Stung by the Steamboat Stinger

7000 feet of climbing, 90% singletrack, zero pavement, lots of fun

Cross Country Race Coverage
2017 Steamboat Stinger

Never a shortage of great scenery in and around Steamboat. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

It seems like every mountain town has one, that local bike race that’s as much about community as competition. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that event is the Steamboat Stinger (sponsored by locally-based energy food maker Honey Stinger). The now-seven-year-old event is held each August, doling out a massive serving of serpentine singletrack, and acting as critical fundraiser for the Partners in Routt County youth mentoring group and Routt County Riders, the local IMBA chapter that helped build many of the trails the race traces.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

A total of 570 riders did laps around the 2017 Stinger course. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

This year, as it often does, the Stinger was all but sold out, with 250 riders signing up for the solo 50-mile affair, plus 160 teams of two opting for the duo category that’s divided up by men, women, and co-ed. (That’s 570 total bodies on course throughout the day in case you’re counting). Also note there are marathon and half marathon running races the next day, which attracted another 339 people, including 19 who did the 50-mile MTB and then the 26.2-mile run. Ouch…

2017 Steamboat Stinger

Get to the front early or get caught in a bee’s hive of a bottleneck. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

Racing starts and finishes at the base of Howelsen Hill just across the Yampa River on the town’s south side. From there competitors spin two laps of a 25-mile circuit that takes in the lion’s share of trail that make up the Emerald Mountain system. The course is never overly technical (mostly smooth, fast and flowy except for one rowdy section dubbed Little Moab). But with 3500 feet of climbing per lap, 90% singletrack, zero pavement, and two primary ascents that crest above 8000 feet, you better bring your A game if you plan to stay near the front — or just finish.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

The author getting a little loose on Litte Moab. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

Mtbr made the trek north from our Crested Butte HQ to both check out the race and do a little proper product testing aboard the Scott Spark 900, an 120mm XC/trail bike with a dropper post and TwinLoc travel adjust system. Both got tons of use on this ever-undulating course that includes several nasty, steep fire road climbs where being fully locked out was a huge plus.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

The top 3 women: Hannah Bingham, Gretchen Reeves, and Liz Carrington. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

All the fast guys and gals finished with sub-5-hour times, led by local Steamboat ripper Hannah Bingham (4:42:52) and Colorado Front Range-based pro Chris Baddick (4:05:35).

2017 Steamboat Stinger

The top 3 men: Chris Baddick, Alex Pond, and Peter Kalmes. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

Yours truly trickled home in 5:21:17, good enough for a 12th place out of 103 in the solo citizen’s race. Full results can be found here.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

On course aid was as good as it gets. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

My biggest post-race takeaways were get as close to the front as possible early in the race due to limited passing once you hit the singletrack, and carry only the barest of bare essentials. The chances of flatting are low, the weather was perfect, and on-course support was bar none the best I’ve ever seen at cross country race. Every aid station (roughly a half dozen per lap) was staffed with countless volunteers waiting to hand you all manner of Honey Stinger product and fully topped off bottles of water or Nuun energy drink.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

No need for a hydration pack at this race. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

I honestly could have started with one half-filled bottle and a single gel, and still never put a foot down during the entire 5+ hours on course. It was really (really) well executed. And there was a non-sanctioned “aid” station at the top of the second main climb that was stocked with whiskey, beer, and bacon.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

The event is as much about community as competition. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

After the race, there was more food and beer (included in the race entry fee of $95 or $170 for teams of two), a live band, and an awards ceremony for victors in all the various categories. And of course, copious amounts of Honey Stinger product was passed out to all the podium finishers. Bottom line, it was a great event that was challenging enough for accomplished racers, but also attainable for greener riders looking to take on an endurance XC race. I know I’ll be back next year.

2017 Steamboat Stinger

Post-race smiles for miles. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

Finally, no out-of-town-excursion report would be complete without some “what to do after the race” info. For that, best head over to www.steamboatchamber.com or just check out the video below, which illuminates the myriad fun things to do in one of America’s great mountain towns. I can personally vouch for the Old Town Hot Springs (sore leg soothing paradise), Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo (western culture and people watching at its finest), and of course mountain biking on Emerald Mountain (so much singletrack). The burgers and sweet potato fries at the Back Door Grill are great, too.

To learn more about the Steamboat Stinger and Honey Stinger, head to www.honeystinger.com, and click on any image below to see a full photo gallery from the race.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympics, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • gg says:

    How much of this race is on fire roads or gravel roads ?
    The 7 day BC Bike Race pretty much claims the same, but at least 50% is on grinding logging roads.

    BTW – 2nd pic shows start line on pavement or is that the wrong pic ?

    • Jason Sumner says:

      90% claim is very close if not spot on. There is very little time on fire road. And yes, race starts with ~50 feet of pavement, then transitions onto gravel road before heading into singletrack. That section of pavement is not repeated on lap 2.

    • Chris B says:

      gg – seriously it’s 48 miles of trail in 52 miles total. Of those 4 miles of “not trail”, it’s perhaps 50 feet maximum of pavement at the start, then a mix of rough jeep roads and a little bit of smooth gravel on the back side of the course.

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