The biggest turnout yet for the Melting Mann saw the deepest field as well. Increase in quantity and quality ratcheted up the stakes of a race that, until now, was a Barry-Roubaix tune up race. Now, this is a lofty goal in its own right.
The overnight temperatures hovered just over freezing, which at least kept the 600 riders gathered in Vandalia safe from the threat of ice. The drawback, of course, was that the soggy roads stayed wet, and some low sections of devolved into deep, thick mud to add another dynamic to an interesting event.
Promptly at 10am the 32 mile race headed north from downtown, with Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. quick to stamp their authority on the race. Cody Sovis and Earl Hillaker took turns on the front controlling and patrolling before Matt Acker snuck away for a few miles of bearded bliss. RBS took matters into hand, however, and brought back the move a few miles before the race entered the decisive hilly section that would decide the day’s race.
The first casualty fell before the turn, with Sovis dropping a chain and watching the race pour over a short climb and down a twisty, rutted and sloppy descent. Two concurrent but independent crashes saw four riders ejected some several feet into the air and deposited into the woods on either side of the slick, muddy road. That caused a gap, with roughly eight riders going clear, and another group of roughly the same size looking up the road and chasing.
Sean Kickbush and Colin Snyder headed up the pursuit behind, but there was too much firepower up front. Last year’s winner Joe Thomas, Tyler Weston, Ron Caitlin, Dan Lam and more were committed, and with just over a minute gap with five miles to go, the race was decided. Acker had something left for the sprint, but there was nothing guaranteed; by just a foot or two, Jesse Kooistra took the win ahead of Acker, with Dan Shamburger third by just a second, and Rick Mezo fourth. Tyler Weston rounded out the top five ahead of Joe Martin, Joe Thomas, Catlin, Lam and Acker’s GRBC teammate Earl Hillaker rounding out the top ten.
On the women’s side, Wendy Zamzow-Blumerick set the fastest time of the day, on a singlespeed! She was 9th fastest of those unwilling to shift as well, on a course that certainly was ideal for a SS, with the mud beginning to wreak havoc on gears and cassettes later in the day. Heather Goss was second as she begins her return to form after a serious injury last summer, and the podium result is a solid show of progress. Tori Cane rounded out the women’s podium with a time of 2:09:46.
Melting Mann was the first race on the Michigan Gravel Races Series, with everyone in the top ten getting a useful headstart on points. Barry-Roubaix is up next, just six days away on March 25. With some decent weather in the forecast, there’s just enough time for fine-tuning the fitness before what could be another soggy day in West Michigan. After that, attentions stay in the Grand Rapids area with the Lowell 50 in April.
Here’s Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. racer Matt Acker’s Strava file. CHECK OUT THAT POWER!