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The fourth edition of the SOL Giro Competition kicks off this Thursday, and it’s the biggest deal in fake amateur mountain bike stage racing in Traverse City.

Last year’s winner Alex Vanias stormed to an imperious Giro in 2015, but it was only a way to set the tone for what was dominant Speed of Light season. He won the Giro in May and the Tour in July, and perhaps missing out on the Vuelta and World Championship are the only things lacking on what was an amazing summer of SOL. Vanias has vowed not only to return, but to repeat his same form as last spring, and after 3 podium finishes on the trot, no one has any doubts about it.

For his rivals, there certainly does have an inevitable feel of racing for second. Einstein Racing-Short’s Brewing will be hell bent on putting someone in the mix for the GC, with the responsibility likely falling to reining World Champion Luke Tjosvold and former Tour winner Ryan “Mr. President” Kennedy. They’ll be flush with willing support from Cody Sovis, Jason Whittaker, Craig Fortuna, Wes Sovis, Jason Lowetz and plenty of others. They’ll also be looking to keep their perfect streak alive in the Team Competition; ERSB is a perfect 9 for 9.

It’s Hagerty Cycling that should challenge there, although Craig Webb and the gang will no doubt have eyes on the maglia rosa as well. They also boast the biggest challenger to last year’s winner, Katilyn Patterson, in the on-form Susan Vigland. Vigland was second to Patterson at MSB this past Saturday, and wouldn’t mind finding herself ahead of Patterson once or twice heading into the rest of the season.

M-22 has added to the arsenal, but of course, there’s no replacing their team leader with the devilish smile, Sean Kickbush. Kickbush is still working himself back from a shoulder injury suffered at Barry-Roubaix, but he’s looking close to fit enough to get back off road and to do so would add considerably to the likes of Keegan Myers, Jason Johnson, Chad Jordan and, if present, Jorden Wakeley.

The first stage is straight time, straight points. For the first time, the Points Classification will be taken off the new section of last year, the Truee de Madeleine. The short section takes riders just around 2 minutes, a much more intense effort that the Power Section, and with less tactics to play out. Points will be 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 for the fastest five times on the segment each week. It also has roughly 60 feet of elevation gain, something that may make it tougher on the purer sprinters.

The Mountain Classificiations will be calculated on the Boonenberg, which often serves as one of the last launching points on the course. Points, like the Sprint Classification, will be 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and it’s a chance for Kaitlyn Patterson. Last year, she became the first woman to score points in any classification, and the first to finish in the top three of one. This year, it could well be within her powers to capture the Mountains Classification with some well-timed efforts and perhaps just a touch of luck….but that’s the case for everyone.

The Team Competition takes the fastest two times from each team, each week and is added to find a fastest total time. It takes strength in depth, and oftentimes teams will score as many as half dozen different riders over the course of a four week Grand Tour. With so many fast riders, it’s not the good days that count, but the bad ones; making up even 15 to 30 seconds can be very tough.

We’ll also be treated to a Singlespeed category, worth the same points as a jersey at the end of the competition. Expect to see Kyle Macdermaid put on a show here, although if Steve Andriese makes them all, no rider is as good at not shifting as “Dr. Pain” is at the moment. Craig Fortuna, too, is entertaining the SS thought, while Jeff Zeller should also figure into the mix.

The first stage leaves Ec at 6:30pm or from the Bunker Hill Parking Lot at 6:45. The course is the same as last year, except we will use the Iceman bypass to avoid the sandy powerline and wall this year.