Lash Leads Ace Sweep of La Flèche
May 10, 2015
road | gravel
Dispatching teammate Dave Grant (Ace) in the final climb, Colby Lash claimed the 2015 running of La Flèche du Nord this weekend on the sun-bathed summit of Brockway Mountain at the tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Ace teammate Steve Kuhl, broken by the repeated 20% pitches of the climb, rode in for third, completing the – to the immense surprise of race analysts, fortunetellers and bookies – Ace sweep of the podium. (Photo: Michael Sauer)
How it happened:
Cyclists from across the state once again descended on the northern Michigan hamlet of Houghton for the fifth running of La Flèche du Nord, the final spring classic of the season. Contested on a mix of gravel, sand and pavement in various states of decay, the ride featured nearly 4,000 feet of climbing on five categorized climbs over 65 miles. The summerlike conditions that prevailed over the Keweenaw the past week were no match for the snowpack that had lingered on some of the higher pitches of the course until just days before the event, sparing the riders of a frozen quagmire on the ascent of the always fearsome Col De Laware, the penultimate and often decisive climb. Although there was no snow to contend with, the course was still laden with countless other challenges: As if on cue, the Keweenaw county road commission had graded all of the dirt secteurs in the days leading up to the contest, transforming a smooth-riding, hard-packed tarmac into a treacherous mix of dirt and gravel. Wild animals, still hungry after the long, hard winter were on the hunt for weak and tired prey. The greatest threat of all, however, was the descent off of the Bumbletown climb: loose gravel gave way to sections of loose sand, followed by exposed rock which led into further passages of loose sand. Not only would choice of tire be decisive, so too would a choice of line as well as a healthy dose of luck. (Photo: Adam Griffis)
Departing Houghton to great fanfare under a light mist, stiff north breeze and temperatures almost comfortably above the freezing point, the peloton snaked its way between the festive-colored pylons placed on the Portage Lift Bridge for the occasion as traffic came to a standstill and drivers tooted wishes of victory to the riders as they rode past. A pleasant 15-mile roll-out gave riders ample time to warm up the legs and, perhaps, adjust the clandestine electric power-assists cleverly concealed in carbon-fiber seat tubes. Following a brief stop to drop clothes and refuel, officials pulled away the pace cars, opening the race.
Entering the first secteur of dirt, it would be Traverse City based rider Ian Connick, competing in his first Flèche, who would launch the opening salvo. Packing a gallon of water on his back to even the playing field, Connick opened a gap that he would ultimately maintain through the first 6-miles of dirt. Behind him, riders jockeyed for position. Eventually, a number of racers would break clear of the peloton, with Team NCCF/Specialized rider Logan Zueger and Sisu Cycles rider Zeb Johnston leading the way. A trio from the Ace squad, Colby Lash, Dave Grant and Steve Kuhl gave chase, followed by a pair of Red Jackets, Steve Webber and Chris Schmidt, who worked hard to claw their way back into contact with the leaders.
(Photo: Adam Griffis)
Cresting the first summit of the day in Bumbletown, Zueger and Johnston had opened a sizeable gap. The descent that followed would prove to be devastating for the pair, however. A sea of freshly churned gravel offered nowhere to hide. Fueled by the adrenaline of youth and a growing lead, the pair dove into the climb with abandon, only to suffer disaster in the form of punctures. For Zueger, a torn sidewall would end his day of racing; Johnston was able to continue after repairing the flat but would be minutes down behind the lead pack. Connick and Lash led the way through the morass and would be the first to hit the smooth pavement at the end of the secteur. Behind them, Grant and Kuhl gave chase with Schmidt and Webber closing in. Steve Webber would fall victim to an unlucky choice of line in a sandy section and lose contact to compatriot Schmidt. After the dust had settled, a trio of Grant, Kuhl and Schmidt would reach the pavement with a 20 second deficit on the leaders. Webber was nowhere in sight. Behind him, no riders were yet to be seen.
