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The Vineyard Race made an unforgettable debut in the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series Sunday, under sunny skies, a slight breeze, and flying course conditions. The much feared warm up only made things more pleasant for the racers on hand for the third race of the 2016 Series. The penultimate race of the season was the second new event in the official Series, and like Vasa, The Vineyard Race was a smashing success. There was plenty on the line for the Series contenders, and more challenging than anyone could have expected.

Last year’s test race was one of the slowest fat bike races ever, which probably sent a shiver down the spines of this year’s two Open winners. Both Jorden Wakeley and Liz Belt raced a grueling 906 Polar Roll, with Wakeley taking the win in over 3 hours, while Belt was astride or, just as frequently, aside her bike and pushing for over 6 hours. Both made late night returns to start at The Vineyard, and both made good on focused training to be ready to compete two days in a row.

For Belt, the small women’s field meant she was out for a training ride, and after about a minute, it looked like Wakeley was, too, even with a solid field toed next to him. Cody Sovis, last year’s winner with just a 7 mile per hour average in -22 degree temperatures, took the hole shot by simply being really, really good at clipping in. Wakeley made amends and opened gaps shortly after, and only a slight bobble on the twisting run through the vines allowed the field back in contention. It was Sovis back to the front briefly, but when Wakeley attacked, only the three riders vying for the Series that took off in pursuit.

With Wakeley skipping the last race, Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing’s Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy, M-22’s Keegan Myers and Hagerty’s Nick Wierzba entered the race tied on 79 points and were due to battle for a Series title. On the first trip up the climb Wakeley showed himself at another level, and the same cast of Sovis, Kennedy, Wierzba and Myers found themselves together again just 8 days later after battling in the same group at Vasa.

Sovis set the pace and paired like a dry Riesling to white fish pate with team captain Kennedy moving ahead in spurts to bring out a gap to the rest of the field. Sovis provided the softening up, while Kennedy put in some perfectly calculated and very impressive efforts to really stretch out the gaps as they opened. After a Sovis descent put 5 seconds into Myers, Kennedy quickly tripled that number with an Ironman-esque turn of power, with Wierzba looking comfortable between the two teammates. Sovis put in another lap on the front before Kennedy leapt away at the same spot, on the open field at the bottom of the infamous Chute, with only Wierzba able to give chase with dogged resolution.

The Chute was perhaps more decisive than the climb, and more than a few bloodied riders left a little something extra somewhere in that technical and fast descent, which gives views so stunning that it feels very much like being at the top of Leelanau County.

Meanwhile, Steve “Dr. Pain” Andreise was building up steam, powering away in the Master’s race with teammate Paul Olsen not so very far behind. Neither are in contention for the Series, but they’ve swept up the big points gaps that mean riders like Rob Goepfrich, Keith Conway, Scott Bury and Scott Diment will be all-in at Beard of Zeus in two weeks. Indeed, Hagerty’s Old Boys put no fewer than five riders in the top ten, with Rob G. just a touch more certain of final victory on March 5.

Riding unopposed, Birgit Yetter made the rounds in the Women’s Master’s, putting in some training miles as she still recovers from illness a week ago. She’s wrapped up the Series title already, but rather than take a lap and bail, she stuck in the full hour and a half and offered encouragement to all riders, a great example of what the Series is all about.

As the Haterade chilled, Kennedy confirmed his second place on the day with a suffocating pace, while Wakeley cruised in and had a latte to cap off a successful weekend of racing. Wierzba held for third, while Andriese skipped past a fading Cody Sovis for fourth overall and the Master’s win. Sovis’ fourth in the Open nabbed an extra point from Keegan Myer’s, who was fifth on the day in the Open class.

Erin Reicha is literally dreaming of fat biking racing, and it showed with a solid second place finish on what some are calling the toughest and most beautiful fat bike courses around. She’s slide up high when the points are tallied Monday, with teammate Liz Belt now ensconced as the Series leader with once race to go.

You can check out the course numbers here.

You can see the full results from Endurance Evolution here.