The Lutsen 99’er MTB Race

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I hadn’t really planned to do the Lutsen 100 mile MTB race.  I had planned to do the Tour of Lawrence, which is super close to Topeka.  But, when a bunch of guys from my team said they were heading up to Minnesota to do it, then I was all in.  It was my first dabbling in the long distance MTB discipline.

Lutsen is pretty far from everywhere.  It is even 4 hours north of Minneapolis.  It is a small ski community on Lake Superior.  Super scenic and remote. The course is hard to explain.  I still don’t really know where I rode.  It starts on pavement, goes down a pretty substantial hill, then you ride along the lake for a couple miles and turn up a long road climb, maybe 4 or 5 miles.  After that it is a series of maintained dirt roads and pretty primitive quad tracks that weren’t mowed and much of the time didn’t even have a line on either side.  Plus, they were super bumpy, like bucking bronco bumpy.

I got up there on Friday in time to pre-ride some of the course with Brian.  We rode the last 3 miles, which was the only singletrack on the course, plus a little extra.  I felt pretty okay, which sort of surprised me.  I hadn’t been feeling all that stellar the previous week.

On Saturday morning, early, like 5:30 early, I woke to find my rear tire flat.  I put in some more sealant and pumped it up, but the air leaked out again.  I couldn’t see any place it was coming out, so I took the tire off and re-did the whole thing.  When I was pumping it up to seed the bead, the tire blew off and sprayed Stan’s all over everywhere.  So, that tire was toast.  I was running out of time and decided to put on a new tire with a tube.  I had heard it was going to be sort of rocky in a few places so, put upper 30’s for pressure.  That was a huge mistake.

So, we got up to the race sort of late, like 30 minutes before the start.  I wasn’t even dressed and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  I hate not having eveything exactly right before the start of a long MTB race.  There are so many things that have to covered. Nutrition, spare stuff like tubes, chain tools,  quickfils, etc.  I put grease on my chain because I heard there were a few huge puddles that were nearly impossible to avoid.

The race started neutral downhill, which is usually a recipe  for disaster.   But it seem to go smoothly.  The lead car pulled off on Hwy 61 and we started racing.  But no one really took off. Turning up the climb, it started thinning out.  I wasn’t pedalling that great, but guys started disappearing and I was still feeling pretty good.  Finally Brian couldn’t hold himself back anymore and put in a pretty big effort at the front.  Jeff Hall, from Minneapolis, last year’s 2nd place in Lutsen, jumped to close the gap and I followed him.  So, there were only 3 of us for a little bit.  Then Adam Froemming and Ian Stanford, both from Minneapolis caught back on. Adam had a mechanical as soon as we turned into the doubletrack.  His thru axle skewer was dangling.  I told him and he said something like, “You guys are going to attack now?”  I said no, but I doubt we will wait.

Ian was a little ways back, so it was just 3 again.  We came to a big mud puddle, which I’d been warned about, so I decided to walk to save my chain.  Brian walked and Jeff rode it.  Jeff was a maybe 50 meters ahead and I rode back up to him.  I was surprised I couldn’t see Brian behind.

Then we started up a long bumpy climb.  Jeff was riding dual suspension and I was riding way too much air in my rear tire.  I was having trouble keeping traction.  I stayed with Jeff for a good part of the climb and finally popped.  I looked back and Brian was in sight, which was a relief.  I had planned to ride the whole race with Brian and knew that if we stuck together, we’d be good.

So, I eased up and rode slowly for a while.  Brian eventually came up and we rode the rest of the primitive section together and came out onto a dirt road.  Jeff was way gone.  We came to a long climb and I could just see Jeff at the top.  I timed it and he was close to 2 minutes up.  This was not even 20 miles into the race.  I wasn’t panicked, knowing we had 80 miles to go.

Brian and I just kept riding, pulling pretty even, not panicking.  We did another grassy, bumpy section and then came back onto another road.  We were riding harder on the roads now, and Brian was pulling much better than me.  He was keeping it close to 25 mph most of the time and I was having trouble holding that speed for my pull.  I was pretty bummed, thinking that the two days of rest before the race would have been enough to have a good day.

