The Steamboat Stinger marathon and half-marathon start at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. As a reminder, the backside of Emerald is closed. The front side remains open, but people are asked to be courteous on the trails.
The event also will feature a decorated athlete Sunday. Lance Armstrong confirmed Saturday on Twitter that he will be running the marathon.
"Heading to #Steamboat for the @SBSStinger. Running the marathon tomorrow. Gonna be some suffering," he wrote.
Liana Gregory and Helen Brown watched early Saturday morning as the skies above Steamboat Springs opened up and started to pour.
The two Steamboat Springs residents had persuaded each other to team up to do the second annual Steamboat Stinger 50-mile mountain bike race.
Gregory has done races in the past and is an avid downhiller. Brown, outside of a few Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series events, was venturing into her first “real mountain bike race.”
And as the rain fell, the nerves built for Brown’s first lap.
“It was nervousness and excitement,” Brown said.
A short 2 hours, 59 minutes later and Brown was all smiles. She passed off her lap to Gregory and was ecstatic.
“It was a blessing it was that cool for the first lap,” she said. “I mean, it was wonderful.”
That’s the great thing about the Stinger. It draws a wide field, each duo team or individual racing for a different reason. And if the first year didn’t prove that the Stinger has enough staying power, the second one showed it’s here to stay.
“It’s great. You had locals and first-timers doing it with the under 23 national champion,” said Len Zanni, a marketing executive with Honey Stinger and one of the many who helped put on the race. “To have all of them come out means a lot.”
It certainly was a wide field. There were riders like Brown and Gregory, who finished third in the women’s duo category with each posting personal best times, as well as pros and national champions.
Pro Katie Compton, one of the most decorated mountain bikers in America, won the women’s open for the second straight year, finishing in 4:57:39.
Carbondale’s Sari Anderson was second in 5:02:45, and Steamboat stalwart Kelly Boniface was third in 5:05:34.
On the men’s side, Colorado Springs rider Russell Finsterwald set the course record in a blazing 4:14:01. Kalan Beisel was second in 4:24:53, and local Peter Kalmes was third in 4:25:01.
Finsterwald, 20, was the U23 men’s national champion. He’s also one of four Americans traveling to Austria in September for the World Championships.
The race marked the first time he had been in Steamboat. He was able to ride the front side of Emerald Mountain on Friday, but he’d never seen the backside.
“It was a mystery,” he said.
But he broke away from the pack early and took the lead on the first substantial climb. From there, he put it down and road alone the rest of the way.
“This is the first time this year I’ve raced over two hours,” he said. “But I felt better on the second lap. That was a surprise.”
Finsterwald led an extremely deep field of men and women riders.
Jen Hanks and Erika Powers were the top women’s duo team in 5:22:20. Steamboat locals Patrick West and Jon Cariveau were the top men’s duo in 4:41:32, and Rebecca Gross and Alex Howard were the top coed duo in 4:38:12.
Standings, however, weren’t important. As Brown and Gregory proved — and was echoed by the pros — the Stinger isn’t just another race.
It’s here to stay.
“This one is done really well. It’s run really well,” Finsterwald said. “There is no reason this can’t become one of the classic Colorado mountain bike races.”