Mid-February is sneaking up on Northern Michigan, and with it comes two races in quick succession.
First up is February 13's Vasa Fat Bike Race. With Series leader Jorden Wakeley already confirmed, it's now Ryan Kennedy under pressure to make up some ground at the race located in almost his backyard. The new route suits both riders, with plenty of flat and wide open trail that seems tailor-made to feature power riders along the sinuous Riley's Loop before heading back to Timber Ridge. Kennedy's teammates Mike Walters, Jon Throop and Craig Fortuna look to move up the Series standings as well in the Men's open. With Brian Geshel and Matt Acker not likely to attend, the top of the table has plenty of room.
The Men's Master's is sure to be a spectacle as well. Scott Diment leads after Fat Chance!, but Hagerty's Rob Goepfrich has made no secret of his intentions this winter; he's in to win the series, and anything less will be a disappointment. Vasa will be the next stepping stone, and one he's in fighting form to tackle.
For the Women's Open, Einstein Racing-Short's Brewing has a full line-up of women that should sidle up the standings after the two races, with Liz Belt looking like the heir apparent to the Series lead with none of the podium finishers from Fat Chance! confirmed for Vasa. She'll be up against last year's Series winner, Susan Vigland at Vasa, but she should enter The Vineyard Race as a big favorite.
Fifty percent of the Series points will be doled out in the span of 8 days, and it'll be a huge chance for riders to make a name for themselves heading into Beard of Zeus. The courses themselves are very different and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a different winner at each. With the inclusion of almost all of Riley's Loop, the Vasa will be primarily on 5-8 foot wide trail punctuated by two climbs on course, the creatively named "Only Hill On WST", followed by the "La Colline de la Dame de Bois", a more gradual ascent that will be the last test before racers make the final swoop to the Vasa 25km and come storming back to Timber Ridge.
There's only one true climb at The Vineyard Race, but riders will know it intimately by day's end. Each 3.2 mile lap will bring riders up the Full 45 Climb, 142 feet of twisting elevation that will whittle riders from the lead group each lap. The stunning view of Leelanau County from the top of the climb will unfortunately be lost on riders clinging to the lead group, but with a bit of luck, they'll sneak a look of their shoulder before spilling back down to the start/finish.
Two races, two weekends, and everything to play for ahead of the Series finale, Beard of Zeus on March 5.