We were going to call it a ‘Sneak Peak2Peak’ but we already hate ourselves enough.
How in the heck is are we talking about Peak2Peak already? It seems like just yesterday we were losing sleep about the Mud, Sweat and Beers course being snow-free before race day and if we would get to race with bare knees before July. We did, but barely.
A quick look out your window and you’ll see the signs of an impending drive to Crystal Mountain; the leaves are changing, the morning’s rain has stopped and there’s been a 25-degree temperature change in the past ten minutes. October sure is a wonderful time to be a cyclist, is it not? The weather is, of course, one of the many variable that make an event like Peak2Peak so tough, but after last year’s idyllic ride, we’re willing to take a chance that it’ll be gorgeous yet again.
The other variables, like the course and a competitive field, are a bit more predictable. It’s been a long time since Peak2Peak was just an Iceman tune-up event. Drawing some of the fastest riders in the Midwest, Iceman is the only race with as much horsepower on the start line and in the Elite fields; with no mass or preferred start, there’s nowhere to hide when the gun goes off, and riders in every field battle just to stay in touch over the first five miles, much of it at 20+mph.
And if the Norte kids are to be believed, the course has never been in such good shape. The Norte Varsity squad took a Sunday field trip to Crystal Mountain this weekend, checking fitness and equipment ahead of the October 20 race. Less sand, more speed was the report, and the climb seems to have developed a much firmer, smoother groove to make the assault up the backside of the ski hill faster (and likely more selective) than ever.
With two weeks to go, there are plenty of names missing from the start list that we’d expect to see, but even if the race was tomorrow, there are plenty of fast riders confirmed. Alexey Vermeulen is the big one; the Pride of Pickney is registered, adding P2P to his usual Iceman appearance this year. Scott Hoffner makes a return to Crystal Mountain and Peak2Peak, an event he’s nearly won on more than one occasion, and then following up the next day by dominating the now-defunct Crystal Cross. (Man, those were fun, weren’t they?)
After his showing at Bear Claw Epic, Alec Shau is sure to be in the mix. The only rider to even truly give Jorden Wakeley and Jeff Owens a moment’s worry, Shau won’t have to deal with either of those riders at Peak2Peak. If he can pair up with a big engine like Nate Williams or Mike Anderson 2.0 (yep, he’s back!) then he’ll be a thrill to watch on the descent to the line.
Of the locals, Nick Wierzba leads the way for TC with Tim Pulliam on the line for another Elite race this season. Both riders have shown brilliance at Peak2Peak before, and if either are in the mix on the final climb up the ski hill, they’re going to be really, really tough to beat. Dan Ellis is the big hope for all our kolo t.c. fans (thanks, Mom) after a strong ride at Bear Claw Epic and a month spent herding Norte Farm Team hoodlums, he should have that perfect mix of fitness and anxiety from answering questions from 11-year-olds about swimming and tire pressure.
On the women’s Elite side, we’re missing Susan Vigland and Lauri Brockmiller from the start list, but the Brockmiller Elite Endurance coaches are sure to sign up before too long. They’ll be back up against young Maddy Franks. It may be a matter of domestics versus imports, with Hoosiers Mary Penta and Abby Snyder making the trip way, way north for Peak2Peak.
This race course has no secrets. If you’re not in touch at the base of Le Plateau de Cœurs Brisés, you’re out of it; even in the Elite race where a small gaggle of hard-luck, never-say-die chasers regains contact just before the climb nearly every lap, every year, if you can’t go up an average 8% grade quickly, you’re going to have a tough day. At just under a half a mile, the toughest part of the climb is 178 feet of elevation gained, some it at as much as 13%. It’s brutal once, but by the third lap for Experts and Elites, it’s less about making a move and just about surviving to the top.
Over the top, there’s little room to make a move until the bottom of the descent, and even then, it’s often down to someone making a mistake or suffering some bad luck. Alex Vanias’ win two years ago came from Brian Matter’s dropped chain. To his credit, Greek Yogurt did his homework, noting that a half dozen or so riders in the morning Sport race dropped their chains in the final few hundred meters, and he knew both to keep pedaling AND never to give up. Brains can make a bigger difference than you think.
The lucky 13th annual Peak2Peak Mountain Bike Classic is Saturday, October 20. You can get signed up right here, and make sure you see who’s signed up in your category right here. Can you put down a 45-minute lap? Few can. Oh, and check out last year’s recap + Brian Beckwith’s killer photo gallery here.