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October is stacked with races. Here is where we’ll be, plus one shameless plug for The Out’n’Back.

It can’t be the promise of great weather, but the races in October are maybe the most fixed and fascinating of the whole season. In the spring, the run of Lowell 50/Barry-Roubaix/Mud, Sweat and Beers is essentially set in stone for many riders Up North, but the pattern in October is perhaps more certain, and perhaps more important in the build-up to Iceman.

This year, it starts from the gun with the Clarabella GROAD race. The 50-mile course is relatively flat, and the field is small, but it’s a laid-back, low-key race that’s much harder than the profile would indicate. Last year, days of rain left the gravel thick with mud, but it didn’t do anything to dampen the enthusiastic riders looking to raise some cash for Heart of the Lakes. It brings plenty of people into downtown Clare, and if you can make it past that donut shop, there are great coffee joints, Ray’s Bike Shop is way cool, and the town itself is a real charmer.

The race, which is on October 1, moved away before the other big pinnacle of the month, Michigan Mountain Mayhem’s Gravel Grinder on October 7. Somewhat fittingly, the Gravel Grinder falls on the same day as Il Lombardia, “The Race of the Falling Leaves” that traditionally caps the professional season in Europe. With Boyne City at peak color and the promise of an incredibly tough race, in another state, it would happily serve as a similar sort of bookend to racing in Michigan, staring opposite the calendar from Barry-Roubaix.

The 60-mile race is brutally tough, with over 3,000 feet of climbing and, according to Paul, more seasonal road in this edition than in year’s past. The addition of that sand (because ‘seasonal road’ means exactly that) could open up the race to folks who only have a mountain bike, and since the race is in Northern Michigan, 1) everyone has a mountain bike 2) everyone is getting ready for Iceman it might be a good thing in drawing more riders to the event.

While it’s not a race, we’ve not-so-subtlely plugged The Out’n’Back on Sunday, October 15. We’re taking a look at the Iceman course with a few hundred people, and it makes for a pretty incredible bike ride. Seeing 150 or so people ride out from Timber Ridge, all laughing and chatting and catching up, really gets riders of all abilities excited for The Big Day. Like Iceman itself, you’ll see riders of all interests and all speeds, so if you show up, you’ll almost certainly find someone to ride along with.

It’s only another week until Peak2Peak. This race started as an Iceman tune-up event, but that just isn’t the case anymore. While certainly smaller, the race’s men’s and women’s elite fields are as stacked as any race in the state, on par with everything from Barry-Roubaix to Ore2Shore and, except for a Howard Grotts or Spencer Paxson, Iceman.

The course has been dismissed in the past as too easy or straightforward, but I couldn’t disagree more. The lap is essentially a drag race punctuated with a hill climb. Riders with loads of power work themselves into a lather for 11 miles, only to find the impish climbers bouncing past. Descending like stoners, the bigger riders have to pull the climbers back, only for the dance to begin again at the base of the climb. It’s race filled with riders gambling, pitting their strength against the strengths of the riders around them.

On October 28, the Lowell 50‘s fall edition gives riders from all over Michigan 57 miles to test their legs ahead of Iceman. The gravel event is an absolute heartbreaker. At any Lowell race, there are 30 riders capable of winning, and like a lottery, they try their luck in countless breakaways until one finally sticks. You can be in a dozen moves, but there is always one that makes it, and you simply have to be at the right place at the right time with the perfect legs.

It’s a busy time of year, and there are a dozen other great events to take on, too. What races are you looking forward to?