Iceman - Race to the Top 10

by Isaac Neff - 5Nines Motorless Motion Elite Off-Road Team

My goal all year has been to try and look at things in a new way. Go into every race with the mentality that I can do well, that I belong at the front as much as the next guy, no matter what his name is.

2014 marked my 9th edition of the Iceman Cometh race.  Ever since that first race back in 2004 I have wanted to be at the front of the Iceman. The last few years I have had decent rides, but I missed out, or got dropped, by the lead group. Looking back I think this was hugely in part from riding too far back in the group and missing the splits or getting blown-up by the “yo-yo effect”. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to make those mistakes again and I was going to ride at the front no matter what!

The weeks leading up to the race I wasn’t feeling too hot. I had two rough weekends of cyclocross: in St Louis at the Gateway Cross Cup, and the weekend prior at the UCI cross races in Cincinnati. I questioned whether I should even make the drive to Traverse City. My girlfriend, Megan, was running the Madison Marathon on Sunday and I had been planning on driving the 7.5 hours home from Iceman right after the finish. By the week before the race, I realized something must have been going on with me the last two weeks because I was feeling much better. I decided I needed to go race. I talked my mom into making the trip with me, and we left super early Friday morning to get up to Traverse City in time for a quick pre-ride. The course was pretty dry and fast with a tough finishing section.

As I fell asleep I could hear the rain coming down…

Race morning we were met with a seriously wet world! It had rained steadily throughout the night and continued to rain all morning. My only thought was: Perfect! I have always liked bad conditions and I felt this was perfect for me. All I needed to do was stay warm and focused.

Next thing I knew I was getting called up and the race was off!

Like always, the race for the first section of dirt was a battle of elbows. Luckily, I was able to stay pretty far up and hit the dirt about 8th wheel. I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t going to sit too far back! The first couple miles are mostly two track where you can ride side-by-side. The pace felt slow, and there were a lot of spots where people from behind were trying to move up. I shuffled back a bit, but was still top 10 when we hit the first single-lane section.

This is when the pace picked up. I was able to move up and latch onto Dan McConnell’s (World Cup Winner) wheel. Next thing I knew, I looked around him and there was a 200-yard gap between him and the next rider, with a fast group of 6 moving away quickly. I didn’t hesitate and went around him going as hard as I could. I just bridged to the group as we went into the next section on single track!

A couple minutes later I looked back and there was nobody. This was it - the selection of 7 had been made. Geoff Kabush, Darrick Zanstra, Cameron Jette, Russell Finsterwald, Cole House, Brian Matter and me!

We worked together for a while, dropping Jette a little under halfway through, making it a group of 6. I got into some trouble soon after when I chose the wrong trail as it split in two. I exited the section a good ways back from the group and had to go all-in to get back on. Card spent, not ideal.

After that the sparks started to fly when first Kabush, then Matter and others started to put in the attacks. With each one, I was able to stay on and was gaining confidence that I would be able to finish the race with this group. Unfortunately, on a bumpy downhill I lost my chain. No idea how it happened because my XX1 drive train and Wolf Tooth ring has been flawless all year - I think it just shows how gnarly the conditions were!

I worked to get my chain back on as fast as I could, but it was too long, the group was gone. I didn’t stop to think, just got back on as fast as I could and decided I would give it everything to see if I could ride the last 15k solo and hold on for 6th. I thought of it as a 20min test, just like training!

It wasn’t till I was 2k out and the roar of the 1000+ people at the finish could be heard, that I knew I was going to be able to hold on. As I rolled across the line it felt great to know I had stuck it and just finished 6th and inside the top 10 for the first time at Iceman, something I have wanted to do for a long time! I also felt proud that I raced my race - I didn’t make the mistakes of past races and was able to do well as a result.

Next year? Gotta make the podium...

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