Snowbikes pick up speed

MARQUETTE – In a sport like snowbiking, one thing is certain – conditions have got to be right.

On Sunday afternoon, discussions amongst the 12- and 24-kilometer snowbikers naturally veered to the condition of the course this year and last, descriptions which were a healthy combination of “grindy slog” and “phenomenal.”

Of course, these sorts of things are to be expected – over the course of just three days, more than 12,000 cross-country skiers, snowshoers and other snowbikers had competed on the 50-kilometer course, according to Noquemanon Chief of Administration Nikki Dewald. And on the day known affectionately as “The Wild Side of the Noquemanon” because of alternative races like skijoring and snowbiking, Sunday’s events certainly lived up to their expectations.

Even with only a bit of fresh snow on Saturday night and a well groomed trail by Sunday morning, the race was nearly perfect for bikers, especially those who had experienced last year’s – the inaugural race’s – course conditions.

“Last year it was very soft and it was a different course,” said David Grant of Marquette, this year’s winner of the men’s 24K race. “It was brutal last year. I pushed the bike for two miles and did not come close to winning; but it was a blast, I’m glad I did it.”

Comparatively, Grant said the course on Sunday was so fast that it reminded him of riding in the other three seasons of the year.

“There was phenomenal grooming in the top half and because it was so fast, a group of us stayed together,” Grant said. “It was almost like a road race where you could draft off the others.

“It was a very close, large group until we hit Forestville. It was a wide open race until Forestville and then it was like a grindy slog where you just had to dig.”

Grant won the nearly 15-mile-long snowbike race, finishing the part phenomenal and part sloggy course in 1 hour and 5 minutes. He had also competed in Saturday’s 50K ski marathon, finishing 48th in 3:06:14.

Behind Grant was Andrew Stevens, also of Marquette, finishing just 11 seconds later. Scott Veldhuizen won the other podium spot 10 seconds after Stevens, while Amber Morgan of Minneapolis was the first woman across the line, finishing in fourth overall only six seconds after Veldhuizen. Greg Steltenpohl and Jason Jilbert of Marquette, as well as 16-year-old Colin Kytta of Negaunee, rounded out the local top-10 finishes in the 24K, placing sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.

Kytta was competing in his first snowbike race, but has mountain biked for three years and was convinced to get into snowbiking by the group he mountain bikes with.

“A lot of the guys that I mountain bike with purchased snow bikes last year and said it kept them in shape over the winter, so I decided to pick one up myself,” he said, adding that he’s only been out on his snow bike five times this winter.

“I feel like snow biking is a lot more risky. You’re always sliding out around corners and you have to watch out for ice. Mountain bikes feel a little more comfortable for me.”

Kytta agreed that the course got a little tougher near Forestville, and lost his lead on a few of his competitors due to tired legs.

“The first half and towards the middle was really nice, and then you get towards the end and start catching up with all the skiers and snowshoers and it was roughed up,” he said.

“Towards the second half, (the other bikers) started pulling away – my legs were getting a little tired.”

The Animoosh Skijoring event, also in its second year as part of the Noquemanon schedule of events, was forced to make some last-minute changes, due to the large amount of traffic and wear and tear that Kytta referred to on the previously set course.

“We had to change the start line because of low snow,” Dewald said about this event that includes dogs. “In the last 4K, the snow didn’t hold up with 12,000 racers going through so we changed the start to the (County Road) 510 area and then brought the skiers down to Forestville and finished at Forestville.

“It was a beautiful course and we had about 30 skijorers entered, which was double what we had last year.”

Winning the skijor event, which was around 8 miles, was Mike Christman of Neenah, Wis., in 27:13, while Lindsay Demers of Negaunee won for the women in 32:59.

In the 10K snowshoe race, two Wisconsin competitors took the top spots. Joel Lammers of Oconomowoc, Wis., took the men’s cowbell in 51:06 and Nora Morrey of Cottage Grove, Wis., the women’s in 56:56.

The top local finishers in the 10K snowshoe were William Janausch and Linda Paull, both of Ishpeming, who finished seventh and ninth in 1:07.04 and 1:09.16, respectively.

Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500.