Video and photos by Chris Miller/Miller Perspectives
(May 26-27) Gunnison, Colo. - If there were one defining characteristic of the 2012 Gunnison Growler, it would be the wind. A sandy course would come in strong second, but the incessant wind for both Saturday’s Half Growler and Sunday’s Full Growler took its toll on racers and spectators alike.
Unlike in prior years when the Half Growler and Full Growler were run simultaneously, this year the events were split allowing for larger fields in both events. The Half Growler, covering one lap of the 32 mile course highlighting the best riding at Hartman Rocks outside of Gunnison started under smoky skies due to a fire in nearby Montrose. The smoke, combined with a steady 30 mph wind with gusts reported up to 60 mph, made an already difficult course brutal. If that weren’t enough, a dry spring in the Gunnison Valley had rendered the trails dry and sandy. Loose corners claimed their fair share of skin as racers struggled to keep the rubber side down on the decomposed granite.
After the double shot gun blast and a neutral roll out from downtown Gunnison to the Hartman Rocks Recreation area, the field quickly splintered while climbing up the legendary Kill Hill. Mike West (Yeti Cycles) and Jon Brown (Alpine Orthopedics) quickly distanced themselves from the field. West, known for his bike handling skills was able to gap Brown, who was racing on a single speed but had a distinct home course advantage, on the flatter sections of the course and Brown spent the majority of the nearly three hours of racing chasing. He would close the gap to within eight seconds by the finish but couldn’t quite catch West. Nate Miller (Honeystinger), also on a single speed, rounded out the men’s podium four minutes back from the leaders.
On the women’s side, it was Sari Anderson (Honeystinger) dominating the course and winning the women’s category over Amy Beisel (Alpine Orthopedics) by over twelve minutes. Her time would have placed her tenth in the men’s field. Rounding out the women’s podium was Jen Gersbach (Honeystinger). Anderson, mother of two, brought the entire family along for the weekend. "It was a great weekend for the family with Ian (Anderson's husband) being able to race the Full Growler on Sunday."
Sunday morning brought the endurance junkies out to race two laps of the same course as the Half Growler. With most of the smoke cleared, the weather forecast predicted calmer wind than the day prior and cool temperatures.
Defending champion Brian Smith (Alpine Orthopedics) had his hands full as an extremely deep and talented field lined up including Alex Grant (Cannondale), Kalen Beisel, Josh Tostado (Bach Builders), and a host of local riders racing for Alpine Orthopedics including Bryan Dillon, Ethan Passant, and Travis Scheefer. Coming through the first lap, Smith, Grant and Beisel came in wheel to wheel with Tostado, Passant, and Scheefer a few minutes behind. The sandy course became even more difficult as riders were forced to hike sections churning up the already deep sand. The deteriorating course and the increasing wind eventually forced a separation between the top three with Grant earning the top honors at the finish followed closely by Beisel. Smith was able to hold on to third place. Scheefer put his hometown advantage to use edging out Tostado in the final technical miles of the course.
For the women, Kelli Emmett (Giant) defended her title from 2011 riding away from the rest of the women. Fresh off a win at the Salida Riverside Rampage, Emmett, who is known as one of the best technical riders on the women’s professional cross country circuit, rode smoothly over the courses many technical features to secure her victory over Jari Kirkland (Alpine Orthopedics). Janae Pritchett (Alpine Orthopedics) rode to a solid third place after an extended break from racing.
With the wind picking up in the afternoon to gale force, riders struggled across the line, riding the final 100 yards of the 64 mile course straight into a headwind. While the Growler is known for being one of shorter but harder ultra endurance races in the country, the conditions in 2012 raised the its reputation to an entirely other level.
Full results for the Half Growler
Full results for the Original Growler