Chain Drive experience used to master mud

HANCOCK – An early-morning rain made things a little more complicated on the Maasto Hiihto trails for Saturday’s Keweenaw Chain Drive.

And in slicker-than-usual conditions, it was good to bring a little experience to a course already known for being highly technical.

Two of the four division winners were repeat champions Saturday, while a third finished second and was the highest returning finisher in the division from the 2012 race.

Brian Matter of Sheboygan, Wis., made it four wins in a row in the men’s 30-mile.

In other years, Matter said there’s been fast racing and drafting on hard-packed trails. With a heavier course, keeping the tempo up mattered.

“I spent a lot more time on the front of the race keeping the pressure on,” he said.

Matter reported there was a lead group of five riders around the halfway point, which was whittled down to three after a hard section in the second half. After a river crossing, Matter dropped the last two riders on a hard late climb and said he rode about the last three miles solo.

His winning time was 1 hour, 58 minutes, 2.4 seconds, good for a margin of 34 seconds over second-place Jorden Wakeley of downstate Grayling. Tyler Gauthier of Ishpeming was third and the only other rider to break the two-hour mark at 1:59.15.6.

The top Copper Country finisher was 17-year-old Peter Karinen of Painesdale, who took fifth, just about three minutes off Matter’s pace.

Matter is a teacher at the week-long junior mountain bike camp held all last week at the Michigan Tech Trails. Saturday’s race was the culmination of a tiring week of two rides a day for four days with 21 campers.

“It’s always good to win in front of the campers and show them some excitement, crossing the finish line first,” he said.

The women’s 30-mile was taken by Sara Kylander-Johnson of Duluth, Minn., in 2:16.26.3, about two minutes clear of 2012 runner-up Cooper Dendel of Marquette. Multi-time defending champion Diana McFadden of Duluth rode in third.

The 16-mile women’s winner was also a repeat champ: Atlantic Mine native Kate McCloud.

Just like when she won in 2012, McCloud rode a single-speed.

“I’m riding a single-speed and where the mud gets in the deraileurs and attacks people with gears, I didn’t have that, so it was to my advantage to have a single-speed today,” she said.

She finished in 1:23.54.7, just over a half-minute ahead of second-place rider Alexandra Christofalos of Lake Bluff, Ill.

McCloud’s mother, Kathy Abbott, finished third two minutes behind her daughter.

The men’s 16-mile winner was Collin Kytta of Negaunee, who finished as runner-up in this race in 2012.

Kytta said once the leading group of four riders (all of whom were 16 or younger) cleared the Flow section of the trail and got into wider trail, the race was on.

“Once we pulled onto the two-track, we started attacking each other. I felt strong, so I set an attack and I looked back and they were fading away in the distance,” Kytta said.

Kytta finished in 1:10:20.9, a 17-second edge over Oscar Karinen of Painesdale, who outsprinted Ross Gibbs of Boyne City for the second spot. Dan Henderson of Hancock took fourth.