Pretty soon we are doing a loop that we did before and we are catching a ton of riders from behind.  I think something like 1500 riders started the race and I have no idea how many did the 99 mile loop or the 39.  We could see Jeff ahead and he was going much slower.  The gap was down to 30 seconds and we were closing super fast.  Pretty soon we were only 50 meters behind him and he was going around 20, much slower than we had been pulling.

Brian was a little panicked because he had lost a bottle early on in the race and was worried about running out of liquid.  There were a ton of rest stops, with water, some drink mix stuff, and food, but no bottles.

So, we decided to attack Jeff when we went by.  Unlucky for Jeff is that right before we came by him at 30 mph, he sat up and started riding no handed, reaching into his pockets.  He didn’t have a chance to get on, I didn’t even have to look back.  We kept going pretty hard for the next 5 minutes and then went into another “technical” section.  I was pulling all these sections.  We were passing other riders here like crazy and I made sure I told them which side we were coming by and that there were two of us.

We got back onto a road 10 minutes later and I was glad Jeff didn’t make it back up to us.  I had no desire to pull him around for the next 50 miles.  It was much nicer just being Brian and I. There was an aid station and we slowed down and Brian asked for a bottle.  Someone gave him a gallon jug of water and he filled his bottle and handed it to me.  I filled my bottles and drank some and threw the jug off.  Brian told me that the last grassy section hurt him and that he thought that he might be bonking.

I was super surprised.  I’d never really seen Brian bonk and I’ve known him for 15 years.  He is always rock solid.  I told him to eat and just kept pulling.  Brian started sitting on and I knew that this was a bad sign.  He said he didn’t think he was recovered from the Bailey Hundo, an 80 mile race he did the weekend before outside Denver.  That made sense.

The next aid station, we stopped and I think Brian got some electrolyte drink and some food.  I grabbed a couple peeled bananas and then kept going.  Brian came back and sat on.  Finally, after a few more miles, I heard Brian yell and he was a ways back on a hill.  I sat up and waited. He said that I should go on.  I told him I though we were pretty far ahead and that we should ride together and he would feel better.  I was feeling pretty good by then, nearly great. Probably because I wasn’t riding at full gas.

We rode together again, but on the next climb, Brian was back again.  I sat up and told him that I probably should keep going, we had 30 miles to go still, which isn’t that short of a distance in a MTB race.

So, I kept going, but I looked back after a couple minutes and Brian was only 100 meters or so behind me, so I thought I should wait again.  But it was on a hill, so the time might have been bigger.  There was another feed stations coming up, so I stopped and got drink and food, then rolled away slowly.  I was waiting for Brian, but he never came.  I kept looking back, but just empty road.  So, that was it, I just rode.

The is really nothing to write about the rest of the race.  The lead motorcycle guys kept leap-frogging me and keeping me on the right path.  I felt good and wasn’t having any trouble on the climbs or anywhere else.  One thing, my right knee started hurting bad on the top of the knee cap.  I had to rub it on all the downhills to keep the pain from coming back.  It was pretty bothersome.

I was a little worried about cramping up too.  The last two hours, it was getting much hotter.  I was trying to ride in the shade as much as possible.  My hands and arches of my feet we doing this little micro cramps, with is something completely new to me.  I was worried since they were sort of cramping, then the rest of my body would follow, but that didn’t happen.

I got to the last singletrack section and felt fine.  I had no idea how far ahead I was, no one told me. I looked back a couple times the last mile but I was good.  The finish is up a 1/2 mile dirt climb, pretty steep.  It comes back into the ski area on an access road.  You climb right to the finish line.

When I got close, I could hear the announcer and the course was lined with people.  There is a bridge over the road and there were tons of people on it too.  It is always nice winning a race in front of lots of spectators.

I was pretty stoked about the day at the finish.  It is always nice riding well.  It is a little less predictable than it had historically been.  I was talking to the race director, Peter Spencer, telling him how much I enjoyed the race, but in the back of my mind I was wondering how far I was ahead and if Brian was going to be the next rider to come.

