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The Pikes Peak Apex p/b Rock Shox: ‘Is it a pro race or an amateur race? It’s both.’

The MTB stage race makes its second-ever appearance in Colorado Springs next weekend with a sizeable prize purse, mass start format, and high hopes for the future.

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Bike racing season is far from over; in fact, for mountain bikers, fall trail riding may be the best season yet.

For the second year — after a touch-and-go launch due to the pandemic in 2020 — the Pikes Peak Apex p/b Rock Shox will give riders of all stripes the opportunity to race on some of Colorado’s lesser-known singletrack in all its autumn glory. For those in it to win it, the four-day stage race boasts a sizeable $25,000 prize purse. Furthermore, as a registered non-profit event, the race gives back a huge chunk of its earnings to the community.

Read also: How the Pikes Peak Apex MTB stage race operated amid COVID-19

Race director Micah Rice said that although last year’s launch was subdued because of the pandemic, he and the race’s partners hope that this year’s edition marks the beginning of its bright future. Namely, that it could showcase the region and put Colorado Springs singletrack on the map.

“The people and the sponsors behind this event absolutely see it as a national level, bucket list event in the future,” Rice told VeloNews. “We have strong support from people who see how an event like this could change the brand of a city and the economic development piece. When people think of Colorado Springs, they don’t necessarily think of it as a mountain bike destination. If you’re from out of state,  you might not even consider riding here. I think the city understands and realizes that Colorado Springs isn’t looked at as an outdoor destination. But the assets we have in this region, I’ll put them up against anywhere. The trails and the views and the riding and hiking is as good as anything out there.”

Colorado Springs local Russel Finstewald, who will be back at the Pikes Peak Apex to defend his 2020 title, agrees.

“I can confirm it is some of the best riding in the country,” he said. “I’m able to ride from my house in town, easily escape the masses and ride some phenomenal backcountry trails. We also have several city parks filled with trails, in town, that you can squeeze in a quick lunch ride on. We have hundreds of miles of diverse trails which cater to everyone from a beginner to someone who’s looking for some proper DH trails. I hope the race is able to showcase the amazing riding we have here and bring more people into our cycling community.”

Finsterwald will be joined in the men’s field by U.S. national XC champion Keegan Swenson, as well as EF Education-Nippo’s Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton. The women’s field will be headlined by Clif Pro Team’s Sofia Gómez Villafañe and Juliana-SRAM’s Evelyn Dong.

While having a stacked pro lineup is important to Rice and the race’s overall prestige, he also wants the Apex to be known as a race for everyone. That’s another important plug for the race’s future success.

“We want the pros there because they help give people something to focus on at race,” Rice said. “The community thinks, ‘Oh this is cool, we have Olympians and national champs in our city coming to experience our trails.’ It’s like gravel. Is it a pro race or an amateur race? It’s both. We know the pros will show up for prize purse, they’re gonna be at the front, they’re gonna race. But we really tried to build something that’s based on amateurs and their experience. We’ve got aid stations every 10-13 miles. We’ve got a strong medical services plan. We’ll have riders out there with snacks and extra tubes roaming around trying to help people. We have cutoff times, but they’re generous. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy making sure that the person who’s gonna take 4-6 hours is going to be taken care of.”

With a firm commitment to engage and challenge the pros while also encouraging and entertaining the amateurs, each stage of the Apex was designed with multiple riders in mind. According to Rice, stage one is an 11-mile loop raced in time trial format, while stage two is 40-miles and “gravel heavy.” Stage three is a ”quintessential Springs ride” that rises 4,000 feet and includes the legendary — and long — Captain Jack’s downhill. The final stage is a shorter 25-miles and includes nearly all singletrack.

Each stage — with the exception of the second — also begins and ends in downtown Colorado Springs, making the event incredibly spectator-friendly. The final day coincides with a city-wide outdoor recreation festival.

Rice, who assumed the co-director role at SBT GRVL this year, said in crafting all aspects of the Apex — from the prize purse to the focus on community to the mass start line — he’s taken cues from successful domestic MTB races like the Breck Epic and Epic Rides, as well as from gravel. 

“I think mountain biking can take some notes from gravel world,” he said. “People want that inclusivity with racers and non-racers. People want to know they’re not going to get cut off if they want to attempt something like this. I have a ton of respect for what Breck Epic has done and what Todd [Sadow] has done with Epic Rides to make it more of an event and more of a party and a bucket list thing that you plan and show up for.”