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February 14, 2015
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Updated: December 16, 2017
Author: btk
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Ryan Craig, Kate McCloud Claim Flèche Titles

Author: btk
May 7, 2017
road | gravel

Spectators crowded the tree-lined boulevards of Houghton this Saturday to see off a near-record number of riders in the seventh running of La Flèche du Nord, the queen of the U.P. Spring Classics, second in grandeur only to the venerable Ronde van Skandia. Squads from across the U.P. were on the start line, including host team, Red Jacket Cycling of Houghton – which had yet to land a rider on the podium, the once dominant Ace team of Marquette, 906 Adventure Team of Marquette, SISU Cycling of Marquette, a few young guns from the Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan University cycling teams, a number of unattached and seasoned veterans and several aspiring espoirs looking to impress and land a contract for the remainder of the season.

The sunshine and clear skies that beaconed the unsuspecting riders over the Portage Lift Bridge and onto Copper Island would be a grace to only one rider, the winner, as even the slightest rainfall would have masked the tears of disappointment on those who would follow in his wake. Brisk winds from the north would prove to be favorable only occasionally as the riders made their way north to Copper Harbor, frequently reaping havoc on the peloton and shredding it into fractured echelons even in the earliest moments of the contest.

Following the traditional and largely ceremonial rollout to the crest of the first unpaved climb of the day, event officials waved the riders clear to start and pulled away. The first to take the bait was Ace rider Dave Grant, perhaps stretching his legs or – more likely – breaking wind, as it were, for the benefit of those behind him. In the end, it would his only taste of life at the front of the peloton before being deposed by the cadre of young climbers lurking in the wings.

Coming off day’s first of many high-speed descents towards the shores of Lake Superior, the group coalesced for what would be the final time before the battle for control of the race began in earnest on the climb towards Bumbletown. Setting a blistering pace on the first pitch were Red Jacket rider Ian Connick and NMU powerhouse Ryan Craig. Sisu rider Zeb Johnston, who, like Craig, had previously suffered misfortune in the Flèche, courageously bridged up to the duo. The group of three wasted no time in pulling away from the imploding peloton. Cresting the toughest section of the climb together past ardent race supporters Bob and Jan Haas was a group of seven, with riders of all teams represented.

The most damning section of the Flèche can only be described as a drop into the deepest pits of hell. Sharp gravel litters the initial descent. A long stretch of sand with hidden, fist sized boulders lies in wait for those who survive the gravel. And riders lucky to have made it that far must contend with exposed rock, loose sand and the shrapnel of brass tire valves from the failed tubes that have collected over the years. All who enter the section want only one thing: to see the pavement on the other side with both tires intact. Two of the three riders at the front had made a conservative tire choice: wide and strong – their sole purpose to ply the sea of gravel unscathed. The third rider had speed on his mind and was willing to take chances, despite his past misfortune. All three would avoid the clutches of fate and make it to the sinuous Five Mile Point road together. The poursuivants would not fare so well. The first to see a chance at victory vanish into thin air was Ace hopeful Andy Stevens. For Stevens, the flat was especially bitter, having flatted in the same location last year. Just one right-hand turn from safety, Red Jacket strongman Justin Hoffmeyer was summoned to the sidelines with a puncture. In the end, it would be a quintet of chasers who emerged on the pavement: a pair of Ace riders –Dave Grant and Joe Bettendorf – Red Jacket rider Chris Schmidt, BIKE member Josh Myles, and 2016 Flèche runner-up Eric Isaacs, riding for Michigan Tech. Other riders failing to clear the section unscathed included Red Jackets John Gershenson and Evandro “Watts” Maicon as well as Ace hopeful Christina Bennett.

As the lead groups made their way towards Eagle River and the base of the arduous Garden City climb, the two groups wheeled and dealed amongst themselves, making soon to be forgotten promises of leadouts and payoffs in exchange for long pulls at the front and mercy on the climbs. The trio at the front made headway and countered the efforts of the chasers, their number now down to four after Myles succumbed to the feverish pace of the chasers.

Cresting the first pitch of the Garden City climb, the trio of leaders looked back in unison to take in the majestic view of an endless Lake Superior and were surprised to see a group of four starting the climb ¬¬– in the same spot they had passed only minutes before. Their labored movements and downcast glances led the leaders to believe that they had crushed the spirits of the chasers. They needed only maintain their pace, and the podium would be theirs. Retelling the story of the tortoise and the hare amongst themselves, the trailing quartet found new strength, reorganized and pushed onward to the base of the looming Delaware climb. Red Jacket rider Chris Schmidt cracked on the first pitch the longest climb of the day, leaving the other three to continue the chase. The north winds increased in strength as the riders neared the summit, lending a false sense of strength to the trio and giving Schmidt renewed energy. As a result, the quartet reformed at the summit just as the silhouette of a lone rider came into view. Passing Delaware Mine, four became five, a faltering Zeb Johnston joining the chase.

