That’s not to say pedaling efficiency wasn’t a factor in the race’s overall outcome. At the front of the field that had to climb an accumulated 8000 feet was Orbea-Tuff Shed rider Kalan Beisel, who piloted a wispy hardtail Orbea Alma 29er to a record-breaking and race winning time of 5:02:08. That was just three seconds ahead of teammate Cameron Chambers, and eight seconds in front of third placed Brian Smith (Griggs Orthopedics).
Race winner Kalan Beisel off the front. Photo By Matt Burt/mattb.net
Afterward, the pair of teammates admitted they played a little possum with Smith, a Gunnison local, who Beisel says has a propensity for “racing aggressively.”
“We know how [Smith] races, so we let him do his thing and lead out most of the first lap,” explained Beisel, 31, who when not riding bikes is a hairstylist in Colorado Springs. “On the second lap Cam and I noticed he wasn’t climbing quite as fast, so we attacked on the long climb coming off the short paved section and got about a two-minute gap.”
That was enough – barley. Smith, who can excused for taking the bait considering his wife Jenny (herself an accomplished endurance athlete) gave birth to the couple’s first child just a few days before the race, clawed his way back during the race’s final quarter.
“For a while I figured I was just riding for third place, but then I started getting visuals,” said Smith. “I got the gap down to a minute , then 20 seconds. But then I started to cramp and I couldn’t quite close it the rest of the way down.”
Smith was consoled by the fact that he still rode about five minutes faster than his record time from two years ago – and that after the podium presentation he got to pedal his bike back to brand new baby Jade.
The women’s race had a similar outcome, with first and second place going to Griggs Orthopedics teammates Janae Pritchett and Jari Kirkland, who both live in nearby Crested Butte. The gap was just a minute and 50 seconds, with third placed Elizabeth Sampey (Alp Cycles) cruising home about 10 minutes later. All three were well under 6.5 hours, which is totally badass – and humbling to lesser skilled types like me.
“I think anyone who just finishes [the 64-mile Full Growler] is impressive,” said Golden’s Paul McGregor, who added that the highlight of his 8 hour, 20 minute day in the saddle was not crashing, and that the lowlight was throwing up at the start of the second lap. “I guess I ate something I shouldn’t have.”
I forgot to ask McGregor if he’d eaten any of the bacon being handed out by the support crew at the course’s backside Skull Pass aid station, but I know I did and it was effing awesome. Turns out that was shared sentiment.
If you finish you get some beer. What’s better than that.
“During the two race days we cooked up 65 pounds and it all got eaten,” said aid station volunteer Greg Osgood, who was sporting a hat saluting his membership in last year’s bacon brigade. “It started happening a few years ago when someone had a little leftover bacon from camping the night before and gave it to one of the racers. The next year a little more got cooked, and this year we lugged up two coolers full of the stuff.”
But while good times and lots of laughs punctuate the Growler experience, it’s the good the event does that is its true hallmark. By funding Gunnison Trails, the Original Growler has helped make itself a better event, leading to the construction of new trails and the dreams for even more.
“Last year we had around 1700 volunteer hours,” said Gunnison Trails board of directors member Dodson Harper, who was 39th overall finishing in just a breath over six hours. “This year we’re working on a new wide hand-cycle friendly trail and developing trails behind the college (on the other side of Gunnison).”
And then there is the Valhalla of trails, the proposed Gunnison to Crested Butte connector that would link one of the world’s most famous riding locales with one that’s on its way to joining that esteemed conversation.
“Crested Butte is and will always be one of the best places to ride mountain bikes,” said Original Growler race director Dave Wiens, who’s a member of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and has been spearheading the effort to connect to two riding locales. “That project has a long way to go. But right now more and more people are learning about Hartman Rocks, and I’m sure more and more of them are going to be coming back for more.”
Just like a good beer, one is never enough.