Ready for a challenge?

Published 9:44 am Thursday, February 27, 2014

With a winter like the one we've had, there is no telling whether riders iin the Melting Mann will have to deal with snow. (Photo by Emily Newland)

With a winter like the one we’ve had, there is no telling whether riders iin the Melting Mann will have to deal with snow. (Photo by Emily Newland)

CASS COUNTY — Those giant piles of snow out there are starting to melt, so what better time to get out in the country and do some biking during the Melting Mann Dirt Road Challenge?

The Melting Mann race is the inaugural event to be put on by Heart Smart Events, LLC, the product of a collaboration between two good friends, Mark Wright and Jamie Stafne.

“We formed Heart Smart Events, LLC to do this and two or three other annual events that will be health-related,” Wright said. “In the future, we might do a half-marathon and maybe a fall color bike tour on dirt roads.”

Melting Mann takes its name from one section of the race course, Mann Rd., which runs through the area near Swiss Valley Ski Resort, a place where Stafne and Wright have both spent a lot of time. Stafne’s father, Jim “J.W.” Wiseman, owns the ski resort.

“I’m looking forward to people discovering the roads and terrain around here that we’ve known about for a long time,” Stafne said. “I’d like to share that with the riders from around here as well as those from around the state and even the region.”

“The Mann Rd. segment of the race is really the highlight,” Wright agreed.

In fact, the race is an outgrowth of an event that has been taking place at Swiss Valley over the past several years.

“We used to do a downhill drag race at Swiss Valley, right on the slope,” Wright said. “We did that for three seasons. There just wasn’t room for it in the Swiss Valley event calendar this year, but we still wanted to do something related to biking this year.”

With those circumstances determining their options, Wright and Stafne decided it was time to do something they had been mulling over for some time.

“We’ve been talking about doing this for a few years,” Wright said. “And we decided we wanted to do it right—to make it an event that everyone would enjoy. So, we set two routes, a 14-mile and a 28-mile route. We see those as novice and expert routes.”

Wright and Stafne chose the March 9 date for Melting Mann so that dirt road racing enthusiasts could use the race as a warm-up for the Barry-Roubaix, a well-known gravel road race that will take place on March 22 in Hastings, Mich.

On the other hand, Wright and Stafne wanted to put on a race that would encourage newcomers to the sport, including younger riders.

“We’re hoping that a lot of families will participate,” Wright said. “We’d like for this to be more of a family event. We have a 0-19 age bracket for the 14-mile route. We did that to encourage more kids to do it.”

There are 12 divisions for the 14-mile route, divided by gender and age, and another 13 sections for the 28-mile route, including co-ed fat tire, co-ed single speed, and tandem divisions.

“We’re trying to make it an event where people can get some awards,” Wright said. “We’ve had over 75 medals made up to be given to the top finishers in the various age classes.”

Notably, the top male and female finishers for the 28-mile race will win $250 each. Participants will also have the opportunity to win door prizes that race-sponsors have made possible.

“A couple of bike shops were able to partner up to offer a $1,700-value Kona gravel road bike as a door prize. That’s the really big one,” Wright said. “People have to be present to win it,” he added.

Both Wright and Stafne have high hopes for the event that promotes a sport they have both enjoyed for many years.

“I’m hoping that it will be an excellent event that people remember and look forward to in the future,” Stafne said. “I also hope it brings in more riders and more sponsors, more smiles and more good times to Cass County.”

Detailed information about the race can be found on the internet at Updates and race course information are also available on the Melting Mann Facebook page.

“There’s still time to sign up,” Wright said. “Going into this first season, we’ve had to cap the race at 500 people, but we’re hoping to make this a growing event annually.”