The two lead groups coalesced into a five-man pack as they descended toward the icy shores of Lake Superior, where they were greeted by light rain, plummeting temperatures and a brisk headwind. Taking brief turns at the front, the leaders worked together for seven miles to the base of the Garden City climb, a 3-mile rise out of Eagle River featuring a 15% pitch on loose gravel. Schmidt was the first to crack, slowly transforming into a solitary figure receding from the backward glances of the leading quartet. Connick would be the next to go, leaving a trio of Ace riders alone at the front. Further back, Steve Webber continued his lone pursuit, followed by Justin Hoffmeyer, Evandro Ficanha, John Gershenson and Zeb Johnston. Wolf sightings were confirmed along the higher reaches of the Garden City secteur. Fortunately, the predators turned their noses at the acid-laden flesh of the riders, sparing them a death only slightly more agonizing than the race itself.
With two climbs remaining, the situation on the road had reached a status quo. Barring misfortune, the Ace trio would likely be deciding the race among themselves. With Ace D.S. Tom Mahaney absent, however, race commentators were uncertain that they would be able to maintain their forward drive, perhaps falling to the committed poursuivants.
In the closing 20k of the contest, little would change. The Triplets of Chocolay would maintain their advantage. Behind them Schmidt would solo on in pursuit after distancing himself from a waning Connick.
It was no suprise then, that the victor would be decided on the 2k climb to the summit of Brockway Mountain, in fact the first pitch would do most of the deciding. The powerful, but big, Kuhl faltered first on the 20% grade. Lash, sensing weakness among his teammates, forced the pace, quickly opening a gap. Behind him, Grant began to find himself in trouble as well: though there were no mailboxes on the climb, one might have confused him for a mailman on a most circuitous route as he slowly swerved towards the finish line. In the end, Lash would add the most prestigious title to his long – yet hitherto incomplete – list of palmarès, taking his first Fleche victory and the first for the Ace squad since 2012. Finshing second was Dave Grant, followed by Steve Kuhl, Chris Schmidt, Zeb Johnston and Steve Webber. (Photo: Adam Griffis / Lash for the win)
A huge thank you to everyone who came out to ride and who helped make the ride a success, especially John Gershenson for setup, Adam Griffis for driving sag and shooting photos, Ryan Tervo for pulling down the course markings, the Haase’s for again providing water bottles on Dextrom road, Rhythm Bikes and Boards for hosting the sign-in and Mariner North for hosting post-ride festivities.
Race recap: video by Dan Motowski
More photos by Adam Griffis
La Flèche du Nord on for May 9, 2015
May 3, 2015
road | gravel
The Red Jacket Cycling Team is proud to present the fifth annual La Flèche du Nord, an informal but high-paced training ride in the tradition of the Belgian spring classics on May 9, 2015. Starting in Houghton and finishing on top of Brockway Mountain, the 65-mile route will take riders over some of the toughest terrain the Keweenaw has to offer. A ride unlike any other, La Flèche features five 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.
For the first time in three years, the course will feature five healthy servings of gravel. Conditions on the dirt sections range from freshly graded to hard pack to soul-sucking sand to the damp dregs left behind by the still-melting snowpack. The choice of tire is, thus, crucial. Recon took place this weekend on standard race tires (25mm) with no flats. With the exception a half-mile descent off the top of Bumbletown (which involves loose gravel and a couple short sections of soft sand), the course is very rideable on a regular road bike. Riders may opt to select a beefier tire for the Bumbletown descent, or simply ride it with extra care.
A few flats occur every year, so riders are advised to be prepared and carry a tube (or two) and a pump. 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. A few sections of snow were still present as of May 3 on the Delaware Crosscut; all should be gone by May 9, however.
The course will be marked, and riders will be given a map at the start.
Everyone is welcome to head to the Mariner North in Copper Harbor for food and beverages after the ride.
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. We may also try to run a shuttle up to Copper Harbor on Friday evening (5/8) to drop vehicles. Please send a note to email@example.com if in need of a ride or if interested in dropping a vehicle in CH.
No entry fee, no support, no feed zones, no aid stations, no prizes, no glory. Just old-fashioned pain and suffering.
May 9, 2015
9:00a.m.: Rider sign-in at Rhythm Bikes and Boards of Houghton (downtown)
10:00a.m.: Unofficial start (rollout through Houghton and Hancock)
~11:00a.m.: Clothes drop at top of Fisherman Road.
2:00p.m.: First riders expected on Brockway Mountain
Chain Drive Retires After 20 Years
Author: From the Keweenaw Chain Drive website
February 14, 2015
mountain | race
After 20 years of drawing mountain bike riders to the Keweenaw, the Keweenaw Chain Drive Festival organizing committee has decided to retire the event.
