Heavy hitters on tap for classic sufferfest
by Than Acuff
The North Face Grand Traverse Mountain Run and Bike is set for this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, September 5-6, at or near full capacity. Heavy hitters have signed up for both races, including two-time Olympic marathoner and American record holder in the half-marathon Ryan Hall and his brother, Chad Hall, top 10 finisher in the Leadville bike race and national high school cross-country champion and his wife, Sara Hall, an Olympic contender. Not to mention our very own heavy hitter, three-time Triple Crown winner Cam Smith.
But it doesn’t stop there. Crested Butte Nordic director for marketing and development Laura Puckett Daniels points out both the mountain bike and running races have a host of accomplished athletes from a variety of backgrounds.
“We have some former and current pro ‘roadies’ [road bike racers] in the mountain bike race and in the women’s running race we have a couple of pro obstacle race athletes and the 2019 Spartan Race world champion,” says Daniels. “It will be interesting to see how their talents translate to this race.”
The specter of COVID had organizers and racers on edge earlier this summer but thanks to the efforts of the team at Gunnison County Public Health, the U.S. Forest Service Gunnison District and Crested Butte Nordic, a plan to reroute the course was set in motion and will now come to fruition this weekend.
Due to COVID protocols in Pitkin County, where the run typically ends and the mountain bike starts, the Grand Traverse is unable to follow the usual route. But a new course is now in place that will still include Star Pass and test the limits of athletes just a little bit more. The running course is 43.24 miles long with over 9,000 feet of climbing, while the bike course comes in at 43.74 miles with a total of 9,031 feet in vertical gain.
“We’re really psyched about the new course,” says Crested Butte Nordic events director Andrew Arell. “It highlights some of the best single track in the area and racers will come away beaten but elated as well.”
The running race on Saturday starts behind the Crested Butte Community School in a series of small waves to maintain proper social distancing between 5:50 and 6:25 a.m. From there, runners head out to Upper Upper Loop and then into the mountains via Brush Creek drainage, reaching the highest point on Star Pass before heading down the Cement Creek drainage, looping back to Brush Creek on 409 and finishing at Summit Drive in Mt. Crested Butte.
The bike race starts the next day at the same place, same wave format, between 7 and 7:15 a.m. following the running course in the opposite direction.
Due to COVID protocols though, no spectators are allowed at either the start or finish.
“Crowds at the start and finish are strictly prohibited to keep congregations to a minimum,” says Arell.
Athletes will be gunning for some serious money, too. Thanks to a Mt. Crested Butte admissions tax grant there is $5,700 on the line in prize money for the mountain bikers, and the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) threw down $2,000 for the runners.
“We’ve never had that much on the line for a prize purse,” says Arell.
To get complete course information and schedule of bib pick-up and start waves, go to thegrandtraverse.org. The event is a fundraiser for Crested Butte Nordic.