91 degrees and dusty, the Bear Claw Epic brought the heat in 2017, and two worthy winners nabbed titles and cookies.
When the morning’s Beginner and Sport races were only just starting after nine o’clock Saturday, the temperature was already hitting 80 degrees and the sun was only just really getting up in the sky. The sweeping parking lot was filled with cars and dotted with riders and spectators hopping like so many cats on tin roofs to get to the grass and off the blistering pavement. It was, as all of your observant friends on Facebook certainly pointed out, very hot.
So hot, in fact, that the race organizers wisely cut the Expert race from four to three laps late on Friday. It was the right decision, and even a few Elite riders rolled through after three and cast longing glances and the cool tent and the non-see through wall created by a few dozen boxes of G&D’s Pizza.
As the morning races ended, the word on the course was ‘dust’. The roots that typify the course remained, but now every section was markedly slick with a fine layer of powdery dust. The Official Dad of kolo t.c., Joe Sovis, came off the course calling it ‘slick and crazy’ in his reserved, quiet sort of way.
The start list was populated by a number of Leadout Racing’s finest, including Dan and Keegan Korienek, plus Tom Linck. The women’s Elite field was bolstered by the arrival of Hagerty Cycling’s Laura Webb, Freewheeler’s Maddy Frank, and Susan Newmyer, all of whom slid in alongside Lauri Brockmiller and Lexxi Mapes in the second row.
It was a non-commital start, with Sean Kickbush deferring to Cody Sovis over the top of the opening incline and into the woods for the start of the lap. The longest climb of the lap came just a half a mile into the race, and Sovis put down the best pace he could. Kickbush and John O’Hearn came around and moved off the front, with Sovis dangling behind.
Tom Linck was flexing his considerable muscles alongside Robert Martin, with a number of small groups forming along the route. Dan Korienek and Dan Ellis found themselves in in a JZ sandwich, with Josh and Jon putting on an absolute clinic on how to be more smooth that a 1990’s Usher song. They made steady progress all day, but as the riders moved away ahead, the group was more and more focused on sorting out the finishing order amongst their own group.
Wes Sovis fought hard to get into contact, and then regain contact with that group after a brief mechanical. The rough, fast descents knocked many a chain off many a single-ring, and the timing of which had a big impact on the success of the chase back. Wes paid for his efforts, but showed he’s nearly back to the height of his powers.
In the women’s race, Lauri Brockmiller and Laura Webb pulled away early and only looked back for safety reasons, probably. Lexxie Mapes was knocked out with a flat, and Maddy Frank was left in no man’s land to scramble to the end on her own abilities. Lauri got a gap once, but the indomitable Webb got back into contact. Brockmiller rode a consistent and smart race, riding from the front and finally dispensing of her troublesome limpet on the final lap to come home with the win. Webb was just a few seconds back, with Maddy coming home third in a sprint with Susan to the line. It was so hot that she as she stumbled into the tent, she looked as if she was going to climb into the cooler…until it revealed itself to be devoid of ice.
O’Hearn lost Kickbush’s wheel and battled on in second, only to be caught by Cody Sovis on the start of the third lap. A dropped chain saw O’Hearn back into second for a short while, before a determined and admittedly frightened chase saw Sovis leapfrog him yet again. O’Hearn succumbed to the heat and bagged it, moving the spectre of Tom Linck into third on the course and in the hunt to find a flagging Sovis. Kickbush, meanwhile, didn’t even looked tired at the head of affairs, crossing the start/finish posturing for his wife, Missy, to admire.
Sovis held onto his chain and his second place, with Linck coming in ahead of Rob Martin and the Korienek/Ellis/Zelinksi/Zelinski train. You’ve heard of the Josh Zelinski Party Zone, but after Bear Claw, we’ll introduce you to the Jon Zelinski Hydration Station.
The race was, again, one of the most organized and fun events in the state, with the Bear Claw Epic team highlighting and raising funds for the Cadillac Pathway. Their work, along with NMMBA, is doing a lot to make the trails in Northern Michigan more valuable to their respective communities.
The full results from the 2017 Bear Claw Epic are right here.
You can see Sean’s winning ride on Strava here.
Join the kolo t.c. Gentlemen’s Club on Strava for rides, races, and general chatter.