TRAVERSE CITY — Jorden Wakeley notched his best finish in the Iceman Cometh last year when he took seventh in the men’s elite race, 20 seconds behind the winner, Olympian Sam Schultz.
The 23-year-old Grayling resident thinks he can improve upon that Saturday.
Some 4,600 riders are expected to compete in the 29-mile mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Timber Ridge. The first wave departs at 9 a.m. The pro cyclists will be in the last two waves, starting at 2:30 p.m.
“I would love to be in the top five,” Wakeley said. “I could potentially win it. I’m riding the best I’ve ever ridden. I’ve spent a lot of time over there (on the course) the last week and a half, getting to know the course. It could be a very good year.”
Several other top cyclists will be vying for the top spot, too.
The men’s field includes Geoff Kabush, Brian Matter, Lukas Fluckiger, Jeremiah Bishop, Mike Simonson, Todd Wells, Stephen Ettinger, Travis Woodruff, Derek Zandstra, Cole House, Russell Finsterwald and, of course, Wakeley.
“It’s the real deal,” Wakeley said of the field. “This is a big one.”
Kabush was second and Matter third a year ago. Matter is a former champion, winning it last in 2010.
“He certainly understands it,” race director Steve Brown said of Matter. “He knows what it takes to win a race like this.”
Matter was second in Marquette’s Ore to Shore race in August. He won Wisconsin’s Chequamegon 40 in September.
“We have an unofficial triple crown between those races, and Brian is the only one to win all three,” Brown said.
House beat Matter in the Ore to Shore, and then captured Crystal Mountain’s Peak to Peak a couple weeks ago. House is Wakeley’s teammate on Team 616.
“He’s riding real strong right now,” Wakeley said of House.
Fluckinger, a Swiss rider, won the Iceman two years ago. Bishop, who was third in the mountain bike national championships this year, was second to Fluckiger in 2011.
Wells won the mountain bike national championship short-track race in July and was second in the cross country race.
Wakeley has competed in nearly 40 races this year, winning 17, including the X-100, a 100-mile race in Traverse City. His forte is his power. He said the Iceman is always a good test.
“A lot of it is wide open,” he said. “It’s real fast. There are a lot of 20 miles-per-hour-plus top speed sections out there. The finish is a lot more wide open than it has been the past few years, too. I’m a bigger guy so I like that wide open stuff.”
Wakeley said a single-track section near the finish has been taken out.
“This race stays together for a long time,” he said. “Last year we had 10 or 11 guys together with a mile to go.
“There was a single track with a half mile to go that was really greasy and that’s where the race was won. They’ve changed it this year. Now, it’s going to be a gradual hill climb to the finish.”
Wakeley said he’s been receiving calls and e-mails all week wishing him the best.
“I consider it a hometown race,” he said. “Kalkaska is 25 miles away from my front door.”
The women’s field includes some big names as well.
Emily Batty, second in 2012, returns. Catharine Pendrel, a 2011 world champion and a fourth-place finisher in the 2008 Olympics, will challenge. She was third in 2011. Chloe Woodruff, second in 2011, is back as well. Mackenzie Woodring, who won the Peak to Peak, is entered. She was fourth last year. Amanda Sin, a member of the Canadian National team, will contend, too.
In addition to the Iceman, about 400 riders are registered in the eight-mile Slush Cup and 300 in the kids’ Sno-Cone races.