The inaugural Steamboat Stinger Mountain Bike Race begins at 8 a.m. Sunday. The race is showing an increased interest in endurance mountain bike races.

Photo by Matt Stensland

The inaugural Steamboat Stinger Mountain Bike Race begins at 8 a.m. Sunday. The race is showing an increased interest in endurance mountain bike races.

Inaugural Steamboat Stinger set for Sunday

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— As Nate Bird and Cory Prager sat in the Honey Stinger offices early Wednesday, four days prior to the start of today’s inaugural Steamboat Stinger mountain bike race, evidence of cramming a race together was everywhere.

Papers lined desks, walkie-talkies took up a large corner, and the constant ding of emails sent and received provided its own percussion over the constant rhythm of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As Bird, the course chief, and Prager, the assistant race director, talked about the challenges of the last week of preparation — their droopy eyes speaking to the point — each had the inclination that the Stinger 50-miler was entering into the new it scene in mountain biking.

“There is a lot of interest in longer than 25- to 30-mile cross-country races,” said Len Zanni, one of the owners for Honey Stinger. “Ours is roughly two 25-mile laps. It hit all the (endurance) criteria, and it sold out in the first year. To sell out in the first year is phenomenal and speaks to the interest in these events.”

Endurance races hot as ever

Bird, an accomplished mountain bike rider in his own right, admits that early in the process he wasn’t sure what to expect.

They started coming up with the idea in November and didn’t open registration until

late May.

At first, it was just a lot of friends and locals signing up, but soon, it blew up.

“It gets people that want to win,” Bird said, “and people that just want to finish.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. Considering the success of other endurance races like the Gunnison Growler, Park City Point to Point, Breckenridge Firecracker 50 and the Laramie Enduro among others. Endurance mountain bike races are starting to see an increased interest.

The reasons are plentiful.

“The draw of it all in the end is to challenge yourself,” said Dave Wiens, who puts on the Gunnison race and entered the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame in 2000. “It’s, ‘Can I do the Leadville 100, the Stinger or the Growler?’ The fun is all the training and preparation and see it get paid off on the one day. There is a challenge to these kind of events. Cross-country racing didn’t really have that. I don’t think people want to ride on loops at a ski area anymore.”

Wiens started putting on the Growler four years ago. Two years ago, he capped the race at 350 competitors, and it sold out in 12 hours. This past year, it took seven minutes.

Similarly, the Park City race took six minutes to sell out. Other races require riders to qualify or win a lottery to get in.

It’s not just the high-end riders entering. The events draw not only top pros, but also weekend riders trying it for the first time.

“At one race, there could be thousands of races,” said Kalan Beisel, a pro expected to compete today who is coming off a 13th place finish at the U.S. Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships in Idaho. “Everyone has their own competition or battle to just finish it.”

Future of the Stinger

While sitting down Wednesday, Bird made a point for the race to include the word inaugural.

“Because we’ll do it again,” he said.

There are several things the Stinger race has going for it.

In Steamboat’s quest to become Bike Town USA, the Stinger provides another marquee event that’s a draw to locals and a destination for out-of-town riders.

But maybe more significant, the Honey Stinger race predominately takes place on singletrack, like the Growler, which is not something a lot of endurance races can say.

An estimated 90 percent of today’s race will cut through the singletrack of Emerald Mountain.

“This is definitely abnormal to have this much singletrack,” said Bill Wheeler, who owns the Epic Endurance Cycling team and will be bringing 11 riders for today’s race. “Most of the races, at best, are 50-50. It’s super exciting to go and know you’re going to be smiling the whole time but know it’s going to hurt.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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