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Field stacked and charging at Growler mountain bike races

Bryan Dillon, Brian Smith defend home trails

by Than Acuff

Yet another successful Growler is in the books with nearly 700 registered riders taking part in the two days of bike racing, all in an effort to raise money for local non-profit Gunnison Trails. The 10th annual Growler provided a few changes to the typical weekend of racing. The half-Growler (32 miles long) option was offered on both Saturday and Sunday once again, in addition to the full Growler race of 64 miles on Sunday.

This year though, race organizers also opened the weekend up to some new classes, with races for everyone from the Strider class to high school riders and on up to the Clydesdales. In the end, the additional options made for a big weekend for the local non-profit.

“The half Growler fills up the quickest and there’s folks who clearly want to ride but not do the full Growler because it’s just a daunting undertaking,” says Gunnison Trails executive director Tim Kugler. “We had the most registered we’ve ever had. Both days were basically sold out.”

Plus, thanks to the diligent work of Gunnison Trails and its large volunteer crew the past several years, race organizers were able to eliminate some of the road sections of the previous courses and replace them with additional single track in the newly built Graceland area, as well as a new section on the Skyline trail.

“It’s a cool way to showcase the new trails that the registration fees from the Growler helped pay for,” says Kugler.

That additional single track adds to the magic of the Growler weekend as most cross-country/endurance mountain bike racecourses have long sections of dirt road, whereas the Growler courses are known for extensive single track.

“It’s so popular because it’s early season and 80 percent single track,” says Kugler.

Being springtime in the Rockies, the Growler weekend can have a variety of weather patterns hitting racers over the two days with anything from sun’s out, guns out conditions, to sideways rain and even the occasional snow squall. This weekend riders on
Saturday got one brief blast from Mother Nature of hail, sleet and graupel but Sunday’s weather was splitter with little wind.

“It was actually quite nice, near-perfect weather and the trails were in perfect condition,” says Kugler.

By the time the rubber hit the trail Saturday it was game on and Gunnison Valley’s own Brian Smith of Team gO set the tone for the weekend, blazing his way around the 32-mile course in a time of 2:39:31 for the men’s title. Matt Steinwand of CB Devo/Brick Oven was next in line among the local men, placing sixth. Gunnison high school racer Benon Gattis placed seventh and Troy Hiatt cracked the top 10 as well.

Riders then lined up Sunday morning at 7 o’clock in downtown Gunnison for the start of the Big Daddy full Growler as well as the additional half-Growler Sunday option. This full Growler separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls, with 64 miles of riding—with athletes needing a top end, a low gear and everything in between.

Gunnison rider and Topeak/Ergon athlete Bryan Dillon won the full Growler last year by a mere 13 seconds and came into the Growler this season with three races under his belt and looking to defend his Growler title on his home trails.

“Knowing I won it before, I went into it with that hope of winning it again,” says Dillon. “But the Growler’s been all over the place and it depends on who shows up.”

This year Dillon had Kalan Beisel, who came in second to Dillon last year, and Taylor Lideen, a pro rider hailing from Phoenix, Ariz., who Dillon has raced several times over the years, offering legitimate threats to his repeat Growler title bid.

“He’s a very strong technical rider and coming into the weekend I knew Kalan and Taylor would be tough to beat,” says Dillon.

Dillon was in a lead pack with five other riders after the first lap but used his local knowledge to his advantage at the start of the second lap to make a move.

“The second lap started with a climb up the Notch and Rattlesnake and those are hard trails to navigate if you don’t know them so I used my local knowledge and put a hard punch in there,” explains Dillon.

The move left all but Lideen behind and the two spent the rest of the second lap with Dillon in front and Lideen right on his wheel. Lideen used a small opening on the Ridge Trail to get in front of Dillon but when they finished Tailpipe, Dillon knew he had one shot to jump back in front for the final downhill on Collarbone. He took the lead into Collarbone and held it to the finish line with Lideen right behind him and only a second between the two riders after 64 miles of racing.

“We pretty much rode together the entire time and a little move at the end was all it took,” says Dillon.

Brick Oven riders had a strong showing on Sunday as Brynne O’Connell carried the local torch in the women’s full Growler placing fifth, while Michele Preston placed fourth in the half Growler and Jafar Tabaian finished Sunday’s half Growler in third place among the men.

Dillon will continue on the big circuit as he wraps up the off-road endurance series at the final race in Carson City in mid-June. Meanwhile, the locals will keep on riding trails as the trails continue to open, with their sights set on the Chainless World Championships and the Fat Tire 40 at Crested Butte Bike Week June 22-25.

See results on page 28.

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