With only two riders up the road, a spot on the podium had opened. A mere ten miles remained and the chasers viewed one another with increasing suspicion. Would there be a surprise attack? Would the two leaders be caught? Clicking off the poisonous hellingen that litter the final miles of US41 at high speed, the group worked to reel in the leaders in brief period of truce. The short, steep climbs left Johnston increasingly in the red and eventually detached him from the original four chasers. Shortly afterwards, another figure dangled in the distance. The telltale red jersey of Red Jacket Ian Connick came into view and Ace quickly hit the brakes, preferring to allow the competition to dangle off the front and further deplete his reservoirs. Connick had cracked hard, however, shattering hopes of a Red Jacket victory. Again five, the chasers worked their way towards Copper Harbor and the Brockway Mountain finish. Ryan Craig powered on alone at the front, victory within reach.

The final mile of the Flèche features nearly five hundred feet of vertical and two pitches in excess of 20%. Many a man has been left crying in the gutter and it is deemed a shortcoming of no man to conquer the final walls by foot. Though Craig was in the lead as the climb started, a group of five was less than two minutes behind. Victory was a possibility for all at this point. Isaacs was the first to take up the chase, with Grant and Bettendorf battling for third behind him. Schmidt was being distanced behind them and Connick had clicked out of pedals and ascended by foot. As Craig entered the final straightaway, Isaacs caught sight of him. The gap was too great to be closed however and Craig was given the hero’s welcome by the spectators who lined Brockway Mountain three of four deep in places. Dave Grant claimed his second podium finish and the first for Ace within recent memory. The battle for fourth was hard fought, as Schmidt caught a tiring Bettendorf on the final rise, crossing the line in Grant’s long but fading shadow. Behind Bettendorf, Ian Connick salvaged sixth place, a solid finish after a powerful start to his day.

Though the Red Jackets were once again not able to claim a podium spot in the men’s contest, Kate McCloud gave the team a long-sought moment of glory by crossing the line as the first woman.

Behind the leaders, countless riders trickled in, telling tales of woe, showing battle scars deep and painful, lamenting flat tires and broken bars. Stories were told long into the night at the Mariner North in Copper Harbor – depleting their stock of Belgian ales over talk of what could have and should have been and giving warnings of what awaits at the upcoming Ronde and in next year’s Flèche. The queen of the U.P. classics may be over for another year, but the stories will live on, as will¬ – for all but the winners – hope of better fortune next year.

A huge thank you to everyone for making this year’s Flèche a success, especially the numerous members of the Red Jacket Cycling Team for setting up and tearing down the course, Red Jackets Sharon Stoll and Bruce & Robyn Harvey for support during the ride, Esme Schmidt for manning registration, Rhythm Bike and Board for hosting the start and the Mariner North for their continued support of all types of cycling in the Keweenaw.

La Flèche du Nord: Spring Classics Come to the Keweenaw

Updated: May 3, 2017
Author: btk
road | events

The Red Jacket Cycling Team is proud to present the seventh annual La Fleche du Nord, an informal, but high-paced ride in the tradition of the Belgian spring classics on May 6. Starting in Houghton, finishing on top of Brockway Mountain, the 70-mile route will take riders over some of the toughest terrain the Keweenaw has to offer. A ride unlike any other, La Fleche features six sections of dirt that account for nearly half of the total distance and will give riders the opportunity to see the Keweenaw from an entirely new perspective. Though not a race, the event will be anything but a leisurely tour to the top of the peninsula.

Gear
In spite of an endless winter, it is expected that the standard course will again be used this year. The route features sections of packed dirt, rough gravel, chewed asphalt, loose sand and possibly flowing water. Riders have fared will on standard road times. Beefier is better, however, as flats are a common occurrence. For gearing, 39x25 (minimum) or a compact or triple crank are advised for those not wanting to walk the 20% pitches that await riders on Brockway Mountain and several other short, steep sections.

The course will be marked; maps will be available at the start.

Everyone is welcome to hit the Mariner North in Copper Harbor afterwards for lunch (eveyone is on their own).

As this is a one way ride, riders will be responsible for organizing return transport from Copper Harbor to Houghton. A limited number of seats will be available for those unable to secure return transport. Please send a note to cts@bikethekeweenaw.com by May 2 if in need of a ride. If planning on riding, please either send a note or rsvp on the event Facebook page.

No entry fee, no support, no feed zones, no aid stations, no prizes, no glory. Just old-fashioned pain and suffering.

Schedule:
May 6, 2017
9:00a.m.: Rider sign-in at Rhythm Bikes and Boards of Houghton
10:00a.m.: Unofficial start (rollout through Houghton and Hancock)
2:00p.m.: First riders expected on Brockway Mountain

BIKE!

February 16, 2015


BIKE! works to empower people in the Keweenaw to ride bikes more often through education and community outreach, encouragement, and advocacy and regional development. For info, visit the BIKE! website.

The Keweenaw?

March 1, 2011

A lonely peninsula jutting into Lake Superior at the northern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw isn't a place one passes through by accident. You need to want to come here. And if you ride a bike – road or mountain – this is a place worth wanting to get to. Hundreds of miles of low-traffic roads, six top-notch mtb trail systems, endless water and temperate climes, it's worth discovering if you haven't already checked it out.