It’s unofficially official: The Colorado Trail Race is on for 2021.
The grand depart for the ultra-endurance bikepacking race was canceled in 2020, due to concerns surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead, race director Jefe Branham encouraged riders keen to tackle all 545 miles of the largely singletrack Colorado Trail at race pace to do so independently throughout the summer.
Since the race itself is run as a self-timed ITT with no entry fee, no support, no registration, and no prize money, its ‘COVID’ off-year wasn’t a total departure from the norm. In fact, many still signed up to race the clock down the spine of the Rocky Mountains.
“The roster on Trackleaders shows 47 riders, 27 scratched, and one DNS for 2020,” Branham told me. “Normal years is anywhere from 70-90 starters with 20-35 scratching.”
In 2021, the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) will head northbound, beginning with a grand depart in Durango, CO on July 25 at 4:00 AM. It will be the ninth running of the self-supported event, which debuted in 2007 with 10 riders, six of whom finished the arduous journey from Denver to Durango. Branham was one of the finishers, completing the route in five days, five hours, and 30 minutes. He has since finished the race seven other times, winning it four of them.
Since 2013, the start of the race has alternated between Denver and Durango each year. Neil Beltchenko (3d:19h:40m) and Ashley Carelock (6d:14h:33m) hold the records for the southbound route, while Jesse Jakomait (3d:20h:44m) and Alexandera Houchin share the records on the Denver-bound route.
In 2019, WorldTour pro Lachlan Morton completed an ITT of the route and nearly toppled Jakomait’s effort, arriving in Denver after only three days and 22 hours on the trail.
Branham, who inherited the unofficial title of CTR race director before the unfortunate 2020 season, says that he is hopeful for a more traditional CTR in 2021.
“So long as travel is open, and towns along the CT corridor are happy and healthy, there will be some sort of group start,” he said. “We might stagger into waves to keep some social distancing, and masks might be requested/required, etc. Honestly, no one knows what things will look like in July, so all this is subject to change, but we will be following health guidelines set forth by local governments.”
Bikepacking and other ‘DIY’-style rides emerged as victors from the spoils of the 2020 cycling season. In addition to the socially-distanced nature of such rides, some people also found themselves with more time off than normal, or in the case of professional privateers like Ted King and Pete Stetina, without traditional goals to train for.
Will people’s newfound interest in more adventurous styles of biking translate to higher numbers in races of that nature?
“I am sure it [the pandemic] has encouraged more bikepacking, but racing was more or less shut down in 2020, with only a few exceptions,” Branham said. “It will be very interesting to see how things go forward. I think bikepacking races are easier to pull off in a pandemic. I’m glad I am not in charge of a real race, as that is going to be hard, I think.”
Gravel ambassador Ted King bypassed simple bikepacking and dove headfirst into ultra-bikepack racing at the Arkansaw High Country Race in October. With very little experience (and on very little sleep), King set a new record for the 1,100 mile course in four days, 20 hours, and 51 minutes.
So, is the singletrack-heavy CTR on the docket for 2021 for the ex-WorldTour pro?
“Sounds amazing,” he said. “Who’s supplying the supplemental oxygen?”
We’ll forgive him, as he’s still learning: oxygen would count as outside support.