Written by Michael Green Thursday, 16 February 2017 00:00
The Iceman Cometh point-to-point MTB race is the biggest race day in the Midwest, if not the Nation. With 5000 people competing it's an incredible festival of torture and fun - the 2016 event would be no different but with an extra slice of pain for this year's edition. I've held off submitting this race report to add a little "closure" to the day.
With a large purse for the winners, Iceman attracts some of the world's biggest names in Pro mountain bilking with many past winners doing so wearing the World Champions jersey. This year both men's and women's events were won by the current USA champions but for me, the only thing that mattered was to win my age group.
I believe my first Iceman was in 1998 (I missed 2004) and have a long standing relationship with the woods of northern Michigan. The forecast was incredible this year with sunny and mid 50's predicted, not bad for early November. A couple of changes to this year's route were planned, most notably the start, meaning the start was more important than usual. After the typical stress filled race day morning, I lined up in Wave 1 on the damp, chilly morn. The family had made the four hour journey to Kalkaska so I felt a little extra pressure to do well. With the countdown ticking by, I threw my Bikeman jacket to my wife and we were off.
Within quarter of a mile we were on the narrow two-track and the first section of singletrack coming up very soon. I'd ridden the first half of the 30 mile route a couple of times over the past few weeks so was familiar with the changes. The speed was high in the dry conditions and sand was flying like usual. I slotted myself into the train heading to Traverse City.
The Iceman course is a mix of two track, seasonal roads in the national forest and the necessary singletrack to make this a mountain bike race. Conditions in northern Michigan in November can vary between 6 inches of snow, pouring rain, and spring like temperatures. The woods always make it feel warmer than it is, out of the wind, and with the high speed of this years race, the elevated heart rate made it feel even warmer. I'd found myself in the right place this year and had tacked onto the back of the first group. The group was large, and long like a snake passing through the rolling hills and I was eating and drinking enough to hopefully maintain the pace. We rolled through the the various landmarks along the way and my Schwalbe Racing Ralph's mounted to my Carver hoops were hooking up wonderfully. The low pressure I was running was allowing me to rail the sandy turns and make up gaps and places along the way.
We crossed Broomhead Road, roughly the half way point and I knew from my computer that I was in a position in the race that I'd never been before. My family rang cow bells and shouted their support as I crossed the spectating point and I gained a few extra watts from their cheering to make up some spots. We continued to weave through the forest and crossed Williamsburg Road at the top of climb and is the noisiest place along the route with announcers, a feed zone and plenty of supporters shouting their very best to the riders. I free wheeled down the other side and entered the next singletrack section. Then I went down.
I have no clue why I had endo'ed. I think my pedal hit a stump or something. I have replayed my GoPro video of the race a hundred times and still can't make it out. I laid on the ground for a few moments to regain myself and spent another few moment straightening my bars. I couldn't get them straight and the next group on the course was starting to make their way past. My shoulder was particularly sore, my skin and various other parts of my body were sore from the crash. I had twelve miles to go and decisions to make. I could go back to Williamsburg Road, they'd be emergency personnel there, but I wasn't going to give up on this day. I jumped aboard my Kona Big Unit and tacked onto a group of five or so riders and, still a daze I followed wheels for the next few miles.
There I sat, watching the wheel in front and just riding. My handlebar was crooked enough to make singletrack slightly troublesome and certainly a challenge with one gimpy shoulder. I vividly recall seeing the 10k to go sign and thinking to myself that I'd had enough sitting in and it was time to go. I'd rationalized the fact that I thought I'd already done myself some harm, so how much more worse could it be should I go down again? I "buzzed" past the group and pushed the pace until the end. The group broke-up slightly and I think a couple of others were glad for someone to mix it up. I rode as hard as I could for the remaining miles by now I couldn't lift my arm above chest height without excruciating pain.
Amazingly, I finished ahead of my goal time thanks to the work earlier in the day and clocked my fastest journey ever along the ICEMAN route. My family was waiting at the finish line and my wife knew immediately something was wrong and had some choice words when she saw my shoulder. I cleaned up, and headed to medical where the physician on staff wanted me to head for surgery right there and then - I'd destroyed all of the ligaments in my shoulder and my arm was just hanging!
Amazingly I won my age group for the day and during awards, as my girls helped me climb onto the podium, the crowd jeered the other podium placers about being beaten by the "guy with one arm".
As mentioned above, I held off forwarding this report until I had some finality from my injury. I waited until I got home to track down the best surgeon I could to get the best result. I had my shoulder reconstructed a week ago, my dressing has been removed and the stitches from my five inch scar have been pulled. I start physical therapy this week and start my long rehab process to race again later this year.
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