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By Mark Johnson
When a race description says your $55 fee gets you into a post-race party where “Tom Petty may or may not play,” you know you are in for something special, whether or not Petty shows.
But this is Gunnison, Colorado’s Growler mountain bike race. Scheduled for its third running on May 30, the 64-mile event in 7,700-foot high Gunnison is organized by Dave Wiens, the man who has beat both Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis at the Leadville 100, a race Wiens has won six times.
We caught up with Wiens for an update on the 2010 Growler, which sold out its 300 entries less than 12-hours after registration opened.
In 2010 the race, which runs on Bureau of Land Management property and supports the Gunnison Trails foundation, goes in the opposite direction it followed in 2009.
“Just so we can keep it interesting,” Wiens, explains. “Last year we ran it clockwise. Now we are back to counterclockwise. It rides pretty well either way.”
The race consists of two 32-mile loops. Half-Growler riders do one loop, and full-Growler riders two. Half-Growlers are marked to separate them from the 64-mile racers.
While the number of riders has tripled from the race’s original size, Wiens says he does not foresee it getting larger.
“It’s not that many spots. It’s not a huge race,” he says. “It’s a lot of singletrack and we don’t want to see how many people we can bring here.”
The Growler is a mass start, explains Weins, who says he has never been a huge fan of wave starts because no matter how racers roll out it is inevitable that the front of one wave catches the back of another wave.
“The only people who have a truly open course are the people at the front of the first wave,” he says.
Hearing him describe The Growler, whose mileage comes from the number of ounces of beer held by take-home jugs at Gunnison Brewery, it’s clear that the race bears the stamp of two-decades Wiens spent as a pro mountain bike racer.
Wiens, 46, explains that wave starts, especially in 12 and 24-hour races, introduce race-altering passing.
“You are overtaking people constantly, or, depending on your level of fitness, you are being overtaken constantly. And that changes the singletrack experience.”
Running its initial miles on wider trails before it hits singletrack, the Growler naturally sorts riders into waves according to fitness.
“I really like the way these races work out because for the most part you are going to end up about where you belong. Then there will be the typical racing type of passing that goes on, but not just constantly having to work your way around people or vice versa.”
So far Growler leaders have finished in the 5:30 to 6-hour range. But, Wiens adds, “Especially in a young race like this, I think we will be amazed in the next few years how fast guys will be able to do it, especially if we have good conditions.”
Travis Brown won the 2009 men’s event in 5:40:35 (he also won the inaugural event), while Eszter Horanyi of Boulder took the 2009 women’s event in 6:50:41.
While race numbers are long gone, Wiens says there are plenty of spots for spectators to ride out and “see the race a bunch of different times” from inside a convoluted loop that’s rife with short, punchy climbs.
“Little poppers,” Wiens calls them. “A sustained climb out here is where you gain 250 or 300 vertical.”
The Gunnison area is graced with rounded granite rock formations, and the course, with about 4,000 feet of cumulative altitude gain per lap, takes advantage of the area’s wealth of “very busy, technical, really fun challenging singletrack.”
“It just so happens,” Wiens adds, “that the two toughest trails are at the beginning and the end” of the race.
No matter which direction the course happens to be rotating that year, Wiens delightedly explains, riders “just get punched in the stomach right at the end of the race — in a good way!”
Learn more about the Growler and the Gunnison Trails organization at www.gunnisontrails.com