Mud, Sweat and Hagerty! - 05/08/2012
Hagerty Impresses at Mud, Sweat and Beers
Mud, Sweat and Beers is a very big deal for Hagerty Cycling. It’s our first chance to law down the law, and the first race of the year over trail systems in our own backyard. Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo version was a massive showing for the Blue and White, including the grand debut of the new Hagerty-TOLaw U-25 team.
Hagerty-TOLaw U-25’s magnificent riders have made starts in the past, but the opportunity to come up big on home soil had to wait until Mud, Sweat and Beers. With a roster of around eleven, we were happy to get three riders to the start line. Bryan Carps, Wes Sovis and myself rolled down to the call up alongside some of the fastest racers in the state. Outside of the Iceman Cometh, it was the strongest wave I’ve ever started in.
The U-25 squad, like an exotic bird on a perch, can be identified by singular, distinct markings. While the front of the jersey looks just like any other Hagerty kit, the side panels are black with Thompson O’Neil Law emblazoned boldly along the side. The sleeves, too, are a bit of a change-up, rekindling last the infamous red, white and blue Czech stripe from the TOLaw kits. Yesterday, Sean Brownell, Ian Durand and Gavin Ryba made their debuts in the jerseys and doing the young squad proud.
The elder chaps mentioned at top fared well in one of the fastest age categories in the race. These are their stories....
On the gun, I was shocked how good I felt. I’m a notoriously bad starter, but at MSB, the gradual climb to the trees suited my pretty well. I was in sixth or seventh place with a slight gap behind me after I made the turn downhill. For a second, I saw Ron Sanborn and Ty Schmidt just ahead of me and immediately thought some kind of practical joke was in the works. I never stick with these for a second, so I thought surely it was a conspiracy to give me hope before 60-80 people all passed me at once from behind. Close, but not quite.
I fared well through the first mile or so and held my position on Heartbreak Hill. After living in Allendale, Michigan for six months, the hill is a monster and I don’t quite have my climbing legs yet, so just holding on was Mission Accomplished (without the banner). Mike “Big Poppa” Okma caught me, and I was glad to have a teammate alongside, especially with the dark, lurking figure of Jason Whittaker around. I hopped in front of Mike and pulled as hard as I could through the neighborhood, eventually bridging up to Whittaker and another rider before Okma pulled a spot ahead of me heading into the woods. Mike is a much better single track rider than me, so having his wheel to watch and his line to follow kept me in contact for a long while. Just as we hit the woods I took a peek back to see Wes glued to Spencer Payne’s wheel. Wes is still building up for the season, and for him to be riding tight with Payne, who is an absolute wizard on the trails, is a very good benchmark for the year to come.
Okma and I bombed through the course in a pretty good rhythm. I’d pull on the open sections of the course and he’d hop in front through the single track. Slowly, we reigned in Whittaker who’d gotten a short ways ahead, and our little trio kept intact for some ways. I pulled, Okma and Whittaker watched each other, and the tension built up. Not really. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a bike race to be with two pals, riding as hard as I could and seeing them do the same. I knew I wasn’t going to last with them for too long, so I was trying to lay down a strong pace to keep them ahead of any chasers. I knew Chris Kushman wasn’t too far back, and I didn’t want him to join and even up the numbers on us, especially with me fading quickly.
Mike took a great pull through a single track section and dropped me and Whittaker. Like hills, Allendale isn’t known for its trail systems. I struggled and lost his wheel, and lost Whittaker’s shortly after on another section. I briefly regained contact but lost them overshooting a corner, then settled into my own pace. Sure enough, a blistering Chris Kushman caught and passed me, but aside from that, I was on my own until the Battle of the Heroes hit my wheel. Our own Tim Jenema was in a four-way duel to the death. I slipped onto the back of his group, which was five strong at the time, and held on. With no one close behind in my age category, I was hoping to play my last hand for Jenema somewhere in the final few miles. I took a short pull through Timber Ridge to keep the pace moving, but a huge move from a Cross Country Cycle rider, Mark Spore, gapped me. I was lingering about 30 yards back as we hit the asphalt in the neighborhood, while just ahead TJ and his gang were falling into a high-speed cat and mouse game. I closed to within ten yards as we made the turn back off-road to Mt. Holiday. Heading down the screaming descent, my chain rattled off and I had to roll to stop on that short little kick to the crest of the ski hill. Jenema ended up second overall without my help, a great result for a man racing in his backyard. I slipped across the line 6th in my age group, about a minute behind Mike Okma in 5th. Wes ended up 8th with Bryan Carps slotting in 10th place. Bryan’s day continued at the Hagerty-TOLaw U-25 team’s fundraiser for Youth Cycling. He lent his expert abilities alongside Brooks and Ethan at the bike wash tent for most of the morning, lubing chains and just being generally awesome. The bike wash ended up raising $64, a whopping amount compared to the alternative of zero. It also gave the team a way to help out while introducing themselves to everyone in the cycling community in a very positive way. A big thanks to McLain Cycle and Fitness for donating some chain lube, as well!
Bike racing is about a lot more than results. The ride of the day has to go to Michelle Howard for proving her class as a rider and a human being. When she spotted John Leach bloodied and dizzy on the bottom of a climb, she made sure he was okay and gave up her own race to make sure he received medical attention. Who knows how many other riders zoomed passed without checking on John to make sure he was okay, let alone helping him to get back safely. John suffered a concussion and a few cuts and bruises, but is doing just fine, in no small part to the attention and care given by Michelle in making sure he was out of the woods, as it were, as quickly and as safely as possible.
Here’s a link to the full results, with a special nod to Susan, TJ Jenema, Lars Welton, and Sandra Dunn for snagging podiums!