The announcers had a bet or something going about whether I was going to be over 7 minutes ahead and they were talking about that.  I was thinking that was a big gap.  I had no idea how far ahead I was all day.  The 7 minute mark passed, so one of them gave in.  Then I heard that Brian was coming up the climb, but Jeff Hall was right on him.  Next thing I see is Brian crossing the line and just a few seconds back, Jeff.  Brian rides by, but his right leg is out of the pedal and completely cramped up.  He was in pain.  Pretty supreme effort.

It took awhile before I caught up with Brian.  He rode around a little trying to get his legs working again.  I felt pretty badly for him because at the time, I felt fine.

It took a little over 5 hours and 36 minutes  for me to do the 99 miles, around 18 mph.  I think that was pretty good considering how slow it was sometimes.  My Garmin recorded a little over 8000 feet of climbing, but sometimes that is almost a random number generator.   A few guys congratulated me for setting a new course record, but that really doesn’t apply to MTB races. The conditions are never the same and lots of the time, the course is different.

After the race, we went back to the house that we were “camping out” at, but it was all locked up.  I actually went down to the beach and swam a little in Lake Superior.  By a little, I mean like 10 strokes.  It was super cold, but very refreshing.

We went back to the awards ceremony, which was fun.  The people there were genuinely nice.  After the race, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and congratulated me.  But it wasn’t the “nice ride dude” deal, it was more like “I feel so happy for you that you had such a good race today.”  Very genuine.  The awards ceremony was the same.  Everyone seemed in good spirits and it was very fun.

I’m going to hang up in Cable for the next few days.  I’m not sure how long.  Trudi flew into Minneapolis yesterday and a bunch of new people are showing up at the end of the week for the 4th of July and beyond.

My right knee is the only casualty from the race.  I tried to ride some on Sunday, but it felt horrible, like someone was sticking an ice pick into my kneecap.   I iced it all day yesterday and took a bunch of ibuprofen.  After consulting with my doctor friends, I have prepatellar bursitis.  It is exactly what I have.   I didn’t ride at all yesterday and am going to test it out some this afternoon.  Ice and rest fixes it.  I don’t really need another chronic issue going on, so I’m going to try to keep an eye on this one before it becomes serious.

Okay, sorry for such a long read.  It was a fun race and I guess maybe these 100 mile MTB races are something I might be good at.  I’m not sure how often I can do them though.  Here it is 3 days later and I’m still a little blown.


The finish.

The finish.


Awards are these custom wood axes and such.

Awards are these custom wood axes and such.


This guy was selling pork chops for $2 at the awards ceremony.  I had just ate or I would have had one.

This guy was selling pork chops for $2 at the awards ceremony. I had just ate or I would have had one.




13 thoughts on “The Lutsen 99’er MTB Race

  1. Stacie

    Okay lets put this into a little perspective … Last year at this time you were approximately four weeks postop after placement of a compression hip screw for an intertrochanteric hip fracture. I would chalk that first place finish in a 99 mile mountain bike race as a victory on multiple levels/planes.

  2. channel_zero

    FYI, the promoter is in love with Armstrong and his doper pals that have ridden and “won” there. Apparently the promoter refuses to remove Armstrong’s “win” there as well.

    If one decides to spend money there, know you are supporting the people who fully and unconditionally support dopers and doping.

    The delightful irony of vacating Armstrong’s win would be Dave Wiens becomes the 7x champion of Leadville.

  3. Brian

    Great ride! Wish I would have gone better that day so you wouldn’t have had to wait for me. Just think how much faster your time would have been. A bonking and cramping teammate isn’t a whole lot of help 🙂
    You were riding really strong!

  4. ScottO

    Steve, would you mind laying out your eating/drinking before and throughout the event? As Brian’s experience shows, it’s difficult to balance fueling/hydrating/salt in long events when you’re doing tempo or harder the whole time.

  5. Larry S

    Awesome race. I think you should race more of these MTB 100 milers. I can see you in the top 6 at Leadville if you do it. Congrats.

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