“We’ve had a good run,” said co-founder and organizing committee member Dan Dalquist. “We feel the race has had a positive impact on mountain biking’s growth in the area in terms of local riders, the availability of local trails, and the
large number of out of town riders we see here every weekend.”
Organizers say that the growth in the number of races in the Midwest was the primary factor in their decision. Just in the Keweenaw last year, there were four major mountain bike races during the summer.
“On many weekends, you have your choice of multiple races in the U.P., northern and central Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota,” said race director Lori Hauswirth. “Most of our riders come from those areas and they’ve told us that they have had to start making tough decisions about where to race.”
Over its life, the Keweenaw Chain Drive has drawn close to 5,000 riders to the area. Funds from the event have helped to develop and improve area trails as well as provide seed money for land acquisition to preserve access for the future.
- Projects supported by Chain Drive funds over the years include:
- Pilgrim River Watershed land purchase
- Swedetown land purchase
- Construction of Aunt Flo trail at Churning Rapids
- Funding for various projects at Michigan Tech including dirt jumps, pump track, technical time trial loop, and the corkscrew structure
- Pull-behind mower for the Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club
- Copper Harbor Trails Club mini-excavator
- Coaching certification for kids ride leaders
- Numerous bridges and boardwalks at Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids
- Many tools and trail supplies
Chain Drive volunteers spend hundreds of hours each year on trail maintenance and have organized and led classes for children (and adults) to get started in the sport.
The Chain Drive organizers say they aren’t going away; they plan to broaden their focus to promoting mountain biking on a more regional basis.
“We plan to continue to meet as a committee, with a renewed focus on trail maintenance and development, and programs to get youth involved in mountain biking” Hauswirth said. “We will also play a key role in Ride the Keweenaw, an event focused on promoting all the area trail systems which takes place Memorial Day weekend.”
Organizers emphasized that all of this progress was made possible by hundreds of volunteers, participants, and also landowners that allow trails and trail development on their property.
“We also want to say a special thanks to UP Health System Portage, our title sponsor for years,” Hauswirth added. “Portage provided a lot of logistical support, since the race finished at their campus. More importantly, they also saw, early on, that events like the Chain Drive help to get both youth and adults outside and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Although the Chain Drive is no longer there’s still plenty of riding and racing opportunities to be had locally that support ongoing trail efforts including:
Ride the Keweenaw (Memorial Weekend)
Miner’s Revenge (Mid-July)
Great Deer Chase (Mid-August)
Copper Harbor Trails Fest (Labor Day Weekend)
Thanks for the memories!
La Flèche du Nord on for May 9, 2015
February 16, 2015
road | race
The fifth annual La Flèche du Nord, an informal but high-paced training ride in the tradition of the Belgian spring classics, is scheduled for May 9, 2015. Starting in Houghton and finishing on top of Brockway Mountain, the 75-mile route will take riders over some of the toughest terrain the Keweenaw has to offer. A ride unlike any other, La Flèche features numerous sections of dirt that account for approximately 30 miles 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.
In the 2014 edition of the event, the gravel sections of the route not covered by two feet of snow were found to be rideable on standard (22-25c) road tires. A few flats did occur, so riders are advised to be prepared and carry a tube (or two) and a pump. 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, and riders will be given a cue sheet and map at the start.
As of late March, the Keweenaw is buried under four feet of snow. A decision on the course will not be made unti late April or early May depending on temperatures and snowmelt. If the dirt roads on northfacing slopes are still snowcovered, the course may be routed over the south Keweenaw.
A post-ride fest is planned in Copper Harbor; orgainzers are working out the details.
As this is a one way ride, riders will be responsible for organizing return transport from Copper Harbor to Houghton.
No entry fee, no support, no feed zones, no aid stations, no prizes, no glory. Just old-fashioned pain and suffering. Because the course may use low-traffic or closed sections of road, riders are advised to plan for all eventualities. Spare tubes and a pump are required.
May 9, 2015
9:00a.m.: Rider sign-in at The Bike Shop of Houghton
10:00a.m.: Unofficial start (rollout through Houghton and Hancock)
11:00a.m.: Clothes drop and official start at top of Fisherman Road (near Calumet)
3:00p.m.: First riders expected on Brockway Mountain
Photo: Adam Griffis