By Kevin Rouse
Photo by Devon Balet
It’s probably safe to venture a guess that any race created by a six-time Leadville 100 winner isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Well, a cakewalk is far from what Topeak-Ergon rider Dave Wiens had in mind when he laid out his plans for the Gunnison Growler.
First held in 2007 as a fundraiser for Gunnison Trails, the local trail building and advocacy group (also started by Wiens, a Gunnison, Colorado, local), the Growler is sure to deceive all who take the event at face value.
On paper, the race is comprised of two 32-mile laps on the trails surrounding Gunnison. Sure, at first glance 64 miles doesn’t exactly stack up very evenly against, say, the Leadville 100, but consider that nearly all 64 are on super-technical singletrack and you’ve got yourself a veritable humdinger of a racecourse.
Throw in the fact that the race’s website declares—in all caps—“NO BEGINNERS
PLEASE,” and you start to grasp the true nature of the Growler. If Wiens sounds happily
nostalgic when he describes the course as a “long, old-school XC course,” don’t be fooled. It’s likely just a veneer covering a thinly disguised penchant for sadism.
Not surprisingly, the Growler has no trouble doling out the pain. You won’t find the sustained, back-breaking climbs found at Leadville, but each lap scrapes together over 4,000 feet of climbing—never stringing together more than a couple hundred feet at a time.
“The climbs are all punchy—like a swift kick in the nuts,” says Weins’ Topeak-Ergon teammate Jeff Kerkove. “Definitely respect the course.”
And respect it racers do. Last year’s edition sold out in just eight minutes. Due to the singletrack-heavy course, entries are capped at 350 to ease congestion. This year however, the Growler and the one-lap Half Growler are being run on separate days in order to double the number of those who can race. Registration opened in February, but entries are being allotted in three waves. Spots for the full Growler are usually the first to go, and those who are forced to ‘settle’ for the Half Growler are likely to be disappointed—at least until they cross the finish line and realize that they don’t have to do it all over again