ACME — Alexey Vermeulen wanted that trophy more than the $6,000 paycheck that comes along with it.
Maybe the 24-year-old from Pinckney played coy, but the emotions he wore on his sleeve along with a lot of mud, said otherwise.
Vermeulen put his hands over his face as he was overcome by emotion at the finish line to win his first Iceman Cometh Challenge title Saturday at Timber Ridge Resort.
Emotion was the only thing that overcame him Saturday in the 30-mile mountain bike race that’s the country’s largest point-to-point mountain bike event with over 5,000 entrants.
Vermeulen won by 22 seconds over four-time champion Brian Matter and 23 ticks ahead of defending champ Geoff Kabush. He made a somewhat late kick to pull away from a group of nine elite riders who had separated
“It’s just kind of a gut feeling,” Vermeulen said. “At that point you know it comes down to conditions. There’s times where it was hailing on us and it just kind of came down to taking a chance and the minute you get a gap, you just put it in sixth gear and go.”
Vermeulen was greeted at the finish by friend and fellow bicyclist Larry Warbasse or Traverse City, who happened to be in town for the weekend, taking a short break from the professional cycling circuit in Europe.
Vermeulen pockets $6,000 for the win in 1:54:47.
“I think just like being from Michigan it’s literally just one race that I really wanted to win,” Vermeulen said. “As a Michigan rider, you can come so close, but close isn’t winning the race.”
Katarina Nash won in 2:16:48 among 21 entrants in the women’s pro division. She won by less than a second over Clif teammate Hanna Finchamp.
Those two broke away from the pack around 5 kilometers into the race.
“Some of the (riders) that are preparing for the Olympics next year didn’t show up this year, so the field was smaller this year,” Nash said. “It just makes it a little bit harder because you have fewer people doing the work on the course. It was just us all day long, versus typically it’s like eight to eight to 10 people.”
Bridgett Widrig or Grawn and Susan Vigland of Traverse City placed sixth and seventh, respectively.
“I’ve been Katerina’s teammate for seven years now, so I’ve gotten to race in the same race as her many times but this is the first year that I’ve been able to hang on to her wheel and learn more from her that way,” Finchamp said.
“Katrina is obviously very decorated as a five-time Olympian,” Finchamp said. “She’s strong, she’s one of the best cyclocross racers in the world, so mud is kind of her bread and butter. so following her wheel is learning this line or that line or where to be smooth and then of course learning that patience that it really took at the end of this race and learning how to sprint, which she once again taught me a lesson.”
Nash also wins $6,000, and each second-place finisher nets $4,250, with third taking $3,000.
She also won the 2017 race and finished in the top three last year.
“This finish is awesome,” Nash said. “I really enjoy it. Both times I won the race it came down to a sprint finish.”
Kabush, 42, was one of a group of 10 that broke away early on and largely stayed together until Vermeulen made his run.
“You want to stay near the front selection and then it’s just a matter of sensing the right moment to go,” Kabush said. “Then Alexey snuck away and everyone just looked around.”
Grayling’s Jorden Wakeley placed 10th.
The race was not without hiccups, as traffic backups at the new starting point resulted in some racers missing their wave departure.