Weekend’s success thrills Steamboat Stinger organizers | SteamboatToday.com

Weekend’s success thrills Steamboat Stinger organizers

Len Zanni, left, and Lance Armstrong shake hands after Armstrong crossed the finish line in first place at the Steamboat Stinger trail marathon.

— After just two years, the Steamboat Stinger still is the new kid on the block, but a successful weekend has organizers convinced the race is hanging tough.

The Stinger drew 400 riders for its second-year, 50-mile mountain biking race Saturday. The race sold out in less than two days after registration opened. Then, on Sunday, the first-year Steamboat Stinger trail running marathon and half-marathon drew almost 300 racers, falling short of its 400-runner cap but leaving competitors and organizers enthused about the event's future.

The running race was highlighted by Lance Armstrong's participation. For him, it was a chance to support Honey Stinger, of which he's a partial owner, and to stretch his legs on some singletrack.

"I've been doing more running, some longer runs, and running with some trail runners in the Aspen area," Armstrong said after his win Sunday. "Obviously, my partnership with Honey Stinger was a big part of it. It's cool that they have this young event and that it's bringing people to Steamboat."

The hope from organizers now is that Armstrong's celebrity halo may help bring those people to Steamboat for future races. That said, the event hasn't been in desperate need of a boost in credibility — 300 runners for a first-year event is commendable — and it didn't get a boost in participation from Armstrong’s last-minute announcement this year.

Still, the implications for 2013 could be awesome, and organizers plan to savor it.

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"Hell yeah, are you kidding?" Honey Stinger co-founder Bill Gamber said. "It adds huge credibility. For a world-famous figure — he's more than an athlete — to come up here and do our little local race, it's not a little local race any more."

Armstrong's participation isn't the only one Gamber and others were thankful for following the event.

Both days of competition featured elite athletes, like Saturday men's champ Russell Finsterwald, who even at 20 years old is one of the nation's premier mountain bikers.

There can be a snowball effect to these things.

"People see that and they're all like, 'What? What race? Steamboat Stinger?'" Gamber said.

And what's bringing these top-tier competitors to Steamboat for the Stinger? That one's easy, one of the best said.

"The course, it's just spectacular," said Sari Anderson, who was second in the women's bike race and won the marathon the next day. "The amount of singletrack and the quality of singletrack is amazing, and the volunteers in this race are some of the best I've ever seen. I've raced all over the world, and these guys are just great.

"People are coming because they love the quality of the course, and they love getting free Honey Stinger. It's tough, a great challenge and just a great all-around race."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com