocross devotee has even entertained the idea of riding a mountain bike in order to better descend and stay in touch for a podium position, if the opportunity arises.
Lauri Brockmiller always has CtV circled on the calendar, and with good reason. The event comes in her backyard, with Brockmiller Elite Endurance not 50 yards from the course itself. For a rider whose religion is data and numbers, watts per kilogram and formulas can be tossed out the window in the final two laps, as riders roll over 1,500 feet of climbing and 15 miles of selective, grueling racing. She’s a past winner her and will look to add a victory to her palmares in this calendar year. She’ll have teammate Beth Craven along for the ride, a contender in her own right, and one of the better bike handlers in the women’s field. They’ll both have their hands full by the legendary Laura Webb, who rounds out the three woman field for Saturday. No Kaitlyn Patterson on the start line means it should wide open, and Speed of Light on Thursday might give us a nice look at how they are stacking up.
Every racer will hit the Fire Road Climb on their own terms; after a few laps, it is almost impossible to ride the climb at anything but your own rhythm. If the race goes according to it’s usually script, you’ll find bunches of twos and three scattered around the hill in every category, with riders forging short-term alliances, catching groups ahead and leaving others behind.
The threat of rain could alter the face of the climb, but the descent itself is already treacherous. Some rain and some mud could make it even more selective than ascent. Some great bike handlers should be putting on a show there, although the race will miss riders like former winner Jorden Wakeley and outstanding descender Nate St. Onge, who is out due to a rib injury.